Last week, NBC’s Bob Sullivan penned a lengthy report on The Work Number, the database run by Equifax.
Its database is so detailed that it contains week-by-week paystub information dating back years for many individuals, as well as other kinds of human resources-related information, such as health care provider, whether someone has dental insurance and if they’ve ever filed an unemployment claim. In 2009, Equifax said the data covered 30 percent of the U.S. working population, and it now says The Work Number is adding 12 million records annually.
To people who value their privacy, this is a truly scary proposition. Putting aside the concerns about hacking the data, which Equifax assures in secure, the big issue is exactly what is made available to third parties that can request info from The Work Number?
In the Sullivan article, Equifax only says that it provides these parties with “employment data” in keeping with the Fair Credit Reporting Act [PDF]. He also spoke with a Federal Trade Commission attorney who said it’s possible that Equifax could be selling salary information since it’s part of a credit report. (Note: A search of the Word Number employee list finds that the FTC actually contributes its employees’ records to the database).
However, in speaking with Forbes.com’s Kashmir Hill, Equifax clarified that “The Work Number does not provide debt collectors with salary/pay rate/income information… They can request only employment verification data which The Work Number will provide if there is permissible purpose, as detailed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).”
In that piece, an Equifax rep claims, “The Work Number also requires consumer consent for verifications of income – a safeguard above and beyond FCRA.”
From what we can gather by culling together the various reports and statements on the matter, it looks like Equifax can provide your salary information to third parties if you give your consent. So yes, Equifax can make this information available, but it claims it is not making it available to debt collectors.
Regardless, the mere presence of all that information tied up in one database is daunting. For those consumers whose employers participate in the program, it means yet another report to check annually, hoping there isn’t an error that will chase you for the rest of your life.
Speaking of which, to check if your employer is involved with the The Work Number, go HERE and click on “Find Employer Name” right above the Log In button. That will bring up a window where you can search for your employer.
If your employer is supplying info to The Work Number, you are entitled to one free report every 12 months. To get that, click HERE and follow the steps.