It all happened on my first day at NetWorld Alliance.
I had just wrapped a new-employee orientation meeting and was making my way back to my cubicle when my cell phone buzzed. It was a text message from my older brother.
It said: “(J)Soy rod mrkm o contsta.”
I sighed. The message was obviously Spanish and my brother — an electrical engineer who works in the materials-handling business — had just spent several weeks in Mexico on an extended business trip. He arrived back in the States yesterday. No doubt he was now trying to impress me with that all-encompassing grasp of the Spanish language he picked up during the trip. My own Spanish vocabulary is somewhat limited (mostly to words describing products in the Mexican food industry) so I had no idea what it said.
I never replied, but I brought it up with my brother during a phone conversation that evening.
“I never sent you any text messages,” my brother exclaimed. “Which phone did it come from? My business phone or my personal phone?”
“The personal one,” I said. “The one with the 550- number.”
“No way,” my brother replied. “That phone is still in my suitcase. I never once took it out during the whole trip.”
Confused, he unzipped his suitcase and peered inside. Sure enough: the phone was missing. At some point during the trip — probably at the airport — some fiend had gone rummaging around in my brother’s luggage and stole his cell phone. Now the thief was sending text messages like a madman, possibly with the intent of taunting people on my brother’s contact list. There was no doubt that he’d soon be dialing all sorts of international calls — calls to Zimbabwe and Sweden and tiny little republics — all at my brother’s expense. There was only one thing to do.
Within minutes, my brother was calling up his service provider and cutting off service to the stolen phone.
There’s a happy ending to the story. The phone was cut off immediately and he wasn’t charged for the text messages. Thankfully he discovered the phone was missing before the thief was able to use it to organize resistance leaders on distant continents wanting to rebel against the high cost of paper clips. No big losses, other than the cost of the phone itself.
But the incident did give me pause.
As the self-service industry veers closer and closer to the concept of mobile banking, there’s going to have to be a fundamental shift in the way we view our personal wireless devices, such as cell phones, blackberries and PDAs. The core concept of mobile banking is that consumers will be able to use these devices to interact with ATMs, and to make wireless transactions. Taken to the next level, that could mean that the cellular phone could ultimately replace the credit card.
If that’s the case, then we’re going to have to treat our cell phones with the same care we treat our credit cards.
You wouldn’t forget and leave your Visa card lying in a stall in a public restroom. You wouldn’t let it fall between the seat and the center console of your car and you certainly wouldn’t loan it to a friend to use on a Friday night trip into town.
The same must hold true for our mobile devices. They’re not just compact wireless telephones anymore. They provide access to our e-mail accounts, our personal records — and soon — our bank accounts. They’re like tiny laptop computers that hang on our belts.
And like any other electronic device, they can be stolen.
That means the onus is on industry leaders to find new and innovative ways to block malevolent hackers from stealing cell phones and mining them for priceless personal data. It means that — as mobile banking becomes a reality — we educate consumers about how they can protect themselves against identity theft. And it means there has to be a clear channel of communication between ATM manufacturers, cell phone manufacturers, cellular service providers, financial institutions and ISOs — in short, all of the industries that are working together to make mobile banking a reality.
(J)Soy rod mrkm o contsta.