Little-known database sells millions of Americans’ salary information to debt collectors

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 11:31 EDT
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A woman is stressed out by debt. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
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The credit reporting agency Equifax has created a little-known database that uses employment records, often given freely by human resources departments around the country, to track detailed information on millions of Americans’ pay history, in effect leading employers to help debt collectors extract money from their workforce.

An Equifax subsidiary called The Work Number, according to an investigative report at MSNBC, is often used by larger companies to automate employee work information calls, giving the firm access to human resources data.

Using that business model they obtain as much employment-related information possible and sell it to debt collectors and other financial companies, among various ways of monetizing that data. Up to one-third of all Americans are in the database, MSNBC noted.

These kinds of companies operate in a legal gray area, with very few regulations governing how the information they obtain is ultimately used. Equifax told MSNBC that it requires companies have legitimate reason to access the information, like if a consumer has applied for credit, all ostensibly in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Companies similar to The Work Number were recently called out by the Federal Trade Commission for operating in a privacy vacuum, largely reliant upon rules of their own making. It asked that nine different companies — Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, Peekyou, Rapleaf and Recorded Future — turn over information relating to how they safeguard consumer privacy.

Photo: Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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