Yet another way personal data can be exposed

Consumers' personal information is vulnerable in more ways than most people might realize. It seems that no matter how diligent you are about protecting your privacy, someone else can come along and undo it all.

This time it was a pair of debt brokers that posted personal and financial information of tens of thousands of people to an unsecured website. And that has led both companies and their owners to agree to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission over their failure to keep the information protected, the FTC said on Monday.

Cornerstone & Co. and owner Brandon Lambert, and Bayview Solutions and owner Aron Tomko were accused of posting names, addresses, credit card numbers, bank account numbers and how much money each person owed. They posted information on about 55,000 consumers.

The FTC said the data was put on a site intended to attract debt collectors and debt buyers, but anyone could access the information. And that, the agency said, exposed the listed consumers to scams and debt collectors who had no right to try to collect the money that was owed.

The FTC filed lawsuits against the two companies, and a judge ordered the data to be removed. In addition, the companies had to tell anyone whose information had been posted what happened and what they could do to avoid becoming victimized.

Under the settlement, the companies agreed to put in place security programs intended to prevent the release of that sort of personal and financial information. They also agreed to be evaluated by a third party every two years to ensure the programs are working and continuing to be used.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.