NBC News: Equifax Has America’s Number … and Its Paystubs

Monday, 04 Feb 2013 07:50 AM

By John Morgan

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Credit reporting agency Equifax has assembled a giant private database of Americans’ personal information from company and government sources, including their salary information, and sells at least some of the data to its clients, according to NBC News.

Buyers of information in the database, which contains 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults, is sold to debt collectors, financial services companies and other organizations.

NBC said the information is handed over to Equifax from thousands of human resource departments at companies and also comes from government agencies such as the Department of Defense and even schools.

Editor's Note:
The IRS’ Worst Nightmare — How to Pay Zero Taxes

The Equifax database, created through a subsidiary called The Work Number, “is so detailed that it contains week-by-week paystub information dating backs years for many individuals, as well as other kinds of human resources-related information, such as healthcare provider, whether someone has dental insurance and if they’ve ever filed an unemployment claim,” NBC reported.

Equifax said in in a statement it shares “employment data,” but that it does so in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Equifax spokesman Timothy Klein said consumers give third parties the right to access their data “at the time of application” for credit.

In a brochure, Equifax said, “The Work Number specializes in employment and income verification. It’s direct from the source: the employer. It’s current, as of the last pay period. It’s delivered quickly – on demand.”

Klein denied salary information is sold to debt collectors. However, Equifax CEO Richard Smith in a 2009 interview acknowledged that Equifax companies “can provide information about a debtor’s location, income and employment,” NBC reported.

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said he was unaware the data was sold to third parties.

“I think it is something that would be offensive to many people. One typically considers salary information to be shared by your employer just with IRS,” he said.

Katrina Blodgett, a Federal Trade Commission lawyer, said the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives financial services companies the right to review credit reports of consumers they do business with.

“It’s not as easy as it should be to say whether debt collectors can get your consumer reports, because it depends on the circumstance,” she told NBC. Blodgett added that Equifax might have the right to sell salary information to debt collectors because it is part of a credit report.

Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, told The Huffington Post that as more data are digested by big computer systems, Americans would see more such massive data sharing.

“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.”

Editor's Note: The IRS’ Worst Nightmare — How to Pay Zero Taxes

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