Want to close your LendingTree account? Sorry, no can do

I learned to steer clear of LendingTree.com three years ago when my use of the site to search for a mortgage delivered nothing but spam. When I say I'm done with them, however, that's just an expression, as you're about to see.

This tale -- which, coincidentally, arrived as I was digesting Facebook's terms-of-use debacle -- comes from a friend and redefines the phrase "customer-retention program:"

Thinking about putting LendingTree.com to work for you (you know, the "When Banks Compete You Win" folks)?  Think again. Tried the service for a car loan and when they couldn't find anyone that wanted to loan me anything (which is a frightening glimpse into the state of the financial world since I have little debt and an excellent credit history) I went to close the account.

But there is nothing on the site about how to do that.  So I tried the customer chat option.  Here's the transcript.

Them: Thank you for contacting LendingTree. How may I assist you today?

Me: I want to close this account and strip my personal details. How do I do that?

Them: I'll be happy to assist you with your questions. I can cancel any offers that you may have, but your information will remain on file for auditing purposes.

Me: How do I close the account?

Them: For security purposes, please verify the last four digits of your Social Security Number. This is to ensure the protection of your personal information.

Me: XXXX

Them: One moment while I access your information. There is nothing to cancel because there are no offers that were extended to you.

Me: Right. But I want to close my account so I don't have to worry about all my personal information hanging out there waiting for someone to hack.

Them: The information is completely secure and nothing will happen to it.

Me: Famous last words. Can you get a supervisor online please?

Them: While we can assure you that we will not share the personal information provided by you on your loan request with any third party, we must maintain a record of your inquiry to comply with state and federal record retention laws. This is also consistent with our privacy policy. Should a state or federal regulator request records of consumers who completed loan requests, as a regulated entity, we must comply with that request to produce any such records. You can also visit our Security section to learn more about how we do this.

Me: You can keep the data. I want my account access disabled, my password killed.

Them: We don't know the password. Only you have access to your password. Once you enter it into the system no one can see it or access it at any time for security reasons.

Me: Except the hackers trying to break it. Can you not disable account access so that any attempt to get in there is foiled?

Them: We can not.

Me: Yikes.

So I just checked to see if my three-year-old LendingTree account is still active, and, as the above would attest, it is very much alive. At least I never asked that it be closed ... and they did demand that I change my password before letting me in.

Oh, and in case you're concerned, my friend did get a car loan ... from his bank.

(Update: Comments below include several helpful work-arounds, as well as one report of a LengingTree user having gotten the company to do for him what it said couldn't be done for my friend.)

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