Put me at risk for identity theft, and I'll do the same for you

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Consumers in Virginia were upset that their government was posting public real estate records online without redacting Social Security numbers. The records posted online also had other sensitive information: bank account numbers, dates of birth, mother's maiden name, and more. There is an obvious identity theft risk in having that information posted online, but the consumers were unsuccessful in getting government officials to change the way they were doing business.

In steps Betty Ostergren, who has published the Social Security numbers of public officials on a website of her own. What a clever way to protest a risky policy -- turn things around on the politicians who refuse to protect consumers!

The government tried to fight back by passing a law that attempted to restrict non-government entities from posting Social Security numbers, but that has failed. Last week a federal judge ruled that Ostergren has a First Amendment right to post the Social Security numbers on her website if she chooses to do so.

I just love this story because it is an example of consumers fighting for their rights. No one in their right mind can believe that it made sense for the government to post all these records online without some minimal precautions to protect consumers. I think giving those officials a little taste of their own medicine was a brilliant act of consumerism, and I hope that officials in Virginia rethink their policies about posting sensitive information about consumers online.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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