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Personal, financial data of 70,000 posted online

Two debt-selling companies, trying to sell their portfolios of debt, posted personal and financial information of 70,000 consumers, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

The FTC said it had filed lawsuits against the companies and received a court order requiring them to notify the victims and explain how to protect themselves in light of the disclosure.

Among the details that were posted on spreadsheets to unprotected websites were names, addresses, bank accounts, credit card numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers, employer names and the debts that were owed, the FTC said. While the information was intended to be seen by debt collectors, the FTC alleged it was open to anyone and that the details had been accessed more than 500 times.

"Debt brokers and collectors who play fast and loose with people's sensitive personal and financial information are causing tremendous harm," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Companies must treat sensitive consumer information with appropriate care and security, and the FTC will take action when they fail to do so."

In addition to providing all the information that identity thieves would need to prey on the victims, the FTC alleged the companies also "exposed them to 'phantom' debt collection, a practice in which unscrupulous debt collectors try to extract payments from consumers when they do not have authority to collect the debts." Plus, anyone who accessed the files can identify those on the list as having debt problems.

Defendants include Cornerstone & Co. of Riverside, Calif., and Bayview Solutions of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The FTC accused them of violating federal law by disclosing private information and is seeking some form of compensation for those whose information was posted.