The Red Tape Chronicles looks into Equifax’s The Work Number company, which sells some private employment and pay data of individuals to third parties, including debt collectors:
The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans’ personal information ever created, containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults.
Some of the information in the little-known database, created through an Equifax-owned company called The Work Number, is sold to debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities. [...]
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.
How does Equifax obtain this sensitive and secret information? With the willing aid of thousands of U.S. businesses, including many of the Fortune 500. Government agencies — representing 85 percent of the federal civilian population, including workers at the Department of Defense, according to Equifax — and schools also work with The Work Number. Many of them let Equifax tap directly into their data so the credit bureau can always have the latest employment information. In fact, these organizations actually pay Equifax for the privilege of giving away their employees’ personal information.
Equifax turns around and sells some of this data to third parties, including debt collectors and other financial services companies.
Equifax declined to be interviewed, but in an emailed statement to NBCNews.com, it confirmed that it shares “employment data” with debt collectors and others, and said it does so in compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines. [...]
But Kathy Sandy of Sommerville, N.J. was surprised to find that a debt collector had accessed information from her report two years ago, something she learned only when she obtained her “consumer disclosure” from The Work Number. Because the data is considered a credit report, consumers are entitled to one free report every year. The report shows what data the report contains, and what entities have seen it.
Sandy’s Work Number report, which she shared with NBC News, is 22 pages long — an amazingly detailed history of every paycheck she had received for years. The first page of the report lists “verifiers who have requested your data in the past 24 months.” On the list is “Pressler and Pressler,” a law firm that specializes in debt collection. The firm had sued her in small claims court over a credit card debt that she says she was already repaying.
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