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Five Common Mistakes in Background Checks and How to Avoid Them

by Blake Forrester 10/15/2009 9:29:00 AM

In a report first aired September 29 on CNN (video here), reporter Gerri Willis interviewed a woman who described how her husband's dream job turned into a nightmare because of false information found on his background check report that initially prevented him from gaining employment (the report was later corrected and he got the job).

From entry level to executive suite, most jobs these days require a pre-employment background check. Various surveys show that between 80 to 95 percent of U.S. businesses conduct some variety of background checks on prospective employees, and many employers are re-checking current workers in addition to applicants.

Statistics show that hiring managers find discrepancies on over 50 percent of applications and resumes. With the rise in unemployment resulting in a large pool of jobseekers, employers can – and most surely will – be as stringent as possible when it comes to the pre-employment screening process. If you are one of the millions of people currently looking for work, you most likely will undergo a background check.

What's in a Background Check?

It depends on the job, but the majority of background checks include a Social Security Number (SSN) Address Trace (to locate addresses you may have lived at) and some sort of Criminal Record Search (county, state, ‘US Crim,’ or federal). In addition, many employers seek other information such as a Sex Offender Search, an Employment and/or Education Verification, a Professional License Verification, a Motor Vehicle Driving Records (MVR) Examination, or a Credit Report.

To ensure that your personal information is correct, you need to know what possible mistakes, errors, and inaccuracies are most common during typical background checks. Once found, they can be removed or changed. Here are “5 Common Mistakes in Background Checks” and the reasons they occur:

COMMON MISTAKE #1: Mistaken Identity

When you visit a social networking website like Facebook or MySpace, are you surprised to discover that so many people share your name? Do some make you say: “That’s not the right (your name)! I’m me!” So it shouldn’t come as a shock that a subject of a background check can get mixed up with a less than desirable namesake. What is surprising though is the fact that most criminal record cases in the United States do not contain your Social Security Number. As a result, courthouses use your name and date of birth as the main identifier. It is very easy and common for a criminal record to be returned that has your name, and in some cases your date of birth, as identifiers.

COMMON MISTAKE #2: Wrong Social Security Number

Your nine-digit Social Security Number (SSN) is more important than your name, since no one is allowed to share your SSN number (unlike your name). But a simple typo in one of those nine digits can lead to a lot of trouble during the SSN Trace, which is usually the first step in most background checks and reports any names and addresses used or associated with the SSN, and if the SSN belongs to a deceased person.

COMMON MISTAKE #3: Identity Theft & Fraud

Sometimes it is no accident when someone else ends up with your name and your SSN. Identity theft increased 22 percent in 2008 to victimize almost 10 million U.S. adults, according to a report released by Javelin Research. The unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to achieve financial gain is rapidly becoming a popular way to earn a living in today’s economy. A criminal with your identity can commit crimes, be arrested, and skip a trial, leaving you with a warrant for your arrest.

COMMON MISTAKE #4: Incomplete & Missing Information

Inaccurate and out-of-date information is bad enough, but sometimes your records contain incomplete or missing information that fails to tell “the whole story” – i.e. the truth – which means that you will have some explaining to do after a background check. “It wasn’t my fault…” and “What really happened…” are two phrases that you never want to have to say during a job interview. Most experts agree that up front communication about any criminal record is the best practice to pursue. Many background checks do not contain all of the information in the criminal file, only partial information gleaned from a quick glance or an electronic look‐up of the record. Items such as dismissals, expungement, diversion programs, or successful completion of parole or probation may be left out in error. It is important to make sure the prospective employer knows all of the facts, including how it all ended.

COMMON MISTAKE #5: Illegal Information 

Many states have protections on what information may be included in a background check or how it is procured. For example, California, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico (in most cases) limit the years your background check report may go back to a maximum of seven (7) years. Other states (Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, and Washington for example) allow the use of criminal records unless your proposed salary is above a certain amount (some are $20,000 a year and others $75,000 per year, depending on the state). Some states even restrict the types of records that may be reported (marijuana convictions, for example). On a federal level, the use of some criminal records in a hiring decision can be deemed discriminatory (Find U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on the use of criminal records at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/convict1.html).

The biggest legal issue is if you discover an employer conducted a background check on you without your written permission. All employers must receive your permission before procuring a background check through a third party agency. This federal law cannot be preempted by any state law and must be followed.

How Do I Correct Any Errors Found?

You’re in luck. The law is on your side when it comes to background checks for employment purposes. Prior to making a decision not to hire you, the employer must give you notice of their intent to do so and the name of the company that conducted the background check on you. They must also give you a copy of the report and wait at least five (5) days to allow you to dispute the information in the report. If an error is found on the report and you dispute it, the employer and the background check company must correct the errors and prove to you that they have done so.

Make Sure Your Personal Information is Accurate with a “Personal” Background Check

In today’s “Age of Information,” you are what your personal information says you are. Jobseekers consenting to a background check should at least know what information will be uncovered beforehand, and if that information is accurate, up-to-date, and secure. Or else suffer the consequences of lost jobs. Protect yourself by protecting your personal information. Find the errors before they find you. Since it is your information, it is up to you to make sure it is correct with a personal background check.

Background checks have been performed by employers on prospective employees for years. Jobseekers requesting background checks on themselves in order to better their chances of getting hired is a recent development. By giving yourself a personal background check, you are taking control of your own personal information – a good idea no matter what your employment situation is – and telling prospective employers that you have nothing to hide.If you are willing to pay for new clothes, a new haircut, a resume-polishing, a job fair, an employment seminar, or a book on how to find a job, why not purchase a background check so you can see what potential employers will see BEFORE they see it?

MyBackgroundCheck.com is a pioneer in consumer‐requested background check services and one of the first to use a secure web‐based ordering portal for individuals who wish to purchase a background check. We are a leader in the growing “Personal Information Management” movement and offer consumers control over their personal information, knowledge of who is viewing their reports, and a safe and easy way to share their information with anyone else they choose. To take control of your personal information with an account from MyBackgroundCheck.com, visit us at www.MyBackgroundCheck.com, email info@mybackgroundcheck.com, or call 1‐800‐503‐2364.

Related Blog: Research Shows One Out of Five Background Check Disputes May Involve Identity Theft

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tahearn@mybackgroundcheck.com  

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