Huge Privacy Breach: One Third Of Americans’ Salary Details Available From Credit Bureau
It’s a fact of life that credit information is shared with banks, rental agencies and employers. But Americans may be shocked to discover that in addition to payment, address, and employment history. Equifax is also sharing its salary information through its subsidiary The Work Number.
According to a new report from NBC, salary details of more than 190 million Americans is available through The Work Number, and an additional 12 million records are added each year. The information is sold to entities such as debt collectors and financial service companies.
“It’s the biggest privacy breach in our time, and it’s legal and no one knows it’s going on,” Robert Mather, who runs a small employment background company named Pre-Employ.com, told NBC News. “It’s like a secret CIA.”
The Work Number offers a database so detailed it includes weekly pay information going back years for some individuals, as well as information on health-care providers and whether or not the employee has dental insurance, and if he or she has ever filed an unemployment claim. The information is provided to Equifax from thousands of participating U.S. businesses—including many Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and schools.
Why do companies outsource employment information to Equifax? It saves them the hassle of fielding employment verification calls when a former employee applies for a new job with another firm. Taking such calls can open companies up to lawsuits if disparaging information about a former employee is shared. By contracting with The Work Number, the information is automated.
The database also allows prospective landlords to verify a person’s income and employment record, as well as mortgage, auto and other credit grantors authorized under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, according to Klein. But he denied salary information being sold to debt collectors.
“Debt/Collection agencies may request employment information—which may be nothing more than verifying that a consumer is working where they say they are – if it qualifies under permissible purpose,” Klein wrote to NBC. “Collections agencies are not provided salary information.”
But in 2009 Equifax CEO Richard Smith said otherwise during an interview with NSYE Magazine.
“We can provide information about a debtor’s location, income, and employment,” Smith said at the time. “That can help prioritize which accounts to pursue first. If they’re employed, that business has a better shot at collecting what is owed to them.”
According to The Work Number’s Web site, a firm cannot access information from The Work Number’s database without the consumer’s authorization. But when checking the box on most applications granting access to a credit report, now many consumers are even aware that any report includes years of salary information? Even may experts are unfamiliar with the database.
“Are you joking? Oh my god, I’m shocked,” Ponemon Institute privacy expert Larry Ponemon told NBC when the business was described to him. “This is unbelievably scary. I consider payroll information very sensitive and private.
“If the public knew about this, there would be such outrage,” he said. “It’s just… really depressing.”
Want to see how much of your information is available from The Work Number? Go to TheWorkNumber.com and request a copy of your report.