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Bank text alerts are less than perfect

A new review of major banks' cellphone alerts finds them lacking and sometimes confusing.

By Karen Datko Aug 23, 2011 4:02PM

You're in Florida, and your credit card company has sent you a text about a purchase you just made with your card in New Mexico.


Sounds, great, right? The bank is protecting you from fraud and identity theft.


But what if the mobile message makes no sense or is confusing? That seems to be happening all too often, as banks try to work out the kinks in this new-to-them technology. American Banker reports:

"If you could imagine a great idea and imagine how to mess it up to get the least acceptance, that's what the banks are producing" through their confusing alerts, says Mark Schwanhausser, a senior research analyst for Javelin.

It's all the more concerning because text alerts are gaining a larger share of banks' electronic communications with customers. The story adds:

Javelin pored over a number of alerts, and a wide range of banks come under scrutiny for content that's incomplete, masked by digital signage, peppered with banking jargon, and in some cases takes on the appearance of a phishing attack by including short requests for automated response from the customer.
"It almost begs the user to give up in frustration and call the call center," Schwanhausser says.

That's exactly what the banks want to avoid. According to a summary of Javelin's report (.pdf file), banks could save substantially by converting us all into "Moneyhawks," the name for customers who use online and mobile banking. Talking to a bank teller is pretty pricey -- $4.25 per transaction vs. 10 cents for mobile banking, Javelin says.


Also, the summary says:

It typically costs $19 less per year for financial institutions (FIs) to service a Moneyhawk than to service a non‐Moneyhawk, based on use of online and mobile banking, bill‐pay behavior and other behaviors detailed in the report. Additionally, FIs could save $9.22 per Moneyhawk if they reduce the volume of customer service representative (CSR) questions by 25%.

And so banks and other financial institutions press on. USAA told NBC Miami it now alerts customers about transactions that appear to be fraudulent and the customer can respond instantly. But USAA's Facebook "fans" pointed out some apparent problems with USAA's overall text alert performance. Post continues after video.

One customer said, "I get a text if there is a charge over $200; the only problem is they send the text 3 or 4 days AFTER the charge happens."


Another one wrote:

It's very "facebook" to roll out a whole bunch of new stuff before you get the current stuff actually working. But it's not good business practice. And if you can't get simple test messages right, what does that say about safety and security in a world of increasingly sophisticated electronic data theft?

That suggests another issue: How can you tell whether these text alerts are from the bank or are an attempt to steal your identity? We've all read that banks never ask you to reply to their emails with personal information, yet we've heard of instances where banks do.


The act of trying to steal your personal information by sending you a fake bank text alert is known as "smishing" -- phishing via SMS. Here's how to protect yourself from this fraud:

  • Don't share your account information, Social Security number, user name, password, or other personal information in response to a text that appears to be from your bank or credit union.
  • Don't call the number provided in the text message unless you have verified that it is in fact the customer-service number of your bank or credit union.
  • Be aware that your smartphone is vulnerable to malware and viruses, just like your computer at home.

The FBI provided these examples of real-life smishing efforts that netted results from overly trusting customers:

  • Account holders at one particular credit union, after receiving a text about an account problem, called the phone number in the text, gave out their personal information, and had money withdrawn from their bank accounts within 10 minutes of their calls.
  • Customers at a bank received a text saying they needed to reactivate their ATM card. Some called the phone number in the text and were prompted to provide their ATM card number, PIN, and expiration date. Thousands of fraudulent withdrawals followed.

How good is your text alert service from your bank or credit union? Is it satisfactory or does it need work?


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