How U.S. Credit Bureau Data Trickles Down

Joseph Cox at the newly launched 404 Media:

This is the result of a secret weapon criminals are selling access to online that appears to tap into an especially powerful set of data: the target’s credit header. This is personal information that the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion have on most adults in America via their credit cards. Through a complex web of agreements and purchases, that data trickles down from the credit bureaus to other companies who offer it to debt collectors, insurance companies, and law enforcement.

A 404 Media investigation has found that criminals have managed to tap into that data supply chain, in some cases by stealing former law enforcement officer’s identities, and are selling unfettered access to their criminal cohorts online. The tool 404 Media tested has also been used to gather information on high profile targets such as Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, and even President Joe Biden, seemingly without restriction. 404 Media verified that although not always sensitive, at least some of that data is accurate.


“It should absolutely not be allowed,” Rob Shavell, CEO of DeleteMe said of credit bureaus feeding credit header data to wider industries. Of all the entities that are the root cause of this data, “the credit bureaus are number one,” Shavell added. “They are the ones that should be subject to the strictest compliance and ultimately be held to a higher privacy standard by the federal government and by state governments than they are being,” he said.

The newest part of what Cox found appears to be the Telegram bot which automates the lookup based on stolen credentials, but there are hundreds of services which offer more-or-less similar information because of how leaky the credit reporting industry is. You can look on DeleteMe’s site and find a whole bunch of websites which promise results, so long as you pinky promise not to break the law.

Even credit reporting agencies themselves have been prone to leaks, reported as recently as January by Brian Krebs, not to mention that whole Equifax thing.

Tressie McMillan Cottom:

When you get a new mortgage they sell your number and this happens.

Chelsey Cox, CNBC, last week:

The White House on Tuesday held a roundtable examining potentially harmful data broker practices, part of an administration wide push to protect Americans’ privacy in the era of AI.

This, like so many privacy issues, has seemed critically important for decades yet has seen little to no progress. At Techdirt, Karl Bode points out two good reasons for that: the industry is rich, and it creates a workaround to avoid messy things like civil liberties.