Equifax, one of the nation's largest credit reporting agencies with one of the most expansive private databases of information, has accumulated the salary and employment records of more than one-third of U.S. adults, according to NBC. In turn, the agency has sold some of this information to debt collectors and other financial service companies. That data can make debt collectors' jobs easier by giving them access to information individuals thought only their employers knew.
Our salary information is also for sale by Equifax through The Work Number. Its database is so detailed that it contains week-by-week paystub information dating back years for many individuals, as well as other kinds of human resources-related information, such as health care provider, whether someone has dental insurance and if they’ve ever filed an unemployment claim. In 2009, Equifax said the data covered 30 percent of the U.S. working population, and it now says The Work Number is adding 12 million records annually.
"It's the biggest privacy breach in our time, and it’s legal and no one knows it’s going on," said Robert Mather, who runs a small employment background company named Pre-Employ.com. "It's like a secret CIA."
How does Equifax do it? The credit agency gets the sensitive information from U.S. businesses and feeds it into one of its subsidiaries, The Work Number. Used by lenders and employment screeners, The Work Number serves as a verification of employment and income information.
According to NBC, once the information is compiled, Equifax sells some of it to debt collectors and financial services companies without expressly notifying the individual whose information is being distributed.
Demitra Wilson, a spokesperson for Equifax, verified that debt collectors can request employment data from The Work Number.
“It is somewhat disturbing when you consider that someone is taking information about you and about your behavior and owning it and selling it for a profit,” she said. “But that is what is allowed under the law. If consumers are bothered by it, then they should let Congress know.”
In July, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began supervising U.S. credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the agencies to keep accurate information about consumers, yet recent reports have questioned the veracity and legality of some of their practices.
Come September, the watchdog found that 20 percent of Americans are likely to see a different personal credit score from the one a potential lender would see.