You're applying for a job, and you learn that you've been accepted. As you, ecstatic, read through the acceptance letter, you see a short note of fine print saying that your job offer is contingent on a review of your employment background check. “No problem” you think, “I don't have any criminal history, nothing to worry about!” Imagine how shocked you would be, then, to learn that you were rejected for the job after your prospective employer took a look at your background check report, and found serious crimes, even felonies, associated with your name.
You would, unfortunately, not be the first person to experience this exact scenario. Some of you reading this may have found us precisely because you have inaccurate criminal history appearing on your background check reports. In this blog, you will learn the answer to the first question that must be popping into your head, “why is there inaccurate information appearing on my employment background report?” There are two main reasons why false criminal history can appear on an employment background check report. Here, we'll go through each in turn.
Your File Has Been Mixed
Readers of this blog will recognize the term “mixed file” from an earlier post about how this can occur on a victim's credit report. The mechanics of a mixed file are, however, substantially different when we're talking about an employment background check report. To understand why that is, a quick note on the source of the information appearing on your background check report is necessary.
In the context of employment background checks, background check companies, which are considered credit bureaus under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, pull information primarily from two sources. The first is a background check company that gathers information directly from court records; the second is from other companies that gather information from court records (we'll call these “aggregators.”) For example, TransUnion may obtain your criminal history from a company that collects that data from courts across the Northeast.
Having established the sources for your criminal history, we can talk a bit more about how inaccurate information finds its way onto your employment background check report. The main way this can happen is that the consumer reporting agency obtaining your criminal background may have difficulty telling if the person in the court records is actually you. For example, maybe a man named John Smith from Albany, born in 1990, was convicted of murder. If your name is John Smith, you also live in Albany, and you were born in 1990, a consumer reporting agency may incorrectly conclude that YOU are the murderer, and so an employment background check report (which is a form of consumer report under the FCRA) will show that conviction to your prospective employer.
You are a Victim of Identity Theft
The second main way that an inaccurate criminal history could end up on your employment background check report is if your identity was stolen. Essentially, a criminal who has stolen your identity is arrested and provides identifying information about you (perhaps the identity thief has a copy of your social security card or driver's license) so that law enforcement records, identifying you as the individual with a criminal record that shows one or more arrests. We've been saying throughout this post that you may have an inaccurate or false criminal history appearing, but in this case it would be more accurate to say that you have a fraudulent criminal history reporting on your employment background check report.
Shouldn't a false criminal history on a background check report be this be easy to detect?
A false or fraudulent criminal history sounds like the type of problem that often should be quite easy to catch. After all, it seems unlikely that a convicted murderer is applying for a job anywhere, since that individual is most likely in prison. Why would a background check company issue an employment background check containing such obviously false information? The truth is, this is an incredibly difficult question to answer. When we talk about credit reports, we are speaking almost exclusively about reports issued by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. However, the world of employment background checks is made up of far more (and smaller) consumer reporting agencies. Employment background check companies such as Backgroundchecks.com, HireRight, and Checkr are just some of the many companies that issue these reports. Because there are so many companies issuing reports, it can be difficult to generalize about why such obvious mistakes are made. With that point aside, and to answer the question at the top of this paragraph, yes, it should be incredibly easy for consumer reporting agencies to identify and block the reporting of inaccurate criminal histories when preparing an employment background check report. Unfortunately (likely because so much of the information gathering background check companies do is automated), this often does not happen.
What can I do?
We will delve into the process of disputing inaccurate information appearing on employment background checks in future posts, but the first step is fairly straightforward. Ask the employer for a copy of the report. In addition, you should contact a series of background check companies and request your employment background check report. A list of some big names in the field include (in addition to Backgroundchecks.com, HireRight, and Checkr), First Advantage, American Databank, and Sterling. Each company will have a slightly different process for obtaining your report. It may seem like a good bit of legwork, but it may prove to be worth every second you spend if you find that your reputation is being stained by an inaccurate criminal record.
If you find a fraudulent or otherwise inaccurate criminal history appearing on your credit report, an experienced FCRA lawyer should be able to give clear advice to help you navigate the process.