Shoulder Surfing Mobile Theft on the Rise: What is it? How to Avoid? and More

Mobile thieves are now shoulder peeping to get the pin before they steal the phone.

  • Shoulder surfing mobile thefts are rising as criminals steal security pins before the phone.
  • Perpetrators steal the phone security pin code by peeping over the shoulder of the victims.
  • They then use the same pin to access banking apps to steal money.


Mobile theft is getting increasingly sophisticated as criminals are now exploiting human behaviour to access banking apps and wipe out bank accounts. According to a BBC report, Jacopo de Simone lost £22,000 of his life savings in one such elaborate theft. In the new method, thieves hang around the victim long enough to glance at the security code or pattern and then steal the phone. Simone had his phone pickpocketed and his account wiped in a similar manner. Let’s look at how this scam works and how you can prevent it from happening to you.

Shoulder Surfing Mobile Theft is on the Rise

The BBC report quotes Detective Superintendent Roch of Scotland Yard to state that while it’s not a new crime, the impact on unsuspecting victims is devastating. With the advent of digital wallets and mobile banking apps, people usually carry their life savings around in their pockets. And if they are not careful with their devices in public places, they might as well hand over their money to cybercriminals.

And new-age mobile thieves know how much data and personal information is stored on smartphones. They hang around enough the victim long enough to peep at the security pin or pattern. They then steal the phone to access all stored data, banking apps, passwords, and other information.

This happened to Jacopo de Simone, who lost his life savings after his phone was pickpocketed on a night out. The perpetrators used his pin to clear out his bank accounts, which the victim only learned the following day. While Simone was able to get a refund of his life savings after a 10-month battle with the bank. But not everyone might be as lucky, and there are some things to keep in mind to prevent this from happening.

How to Prevent Losing Your Life Savings to Mobile Theft?

The mindset of having the convenience of having easy accessibility to all your money at all times has to go. It’s not necessary to keep banking apps on your phone. Instead, carrying cash or a card is more convenient, and the loss’s impact is much less.

Don’t Keep Banking Apps on Your Phone

If you can help it, avoid installing banking apps on your smartphone. This way, if your phone is stolen, perpetrators will not have access to your entire life savings. Keep banking apps on your iPad or Android tablet that stays at home, or stick to accessing your bank account from a secure web browser on your laptop (not in public).

Don’t Use the Same PIN for Your Banking Apps and Phone

The latest survey revealed that around 51% of adults use the same password across multiple accounts. Any cybersecurity expert worth their salt will tell you to have separate passwords for all your accounts, and the same goes for your phone and banking apps passcode. Most banking apps require an M-Pin to log in, ensure that it’s not the same as your phone unlock code. This way, if thieves get ahold of your phone passcode, they won’t be able to get into your banking apps.

Use Biometrics Authentication As Much As Possible

The best method to avoid shoulder surfing is to use your phone’s face or fingerprint unlock. Most banking apps and smartphones these days come with biometrics authentication. Using them as much as possible will protect your smartphone and money from criminals.

Don’t Save Your Passwords and PINs on Your Phone

A Pew Research Center survey revealed that around 24% of adults like to record their passwords in a digital note or document on one of their devices, mainly smartphones. It goes without saying that if a thief has access to the smartphone, they will also have access to all passwords and PINs. If you must keep a record of your credentials, it’s best to go old-school and write them down in a notebook that stays in a locker in your home.

Avoid Using Banking Apps on Phones in Public

Lastly, be mindful of using banking apps on your phone in public. Don’t sign in or open the banking apps in direct line of sight of strangers. The same goes for unlocking your smartphone as well. Cover your screen with your other hand or use a privacy screen guard that blacks out when viewed from the side to keep your passcode or pattern input private. Also, make sure not to leave your phone unattended in public places.

These are some of the ways in which you can protect yourself from falling prey to shoulder-surfing mobile theft scams. Do you also use banking apps and digital wallets on your smartphone? Let us know in the comments section below.