When Sharon Jacobs' landlord asked her for her credit score in early September, she went to annualcreditreport.com and entered her information. The site eventually directed her to the credit bureau TransUnion, where she signed up for a service (that she later cancelled) in return for her credit score. That score was displayed next to a TransUnion "VantageScore Grade" and a "Share on Facebook" button. If she had clicked it, it would have shared her grade, which reflects the strength of her credit score, with all her Facebook friends.
"I was really surprised," says Jacobs, a 24-year-old Washington, D.C., resident. "I can't say I know much about personal finance, but I do know that it would be a bad idea to share your credit score with everyone you know." She opted not to do so.
That was probably a prudent move. Security experts say that while sharing a credit score – or related grade – alone is not directly harmful, it can make you vulnerable to scam artists looking for easy targets. A scam artist could impersonate a credit bureau and seek more information after seeing a credit score online, for example, or could target a person with a low grade and offer fraudulent credit improvement services.
TransUnion spokesman Clifton O'Neal wrote in an email that the company started offering customers the option to share their VantageScore Grade on Facebook in early 2011 "to encourage consumers to celebrate their credit achievements and to inspire their friends and family in their social media networks to work towards healthier credit." Now, though, they only offer the option to some consumers. "As identity thieves have become more and more skilled, the need to protect a consumer's personal information via social media takes precedent over celebrating and inspiring credit health," he wrote. "We are committed to providing services designed to let consumers access and understand their own credit and, if desired, share parts of that information at the level they choose."
While TransUnion offers the Facebook share button, other credit bureaus, including Experian and Equifax, do not. "Generally speaking, it is never a good idea to share personal identifiable information like your credit score and other financial information via social media," says Equifax spokeswoman Demitra Wilson.
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"Sharing your credit score publicly is kind of like posting vacation photos while you're still on vacation. It gives the bad guys a good idea who to target," says Liz Weston, author of "Your Credit Score." Along with other pieces of information shared over social media, a fraudster could piece together enough details to hack into accounts or send you a fake email from a financial services provider requesting more information. Many Americans are aware of this danger: An April Google Consumer Survey commissioned by TransUnion found that almost half of Americans are "concerned" about having their identity stolen based on personal information included in their social media accounts.
"If I'm a bad guy and I see a credit score from a major credit bureau that was just tweeted or shared, the next thing for me to do would be to go your Facebook page, find your email address and send you an email that looks like it's coming from an entity that you might have previously done business with," says Robert Siciliano, an online security expert.
The fake email could say something like, "There's been some type of issue regarding your account, and we need you to verify data. Reply to this email or click this link. Congratulations on such a great score," Siciliano explains. That's also why it's a good idea to avoid sharing information about recent purchases from Amazon and other online retailers on your Facebook or Twitter accounts, although that option often exists.
The more information you put out for anyone to see, including seemingly innocuous details about your life, the easier it is for people to trick you into trusting them and possibly sharing more information with them, says John Sileo, a privacy expert and chief executive of Sileo.com. "One little piece of information can lead to more. If I see a low score on your Facebook page, I might call you [pretending to be] a financial institution, and say, 'Hey, we can increase your credit score?'" and offer a fraudulent service, for example, he says.