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Staying safe with Google Wallet

Class is back in session -- time to pay up!

Google Wallet can be as secure as a physical card at your favorite retailers - or even more secure, considering tokenization makes cards stolen in recent hacks such as the Target and Home Depot breaches useless. But how do you keep someone else from stealing your phone to pay for stuff? How do you keep the other side of your digital wallet secure? Well, it's quite simple, and coming right up.

Passwords and PINs

This is the first line of defense for your wallet. Use it.

The first thing you can do to secure your wallet and phone is lock your phone. Lock your phone! LOCK YOUR PHONE! If you're going to have an app on your phone that acts like your credit card, you better have a lock on the phone itself. In addition, there is the PIN passcode within Google Wallet itself. We have three options concerning that PIN's timeout period: 15 minutes, 1 day, never. Use the first one. The second if you absolutely have to in order to use tap-and-pay in the bowels of the Underground or some cave somewhere.

There are also apps that will password protect sensitive apps or directories for you, should you need to use the 1 day timeout out of some necessity or simply wish to keep your locked Google Wallet behind another lock.

Progressively track your card

In an age of almost regularly-occurring credit card breaches, you should probably do this anyway. Regularly check your bank accounts, especially for cards that you use online. Also check your transaction history, which is hiding at the bottom of the main page in Google Wallet. If you see something's up, you can quickly deactivate the card and order a new one before they do too much damage, though as most people know, it really only takes a moment to wreck up someone's credit card (and credit score).

The best way to find out something's hinky is to look at your history regularly.

Keep it out of sight

This is bad. Don't do this.

If you want to take things to the next level, there are a few ways you can hide the app itself on your phone. Consider swiping it out of recent apps after you finish using it, or better yet, hide the app. Don't have a shortcut to it on your homescreen, or if you must, don't have it visible and obvious. If you're using a launcher like Nova or Apex, have a gesture or swipe control launch Wallet, since most people won't figure out your gesture controls quickly, assuming they even know what those are.

Hiding apps in plain sight.

The other fun thing you can do is hide the app in plain sight. Launchers like Nova can also let you apply a new name and new icon to individual apps on the home screen or in the app drawer. So you could make the app a complete blank, or you can turn Google Wallet into some low-key utility no one would bother with. Not only do I do this with Google Wallet, I also do it with Google Authenticator (you should be using this app, too, by the way) and other sensitive apps.

Be vigilant. Be sneaky. Be smart. And you should be fine. Google Wallet has the benefit of actually being able to be more secure than your physical credit card. If someone mugs you and steals your wallet, they can use the card until you cancel it. If someone mugs you and steals your phone, they have to get through the device lock (LOCK YOUR PHONE), find the app that you've hidden away, unlock the app if you're using an App Locker, unlock Google Wallet using a PIN they probably didn't think to give you, and then find a place that uses tap-and-pay, which while not rare is certainly not that common either, at least in the US.

And remember, folks, that you can disable Google Wallet remotely by logging into Google Wallet in a web browser, just as you can log in and track the phone using Android Device Manager so you can take back your phone or at the very least wipe it.

More: 10 best ways to secure your smartphone

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • secure as a*
  • boo your -1, I was just helping our fine editor...
  • Google Wallet is awesome but round here only Wendy's and Toys R Us have tap and pay )=
  • CVS, Walgreens, Macy's, Wegmans, and the AT&T corporate store are additional places that accept Tap and Pay.
  • Also Petco.
  • 711, Rite Aid, Duane Reade
  • Now that Apple has NFC built into their new line, you can expect to see retailers that accept tap-to-pay (or Apple-pay) explode in the next year. What kills me is that Google Wallet and tap-to-pay has been around for 2+ years on Android already. Apple is always late to the party. Apple is no longer innovative. :-( Thank goodness for Android! B-)
  • I sure hope so. I tried paying with Google Wallet at an auto parts place that had tap and pay. It wasn't hooked up. Come on. I'm really glad that Apple finally got NFC, this potentially raises all boats.
  • I use tap-to-pay with my Droid Maxx all the time. Works perfectly for me. I love the security of it and it's so easy to use.
  • I just traveled cross country. Tried tap-n-pay everywhere I found it. Most were not working like Sheetz, Disney World (vending machines) Rite Aid (some worked great, one didn't) ... several were working, but the employee didn't know how to use it (McDonalds)
  • My only issue with ApplePay is that I feel like they will have their own system that doesn't work with other NFC systems.... is this known either way yet?
  • It is the same technology ... still an NFC chip. As far a the software to run it ... I'm sure that's different, but if retailers are installing NFC readers for payment, I'm sure they will work for both/all types of NFC chips/software. Especially the one that has been around longer then any other ... Google Wallet/Tap-To-Pay.
  • Both your device AND the retailer are communicating with various computers simultaneously during a transaction. Your device (apple or android) are only exchanging card information. Nothing really proprietary other than that. Then the retailer runs that card information through the servers and connections that already exist to process credit cards. Now the conversation between your device and the servers (apple or android) can be as custom as the manufacturer wants it to be, but that won't effect interchangeability. So there should be no retailer incompatibility issues for either system.
  • Awesome explanation. Thanks.
  • It's important to remember that Apple Pay is more than just the NFC tech.  They're actually acting as a payment processor (like Visa or Mastercard) and that's where their propriety stuff will come into play.  In the US, we're going to see NFC *everywhere* by the end of next year, since a new law just went into effect requiring all retailers to support "chip and pin" for standard credit card transactions by the end of 2015. Get your Google Wallet setup now :)
  • This. The same machines will handle Apple Pay and Google Wallet. The Apple website has the same paypass symbol and many of the same retailers. Posted via my Moto X 2
  • I've come across a bunch of pass pay terminals that accept ISIS only and reject google wallet. Posted via my Nexus 5
  • ISIS which is now Softcard, correct? This is exactly what I was afraid of. I definitely see ApplePay blocking other NFC payment options.
  • Accepted at 220,000 stores. And counting.
    Apple Pay lets you use iPhone 6 or Apple Watch to pay in over 220,000 stores accepting contactless payments. You can even make purchases within participating apps on iPhone 6. And there are more stores and apps to come.
  • No, Apple iPhone does not do any of this yet. It is not yet activated in iOS 8 yet. It will be some time this month. So right now, the accepted at number is zero.
  • Actually, since it's using the SAME TECHNOLOGY it will be accepted at all those locations. Just because they haven't turned it on yet doesn't mean it's incompatible. I was just answering the question of "will it be Apple's own proprietary standard?" that my post was in reply to.
  • Apple Pay allows you to pay for products with a device that won't even come out for another 6 months?  That's amazing! ;)
  • Just figure since apple is late and it will explode, that means more places to use google wallet at, since more places will be upgrading their hardware to accept those types of payments now.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Wallet built to work with MasterCard paypass, which itself pre-dated Wallet by several years? paypass was of course itself pre-dated by Mobil Oil's SpeedPass, which came out in 1997, but as a key fob rather than a phone. Yay 17 year old tech!
  • Lol.  Yup.  Had one of those SpeedPass fobs back in the day.  They were awesome.
  • Actually Apple will really have nothing to do with the adoption of NFC payments, they will just claim they are and they were the first to innovate it. The real reason is that it will be federally mandated in 2015 or the stores will be the ones liable for the fraudulent charges. Apple is again just jumping in to keep from being left behind.
  • True stuff.  This is how Apple works, though.
  • Ya i called it about a few months ago when the iphone NFC payment thing was a rumor. I too found it sad/weird that Apple was going to release a technology that has been in a bunch of android phones that past few years and then all you are going to hear about is how iPhone has to cool new thing called Apple Pay and uses this awesome exclusive technology called NFC. Apple is Brilliant!!!
  • Oy, why must we as android fans act like this. Apple never said They invented NFC payments, in fact. at the keynote, Apple even flat out said that other companies were doing it. But clearly it hasn't caught on, even being on the most popular OS on the planet. All they said is that were doing it different, which they are (Randomly generated CC details, Touch ID, antenna at the top of phone instead of back). Ironically, many people are saying Google invented it when it predates wallet as Mastercard was already doing it. Either way, the thing to take out of this is, It's a good chance the growth of Applepay, which I believe uses the same standards as MC tap-to-pay, means the growth of Wallet which uses the same standards.
  • You are very right in your facts, but what will be perceived by the Appleholics is that Apple was first with NFC payments, and has just invented another 'cool' thing. That's why I have been using Wallet as much as possible before the Apple fanboys get started. Almost every time I use it, it brings attention, and someone says 'l did not know you could do that'
  • Just an FYI, Google Wallet also does the randomly generated CC number thing.  NFC being at the top of the phone might actually be easier for payment.  I wonder about Android Beam stuff, but that might work easier as well, now that I'm thinking about it.  I might have to give Apple props on that one.
  • Hmm, it does? According to the article above its a single CC and doesn't change. There are a few concepts that Apple pay has that makes it tons more convenient to use. Like not needing to unlock the phone and start an app. That said, I reserve judgement till it's actually out. How reliable is it, how quick is it to register.. And so on. He'll does it really work as advertised...
  • Check out the section titled "Could a malicious application access my credit card on Host Card Emulation?" Admittedly, Apple will have an advantage in the convenience dept, due to the built-in fingerprint scanner and not having to enter a pin.  I still wonder how, exactly, it will work if you have multiple cards to choose from.
  • mcdonalds, Kum and Go and fareway stores in Midwest
  • Last i checked home depot,cvs,mcdonalds,office depot,petco,macys and dozens of gas stations were all over the us. you must live up in the mountains somewhere.
  • Our local Home Depot has Tap & Pay terminals, but the Tap & Pay function is not hooked up. Same with Best Buy, and a lot of other retailers. This is getting worse as companies get new smartcard terminals to comply with the October 2015 deadline set by MC/Visa (U.S.). Most of these terminals have Tap & Pay support, but retailers aren't hooking that function up, making it really hard to tell where I can and cannot use it.
  • Actually the terminals at home depot all work. It's just the tap and pay receiver is in a weird place. You have to place your phone towards the top of the unit, then green lights light up to let you know it worked. As for best buy, well that's another story. Best buy disabled all their units due to a dispute with visa and MasterCard on nfc fees which are higher than regular fees. Hopefully they resolve this now that it's becoming more mainstream.
  • There was also a problem at bby that the processing company was charging just to have the option turned on in the first place and, at least at the time that corporate decided to deactivate it, it was not being used almost at all making it a pointless expense. Hopefully that changes very soon. As an employee I make a lot of purchases there and its annoying that I cant use tap and pay there.
  • There was also a problem at bby that the processing company was charging just to have the option turned on in the first place and, at least at the time that corporate decided to deactivate it, it was not being used almost at all making it a pointless expense. Hopefully that changes very soon. As an employee I make a lot of purchases there and its annoying that I cant use tap and pay there.
  • Good info.
  • Sports Authority, ShopRite, Hess, Radio Shack, McDonald's, Burger King, CVS, Walgreens, T-Mobile store, plus various mom and pop shops, and all the store directory/soft drink dispensers at the local mall have it here. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few.
  • Don't forget taxis. I used it to pay for cabs twice today already. Posted from my Nexus 5, behind seven proxies
  • Man, still rocking that old tech phone. Yea, so am I. Love that phone Posted via Android Central App
  • Don't call my X old! She's young and beautiful and full of life!
  • In phone years shes like 65 years old... could retire but still capable of working a little bit longer
  • Whens Canada getting it Posted from the almighty htc m8
  • Google wallet won't work with beaver pelts, maple syrup, and bacon. Posted via Android Central App
  • Gekko, is that you? Posted from my Nexus 5, behind seven proxies
  • Except after upgrading to a Note 3 on Verizon, I'm now screwed out of Google Wallet payments with my phone at checkout. It's this type of experience that makes Google Wallet a failure with the public at large. This is also my main gripe on Google & Android products....they don't just work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, depends on the carrier, depends on the manufacture...Google just doesn't offer a unified working platform on so many products. Google Wallet is about as un-unified as it gets with it working great on SOME devices at SOME places but on most devices (even top end ones like the Note 3) it doesn't work and if it did, only a handful of places use it.
  • Doesn't help that the carriers have done thing to curb it on favor of their own payment system. Posted via Ash William's Boomstick
  • Wallet will work on any device with kitkat and up an any carrier Posted via the Android Central App
  • Wallet does not work on the Note 3. Based on what i have read, it has something to do with the specific NFC chip in the N3.
  • Sounds like someone should be blaming Samsung for that, not Google. You can get around the manufacturer blocks, just sideload Wallet with the apk from a Nexus device.
  • Umm, my Note 3 has worked since day one with google wallet. I'm on Sprint, carrier specific maybe?
  • Umm, my Note 3 has worked since day one with google wallet. I'm on Sprint, carrier specific maybe?
  • Agreed.  Wallet works on my Sprint Galaxy Note 3 as well.
  • My S4 on Verizon works every time I try it. Posted via Android Central App
  • My Droid Maxx on Verizon works every time too. I think dswatson83 might not have his/her's configured properly. It's true that when Google Wallet launched, Verizon blocked it and was trying to push it's customers to using ISIS (it's version of tap-to-pay) but the Verizon ban on Google Wallet didn't last that long.
  • Yea, the note 3 was one of those weird phones that didn't work with the new update to google wallet due to the processor or something like that not working with the new google wallet method. It's weird cause that is the only phone that didn't work. The note 2 and now the note 4 work. So it really isn't google's fault in this case. Its just something that the note 3 had that didn't get along with the new method.
  • Really? That's weird. My Galaxy S3 works with it beautifully.
  • That's the price you pay for the kind of open system that Android is.  It will most likely never change.  It can't, so long as Google allows unrestricted access to the source code of Android and allows manufacturers and carriers to make changes as they see fit.  Google has no control over what happens to the underlying Android source that ends up on devices. If you find that one manfacturer or carrier is disabling features you want in a device, I suggest you vote with your wallet. As for NFC only being available at certain places, that will change since (at least in the US) retailers have to support "chip & pin" payments by the end of next year, even for physical credit card transactions.
  • it's funny how they blurred the email out of the first photo but in another photo in the recent app screen you can see the email in full. The author might wanna check that out!
  • Much obliged! I always run into this problem with Wallet posts, it seems.
  • I have seen some articles saying that Google Wallet uses tokenization ever since Apple Pay was announced, but it seems to be a little different compared to how Apple does it. My understanding is that the iPhone will generate a random number at the time of sale and then that number is tied to the card information. Each card will have its own random number. In Google Wallet's case, they use a virtual card ( issued by Bancorp and it is a one time use card (
  • I use google wallet all the time. For years I have said how much safer it is to lose a phone with google wallet then your physical wallet itself. I use my gwallet all the time at cvs,mcdonalds,home depot,petco,office depot, dozens of gas stations,walgreens, macys and the other day I used it at some place where my wife buys makeup. The only thing apple is good for is for showing the world what to use even though android has had it for several years.
  • The level of ignorance and outright misinformation on some iOS fan sites concerning Google Wallet and the "new" tech of Apple Pay is astounding. Posted via Android Central App
  • Exactly. The day after the apple ios 8 and apple pay announcement I paid with tap and pay at home depot which i had been doing for several months now, the cashier said "oh, is that the new iphone?". I really wanted to say "no you idiot". But all I said no its not, its an android made by LG. It was hilarious. It is one reason why my wife no longer uses ios. She tried an android phone when her iphone went in for repair and didn't want her iphone back. Then she also noticed how people with iphones are just like "i have an iphone because its cool". She got tired of that. I understand ios is a very stable and good os but the ignorance is so crazy.
  • I'd like to use wallet to send money to friends or family but have not seen a definitive answer yet on whether the recipient has to "receive" the money with a Gmail account only. How would say a Hotmail user accept the funds I send? Posted via Android Central App
  • Fairly certain that the recipient has to use a Google account, yes.
  • Great article. Very usefull! Thank you (and lock your phone!!) Posted via Android Central App
  • LOCK YOUR PHONE! I need to make a gif of this.
  • I've had Nova for months and would've never thought to rename the app. Thanks! Posted via Android Central App
  • No problem. Press and hold the app, then when your homescreen pops up, drag it to the edit icon. Set, rename, and accept! Easy as pie!
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • You can also use Tasker to create a "custom" icon and label. You can also put other conditions on it, like, say, requiring that the phone be face up, for the app will launch, that won't be readily apparent to a thief.
  • I wish Google would add support for the fingerprint scanner on the s5 and note 4 Posted via the Android Central App
  • PIN is more secure and takes all of two seconds, but having more lock methods would be welcomed.
  • Would still be a welcome option. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If your security options don't already have this set, then make sure that your phone will wipe after a set number of wrong PIN entries. 10 tries and boom, it's wiped. Also use two factor authentication on your Google Account to protect the other end of wallet, the web portal that manages it including which bank account it tied to it.
  • Good stuff! As a GW user for many years now, good common sense ideas. With Apple pay coming we may see this tap and pay go more mainstream! Nice article Ara! Posted via my Moto X 2
  • So we know for SURE that the terminals that are being set up to work with Apple pay will also work with Google Wallet? I've read all the preceding comments, but do we know for EXACTLY SURE that any new terminals now being installed will work with Google Wallet? Has anyone tried Google wallet from a terminal that has the Apple Pay logo on it?
  • After reading the info on the apple website I am pretty confident they both work with the same terminals. Same symbols and many of the same retailers that already accept google wallet. Posted via my Moto X 2
  • I'm so happy Apple announced Apple Pay. Google Wallet may have come first, but the iPhone's popularity will make more retailers install the terminals.
  • Retailers are being required to support "chip and pin" payments by the end of next year, so we will have Google Wallet support pretty much everywhere, regardless of what Apple does.
  • All this and you don't recommend 2 factor authentication for your Google Wallet account? Given that you can access GW from any web browser, this should be the first thing you do. Turn on 2 factor!
  • Doesn't work at the strip club Posted via Nexus 7 2013 or verizon Galaxy S5 or maybe one day through my moto 360
  • Your not tapping the right thing.
  • The only time I used Wallet was when it first came out on the Nexus S back in 2011. I used up the $10 credit Google offered at 7-11 and Mickey D's. Posted with my Nexus 5
  • How secure would google wallet be on a rooted phone? Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • As secure as you make it... just like on an unrooted phone.
  • Since it is rooted, wouldn't people be able to steal my information easier?
    What can they steal anyway? Don't they have to be near me and I have to have nfc on. If I only had one credit card hooked up to it, would they be able to access that of just my Google wallet ballance? Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • No, yes, yes, and no.  NFC only works when the device's screen is on and unlocked.  Having your phone "rooted" just means that applications can ask for root permissions.  You still have to agree to let them have it (unless you've made changes that you shouldn't have to your SU app settings).  The NFC chip on your phone isn't constantly "beaming" out your credit card info like the NFC chip in a credit card is. For someone to steal any money from you through Wallet would require them to get within about 2cm of your phone, send a "transaction request" via NFC while your device's screen was on and unlocked, then you would have to enter your Google Wallet pin and agree to the amount.  And, even then, they would get a one-time-use "virtual pre-paid card" number that would never be valid again. I don't think there's too much to worry about with that scenario happening without your knowledge.
  • I just used Wallet to pay my copay at my doctor's. That was kinda cool. Posted from the Avengers: Age of Droid Ultra
  • Why do the Credit Card processing companies charge extra? It's just a method of entry for the information. Sounds like a way to charge the customer more. I am just not convinced that its any easier that taking out your debit card and putting in a pin.
  • google wallet itself is a scam! i just started up an account and sent it $25 and after i did the verifying process the balance was still 0 and customer support told me they see the transaction and will look into it for a resolve.... 2 days later nothin and after a 2nd phone call to some Indian guy named "Phill". which he just read off the same speech the previous person did and sent me the same "were looking into" email. they say its supposed to be secure, your money securely in their own pockets... at least it was only $25. i recommend not ever transferring money through google wallet.