Is Social Media Putting Your Credit Card Data at Risk?

When it comes to personal information, don't take any risks on social media that you wouldn't in other parts of your life.

Feb 16, 2014 at 10:30AM

Social media can be dangerous. Though the vast majority of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram users are innocuous, interested primarily in their Diamond Dash scores, there exists a population of fraudsters, thieves, and con artists lurking in the seedier corners of your favorite social networks. Believe it or not, your credit card data may even be at risk. Fortunately, you can usually avoid serious threats by taking a few simple precautions and making common sense your primary defense.

Here are our best tips for safeguarding your financial information on social media.

1. Limit public information
Obviously. Be careful what data you make available to the masses. There is certain information you would never post on Facebook -- your Social Security number, your bank accounts, your credit card number -- but other sensitive information may be less obvious. Facebook encourages you to post things like your birthday, phone number, and email address. We'd recommend keeping all of these private. The more a scam artist knows about you, the easier it becomes to steal your identity or gain access to your accounts. Limit your information and tighten up those security settings.

2. Remember that credit cards and social media don't mix
Don't trust social networks with financial information. There are instances where you may be tempted to share private account information. For example, there may be a situation where you need to share a PIN or account number with a family member or significant other. A Facebook message is probably not the wisest option. If the person has requested sensitive information, be sure to verify the validity of the request by phone. Plus, people often forget to log out of Facebook, leaving their account open to anyone who hops on the computer.

This sounds a little silly, but never post pictures of your credit card. It should go without saying. Sadly, not everyone is born with common sense. You may feel pretty rad showing off your snazzy new Visa Black Card on Instagram, but that's asking for fraud. Be smart. That's all we ask.

3. Be careful what you click
Any social network comes with its fair share of spam. I know it's tempting to "Watch This Man Survive a 6-Story Fall into a Pit of Vipers" or read an article elucidating the "10 Ways to Improve Telekinetic Communication With Your Dog," but click with caution. I like to view my Facebook wall as a game of Minesweeper. Click the wrong link, and something will explode. If something looks spammy, it probably is. When in doubt, you can hover over the link with your cursor and view the Web address. It's best to steer clear of unknown sites or those filled with grammatical errors. Under no circumstances should you enter credit card information into a site you clicked to from Facebook or Twitter. If you're trying to make a purchase, navigate to the company's site independent of the social media link. That will help ensure you aren't misled to a false payment form.

4. Use better passwords
We all know we should never use the same password twice. And we all know we should include a capital letter, number, and symbol in each unique password. Right? Right. That's a great start, but you can be even safer by avoiding obvious root words. For example, the name of your spouse would be a terrible password choice. It will take a Facebook-savvy fraudster a couple of quick clicks to uncover that information. Same goes for names of family members and pets. Make sure your passwords are fairly unrelated to information available on Facebook.

5. Don't respond to unsolicited requests
This applies not only to social media but to phone calls, text messages, and emails as well. Whenever a person or company requests personal information, your first reaction should be skepticism. If you didn't initiate the exchange, be wary. A company will never use social media to verify your payment information. Banks often maintain active social-media accounts and will even respond to customer complaints via Twitter, but they do not use Facebook or Twitter as a means of transmitting or receiving personal information. If a Twitter handle claiming to belong to Bank of America asks you to verify your account information, it is, without a doubt, a scam.

Social media is a powerful tool with a seemingly infinite number of applications. As long as you say alert and make smart decisions, you have little to worry about. In fact, banks and merchants may even use social networks for identity verification in the near future. Post smart; click carefully.

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The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and owns shares of Bank of America, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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