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SAFETY FIRST

Is Apple Pay safe? What are the dangers and who can use it?

Apple Pay has quickly become one of the most popular ways to pay in the UK. 

In fact, Blighty topped the list of countries using Apple Pay the most in 2021, with 63% of people using it at least once in stores or restaurants compared to only 57% of people in the US.

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Apple Pay works on both iPhone and Apple WatchCredit: Apple

This is likely down to its ease of use.

By replacing your physical cards and cash with a contactless payment technology that enables you to pay for things via an iPhone or Apple Watch, the service makes paying faster and life easier, whether you’re in a shop, on a website or in an app.

However, is the mobile payment and digital wallet service safe to use? 

Is Apple Pay safe? 

Since mobile phones are still the most commonly stolen item in the UK, it’s not surprising that some people feel uneasy about having their bank cards available digitally on their handsets. 

And with online fraud and cybercrime on the rise, it’s always a risk to have your banking information on a device that’s constantly connected to the internet.

According to Apple, its mobile payments service is not only completely safe to use, but it’s actually safer than using a physical credit, debit or pre-paid card. 

This, the smartphone maker says, is because Face ID, Touch ID or your passcode are required for purchases on any Apple device, be it an iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac or iPad. 

UK banking giant Barclays says Apple Pay is “a very secure way to make payments” as your card numbers are not stored on your device, and are never shared with merchants, or sent with your payment.

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Instead, Apple Pay gives you a unique ‘Device Account Number’, that's encrypted and stored in a secure part of your device. So, when you use Apple Pay, your Device Account Number and a specially created security code are used to process the payment.

What’s more, when you pay with a debit or credit card, Apple says it doesn’t keep transaction information that can be tied back to you.

Even if you lose your iPhone or Apple Watch or have it stolen and are worried that someone could use your cards without your permission, thieves cannot use Apple Pay as every transaction has to be authorised by either your fingerprint, face or passcode.

Whoever finds your lost iPhone will be able to see your billing address and the last four digits of your stored cards, but no more information than that.

What are the dangers of Apple Pay?

Apple Pay has proven to be a very secure method of payment since it was introduced to the UK in 2015, and there are very few instances where users have been exposed to fraud as a result of using the service.

However, nothing is always 100% safe and there are sometimes vulnerabilities discovered that could leave users at risk.

In September, for example, researchers at Birmingham and Surrey universities discovered an iPhone bug that means hackers could force your locked device to make large unauthorised contactless payments.

The critical issue was uncovered during an Apple Pay hack experiment, which demonstrated how a locked iPhone could be forced open to make a contactless Visa payment of £1,000 to their account.

However, this kind of attack is extremely rare. Visa also said that it was impractical outside a lab setting and that its payments were secure.

Another potential danger to be aware of is if your iPhone is connected to a public network when using Apple Pay.

iPhones automatically search for and sometimes connect to available Wi-Fi connections by default. And since public networks are often targeted by hackers waiting to override unsecured financial transactions, such as unauthorised contactless payments, it’s worth being vigilant. 

However, Apple Pay uses NFC chips to execute contactless payment transactions, so you don’t need internet connectivity for it to work.

To be extra safe, it might be worth turning off WiFi connectivity while shopping as a precaution, or checking you’re not connected to a public network before you pay for something using Apple Pay

"There have been little to no incidents where devices have been compromised [as a result of using Apple Pay] and this would only be in cases where the phone's software has already been meddled with," said Kent Vorland, CEO of global payments company, SimplyPayMe, speaking to The Sun.

Vorland adds that any risk from using Apple Pay will generally come down to the consumer's level of security for accessing their device, such as passcode or biometric layers (face or fingerprint technology). 

“If these security layers are in place, Apple's solution can in many cases be more secure than paying with your traditional credit- or debit card, especially if this card is contactless enabled as all it takes is for a stolen card to be tapped on terminals anywhere in order to approve transactions.”

Who can use Apple Pay?

Anyone can use Apple Pay just as long as they own an Apple Device and their bank supports it. In the UK, those with American Express, Mastercard or Visa will be able to use the service with no issues, if banking with the following banks:

HSBC, NatWest, Nationwide, Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander, Ulster Bank, Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Lloyds, MBNA, M&S Bank, TSB and Tesco Bank.

Although, as you might expect, Apple Pay doesn’t work on Android devices. Google Pay, the Android version of Apple Pay, is the contactless payment method of choice for Android users and works in a very similar way. 

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