Equifax, a credit reporting agency, has put together the largest private database of Americans’ personal information ever created. Equifax's 'Work Number' database includes 190 million employment and salary records.
Equifax sells this private information to debt collectors, financial service companies and other companies, reports NBCNews.com.
Robert Mather, who owns a small employment background company, told NBCNews.com: "It's the biggest privacy breach in our time, and it’s legal and no one knows it’s going on. It's like a secret CIA."
The Work Number database contains week-by-week pay stub information dating back years, health care provider info, whether someone has dental insurance and if they’ve ever filed an unemployment claim.
Equifax gets this private information from thousands of U.S. businesses, including many of the Fortune 500. Government agencies and schools also work with the Work Number.
Amazingly, many of them allow Equifax to tap directly into their data so that the credit bureau always has the latest employment information. If that wasn't enough, these organizations actually pay Equifax for the privilege of giving away their employees' personal information, without permission.
Equifax turns around and sells this data to third parties.
Equifax declined to be interviewed, but in an emailed statement to NBCNews.com said it shares "employment data" with debt collectors and others, and said it does so in compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines.
Equifax also markets the Work Number database to student loan issuers. On the firm's website, Equifax brags that Work Number makes debt collectors' jobs easier: "The Work Number produced a 5.5 percent lift in Right Party Contact and a 7.3 percent lift in Collections Resolution versus current skip-trace methods."