Ask LH: Can I Get Around My Bank's Requirements For SMS Verification?

Dear Lifehacker, I have an online savings account with an Australian bank that uses SMS codes for verification and login. However, it only allows Australian mobile numbers. I find this very restrictive: what if I travel overseas but don't want to activate global roaming? Is there any way I can work around this? Thanks, SMS Bound

Phone picture from Shutterstock

Dear SMSB,

We're big fans of two-factor authentication and sending a code via SMS is one of the most straightforward methods, but you've neatly highlighted one of its flaws: it requires you to always have access to your messages. That means that if you go overseas and don't enable roaming, or if you misplace your phone, you're out of luck.

Assuming your bank doesn't offer alternative options (such as choosing to opt out of two-factor or using a different device to generate the code), there's no obvious way of working around this, other than choosing a different bank.

Whether it's a big issue will depend on how much you like your current service, and how often you need the codes. My bank uses verifications when adding a new biller, but not for routine logins, for instance -- since I'm not likely to add a new biller while I'm overseas, it's not a major restriction. I'd love to hear how other readers handle this issue in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    2 things to consider.

    1) last i checked it didn't cost you anything to turn on roaming or receive text, i take my phone even if i don't plan on using it.
    2) If you have an android phone with a task manager using WTTT then you could have text messages forwarded to an email from your banks text out number, it is a little slow but should be ok.

    Bonus option would Skype or similar work, i know they can receive calls can they receive texts?

      1) Overseas networks might charge to receive texts (it's not usual but depends on the country and network). The risk is that once you enable roaming, as soon as you turn your phone on overseas it will connect to the internet. If you are not careful to disable that then data downloads might be charged at a high rate (eg $15/MB). Also, if you someone calls you and you while you are overseas and you didn't divert all calls BEFORE YOU LEFT HOME, then you will be charged for the call from Australia to the country you are in.

      2) WTTT??? Do you mean IFTTT? SMS forwarding services like that will only work if your phone is able to receive the text message anyway so that doesn't help. And doing that will all but remove the security of two-factor authentication.

        1) Thats why you ALWAYS disable cell data when going overseas just before you turn on airplane mode, if you dont answer the call i dont think it costs you anything so it shouldnt be a big deal if you forgot to divert.

        2) I presume that meant leaving phone at home and plugged in. Removing the 2fa is the desired outcome, and it doesn't really remove it per se, as you still have to get into the email account to get the code, it just makes it less secure but still more secure than disabling it.

          cheers, yes sorry left off that in step 2 i assume since they dont want international roaming they can leave their phone at home.

          Yes, ALWAYS disable data if you put in your home SIM. And only put it in when you need to receive an SMS PIN.
          For the rest of the time it's far better to buy a local SIM card to get internet and make/receive calls (with a local number).

    International SMS, even when roaming, is cheap when you send them, and free when you receive.

    Just take your mobile phone with you, turn off data and don't make phone calls.

    Who really cares when the bank is paying?

    It depends on the carrier as to whether or not it costs you to receive SMS messages while roaming.

    As an expat who still has accounts in australia, I use a dongle.
    Commonwealth bank ones look like this:

    Just give your bank a ring and ask for a security token.

    Can't skype receive text messages if you buy an Australian number from them? That way, anywhere you have Internet access, you'd also have access to SMS's to that number.

      I believe not. This would have been ideal when i was living overseas for periods of years and needed to do periodic money transfers. Unfortunately my bank had no dongle system at that time, and I basically had to call them during an off-peak period and ask for SMS verification to be turned off for a few hours to do a transfer. The problem was that I was caught between not having to sit on hold for 30 minutes and there not being anyone on duty who had a clue how to turn off verification. Over time the problem actually got worse and I spent more and more time waiting for someone familiar with procedures.

    I had this problem while overseas recently with uBank and at the time aldi mobile who don't do international roaming. The solution I came up with was to use mysms setup on phone at home, you can then login via website or computer program and get the code to simply copy paste.

    This might definitely be a problem. I'm heading overseas and planning on taking my phone, but swapping out the SIM for a local one so I can use calls/texts/data at a not stupidly expensive rate.

    I think the best solution is to call your bank and ask them if it's possible to switch off the SMS stuff for the period of your travelling - I'm planning to do this, just in case. Banks seem to have no issue changing the credit or transfer limit on your account for a limited time so hopefully they can also switch off the SMS option temporarily.

      I recently travelled overseas for a month. Called the bank, asked them to disable SMS verification between those two dates, and they did so.

      You should be calling your bank anyway to let them know. If you go to use any of your cards, they'll freak out and lock your account down. Even if you're just transferring money to a travel card, it's good to have a backup.

      tl;dr: you are not the first person to want this, and your bank can handle it for you. just give them a quick call.

        Spot on mate - you should be calling your bank before you leave. No point getting accounts frozen whilst buying that duty free in Abu Dhabi! :) They disabled SMS too :)

    I had the same problem when I went overseas last year.
    What I did was called up my bank (Commonwealth) and asked them to switch to a different second authentication method which was the dongle where you press the button a series of random numbers appear. I couldn't switch off second authentication completely as they wouldn't let me. As soon as I got back to Australia I changed it back to SMS authentication.

    I'm curious, what did they bank say when you called them to ask about this (you DID call them to ask about this, right?)?

    I have no cell reception at home, and that's where I do most online banking. I have a CBA token but BankWest only offered (and insisted on) SMS verification.

    After explaining my problem, threatening to close all my accounts because I wouldn't be able to access them easily, and agreeing that I understood that I was reducing the security of my accounts, they turned off the 2FA for me.

    There is a totally a way around this: change your mobile number with your bank, to a trusted friend or family member, before you leave. Then, when you're overseas, go through the transfer steps, and have the friend/family member tell you the code via some form of internet communication (Facebook messenger / whatsapp / iMessage / email).

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