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Suit Alleges Sloppy Security in Major Sears Site

Customer warranty information can be easily accessed by anyone, court filing says

A class action lawsuit was filed against Sears Roebuck last Friday, alleging that one of the company's Websites was exposing the personal information of the retail giant's warranty customers.

According to a filing in Cook County court in Illinois, the Sears Website, called Manage My Home, allowed users to enter others' addresses into a database and collect information about their purchasing habits, as well as all of the Sears-warrantied products in the home.

The lawsuit was filed just days after two researchers alleged that Sears was distributing spyware from its customer community Website. (See Is Sears Sending Spyware to Customers?)

According to the court filing, the Manage My Home site provided a simple login that could easily be faked, and then offered fields that enabled the user to type in any street address -- and collect all of the information about warrantied products at that address.

The simple access method could easily enable outsiders to check on the products used in a particular home, enabling criminals or thieves to leverage that information to steal identities or even physically break into a home.

"The public exposure of personal information on the Sears Website shows contempt for customers and customer privacy," says Scott Kamber, a legal expert on electronic privacy and lead counsel for the lawsuit.

Sears has not responded to the allegations or the lawsuit as yet, according to Kamber. "They have 30 days to respond, but I think we'll hear from them sooner than that," he said.

The lawsuit, which was filed by plaintiff Christine Desantis as a class action on behalf of all Sears customers, does not ask for damages, but asks the court to stop Sears from exposing the data. However, the suit does offer an estimate of the damages at "less than $5 million."

Sears does not comment to the press on pending litigation. A brief browse around the Manage My Home site earlier today did not reveal an obvious interface to any warranty information, but it is not clear at this posting whether the feature has been hidden or disabled.

The retail giant likely will settle the issue out of court, Kamber predicted.

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