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Congressmen ask Equifax to explain sale of sensitive employee data

Richard Smith

Richard Smith

In a Wednesday letter to Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith, several members of Congress requested that Smith provide information regarding the sale of employee information by The Work Number, an Equifax subsidiary.

“Most Americans would consider payroll information very sensitive and private, information generally only shared with the Internal Revenue Service,” the letter said. “We were therefore very disturbed to read the recent report on NBCNews.com regarding the collection and sale of detailed employee salary and personal data by The Work Number…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 reportedly is sold to debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities.”

The congressmen said in the letter that the database contains week-by-week paystub information, as well as information regarding health care provider and whether the consumer has ever filed an unemployment claim. The legislators also said that government agencies allow Equifax direct access to their data in order to provide the credit reporting agency with the latest employment information.

“What is most concerning to us is that this massive database appears to generate revenue using consumers’ sensitive personal information for profit,” the letter said. “According to NBCNews, Equifax sells some of this data to third parties, including debt collectors and other financial services companies. According to a brochure on your own website, Equifax brags that The Work Number makes debt collectors’ jobs easier. We are also concerned by the fact that Equifax markets The Work Number specifically to student loan issuers. We believe it is unlikely that consumers understand that they give these third parties the right to access the kind of data included in this database ‘at the time of application’ for credit.”

The legislators said that while the database allows creditors, such as landlords, to access an applicant’s personal and salary information, consumers should not have to give up all of their rights to protect their personal information. Additionally, the lawmakers said that the data is considered a credit report, and consumers are, therefore, entitled to receive up to one free report per year, but they do not know it exists. The legislators requested that Equifax provide them with information regarding the data contained within the report, the number of consumers who have access to the report, whether the data is sold to debt collectors and whether the data appears on a traditional credit report.

The letter was signed by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).