When A Background Check Finds The "Wrong Man"

Posted by: Katie Hartley March 11, 2016


As a consumer who has also worked in the background check industry for 14 years, I cringe on behalf of job applicants when I read stories about employment background checks that find the "wrong man." It seems to happen often that a background check finds inaccurate negative information because the background check was not thoroughly completed to get the most accurate information available.  To give more insight into these types of situations, I wanted to provide additional information on best practices in the background check process that typically prevent this type of misidentification from happening.

Why it happens:

It is common in the background check industry for employers and gig economy organizations to utilize a search tool often referred to as a National Criminal Database.  While it is a useful tool for casting a wider net outside of where a person has resided, it is meant to be used as more of a “tips and leads” database in conjunction with other background check searches. 

There is no truly “nationwide” database that stores all criminal history from all courts in the U.S. and other reporting jurisdictions (like police departments) do not report to any single nationwide database (including the FBI NCIC Database) on a required basis or frequency, so records retrieved from any “national criminal database” may not always be current or complete.

For this reason, it is recommended by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that any information returned from this search be verified with the original source that provided the information.

Measures to prevent misidentification:

While I can’t speak to the specifics of the process used to check the candidate in this recent article, I can speak to how Accurate Background and companies who do background checks correctly work to prevent this from happening.

The best practice is to confirm the information returned on a database search like the FBI NCIC Database with the local court or reporting jurisdiction that provided the information to the database. This ensures that the records match those of the candidate being checked.  If the reporting jurisdiction does not match the candidate being checked by more than one matching criteria (ex. full name including middle name, DOB, SSN, address), the Credit Reporting Agency should not report the information returned by any national criminal database. While the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act allows for a process called contemporaneous notice, it is not recognized as best practice and has elevated risk of litigation. 

In addition to confirming the information with the reporting jurisdiction, there is also a human element to the background check process that requires reviewing any results for compliance and accuracy before they are returned to the organization requesting the check. 

In short, if these steps are followed as they should be, this type of misidentification is often avoided and error rates are drastically reduced. 

In the event a mistake is made, there is a dispute process all background check companies are required to follow that involves notifying the client organization and the job candidate that the original report provided is being disputed and under review.

Posted by Katie Hartley

Katie Hartley has been in the background screening industry for more than 13 years and is Director of Products for On Demand Platforms at Accurate Background. Her experience in the industry includes cross-functional work in a variety of departments including operations, customer service, sales, account management, client onboarding, and product management. Over the course of Katie's career, she has demonstrated her ability to be proactive through superior client care and client training skills. Her extensive years of experience enhance her ability to contribute innovative ideas and offer the best possible solutions to best streamline the background screening process for employers worldwide.