Using social media to talk to our banks can be a bad idea

Partly open laptop computer

Would you "friend" a faceless telemarketer on Facebook? Or share your money woes via Twitter with a company that might one day use that information to deny you a loan, credit card, auto or health insurance, or even a bank account?

Of course not.

Yet that's exactly what unaware consumers are doing every day when they interact with financial institutions via social media.

These communications aren't safe from the prying eyes of data-mining companies that dig into our online lives and sell what they find to interested parties. Like potential employers. Or credit card companies. Or insurance firms.

The problem is, financial companies are not your friends. Nor are they particularly concerned that their customers might share private data such as account numbers with everyone else when interacting on Big Friendly Bank's Facebook page.

Michael Fitzgerald at Celent, the Boston-based financial research and consulting firm, took a look at the Facebook walls at 10 U.S. financial institutions and found that not one had posted any consumer warning or guidelines on how to safeguard your financial information.

"A customer service professional asked me about this recently, 'How does the bank prevent customers from tweeting their account number?' My reply? 'They can’t,' " Fitzgerald wrote in a recent blog.

I'm not prone to paranoia. I shop online, I bank online and I trust the credit card companies when they say they have my back if my data gets hacked or misused. I trust my online banking to be secure as advertised.

But it crosses a line -- a line that I fear too few will recognize until it's too late -- when companies interact with consumers on unsecured social media sites where data miners can profit by aggregating the minutiae of our personal lives.

Think about it before you volunteer any information over social media that could come back to bite you.

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