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.