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Equifax sells data to third-party, Congress asks questions

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Equifax operates The Work Number, a work verification database, and Congress has some direct questions as to how and why consumer information has been sold to third parties.

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Equifax under fire by seven members of Congress

The Work Number is a large employment verification database that is operated by credit reporting firm, Equifax, and is now under review by Congress who is questioning the legality of the service, as the firm gives third parties the right to access various data.

In a letter signed by Congressional leaders Jackie Speier (California), Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire), Hank Johnson (Georgia), Sam Farr (California), Louise Slaughter (New York), Zoe Lofgren (California), and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), the Congresspeople state that most Americans would consider payroll information very sensitive and private, and have asked Equifax CEO Richard Smith to answer some tough questions about the company’s practice of reselling information from the Work Number database.

The letter states, “What is most concerning to us is that this database appears to generate revenue using consumers’ sensitive personal information for profit According to a brochure on your own webste, 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.”

Further, they note, “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 letter poses the following questions for Equifax to answer:

  • How many consumers have requested a free Work Number report? How many have reported errors in their report?
  • Do you consider this information to be part of the consumer’s credit report? Is this information provided when a consumer requests their credit report from Equifax?
  • To whom does The Work Number sell employment and salary data? Does The Work Number sell employee information to third party marketers? Is consumer consent ever required for the sale of their data?
  • How much has Equifax earned from the sale of employee data on an annual basis over the past five years?
  • Is health care provider and dental insurance information ever included in these reports?
  • Has there ever been a data breach?
  • Is full salary and employment data ever sold to debt collectors? What information can debt collectors access?

We would ask questions including how consumers have or have not been notified of this data being sold, and whether or not there is an opt out mechanism. Additionally, we would encourage Congress to review all agreement terms between Equifax, Work Number, and any third parties information has been sold to.

In a statement, Speier said, “The Work Number appears to have operated under the radar, with little public awareness of the vast trove of data it was gathering. There is no greater threat to privacy than the creation of a database of sensitive consumer financial and personal information sold for profit for purposes that are unclear and without the knowledge of the consumer.”

“Equifax needs to explain exactly how it is using this data, and provide evidence that The Work Number does not pose a threat to the privacy of 190 million Americans,” Speier asserts. [/span10][/row]

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