The Importance of Personal Identifiers in a Criminal Background Check
January 3, 2008
Criminal records researchers utilize multiple pieces of information while conducting your background checks in county courthouses throughout the country. A crucial piece of risk management and FCRA compliance in any employment screening strategy is the ability to positively tie any criminal record found to a particular individual using more than a simple name match. Commonly called “personal identifiers,” a few key pieces of information provided by your applicants allow our researchers to conclusively identify whether or not criminal records found belong to a particular individual. The absence of any personal identifiers other than a name match means the information cannot be reported to you or used (legally) in your hiring decision.
The general rule of thumb is the more personal identifiers, the easier and more accurate the criminal records search will be. None are more important though, than the Name, Social Security Number and Date of Birth of your applicant. Performing any criminal background check without these three pieces of information can reduce your company’s legal protection and increase the risk that legitimate criminal record information will not be provided by the Court.
Why are these three pieces of information so vital? There are well over 3,000 county courthouses we can check for felony and misdemeanor records in the United States. Each individual courthouse determines its own methods for conducting a proper criminal record search. The method for finding criminal records in one county could be completely opposite the method in the county right next to it. Even within a single county courthouse, there can be one method to search for felony records, another to search for misdemeanors. Each county, and each court within the county, can dictate the manner in which they make criminal records available to the public. In today’s judicial system though, criminal records are most commonly cataloged either by Name, DOB, or SSN.
Now, in every criminal county, we may not need every single identifier. But, because each county is different, it is imperative to have all three to ensure the most complete criminal search. For example, let’s say your applicant has lived, worked, or gone to school in three counties. Those three counties will be the basis of your criminal records search. In County One, the search may be done by name, but County Two is an SSN driven search, while County Three is DOB dependent. We did not need all three identifiers for each county, but we did need all three identifiers to do a complete background check.
Additionally, some counties offer the ability to do a criminal search using one identifier, but return far better results once a second one is added. We have seen several instances where a court returns no records for a client that searched by Name, but then does so once the DOB is also provided. The more identifying information on your applicant we can provide the court, the more criminal record information we can find for you.
Currently, some clients are reluctant to provide dates of birth because they do not want to increase their risk of age discrimination litigation. We respect and understand that position, but in the interests of due diligence, must highlight that a lower risk in one area causes a higher risk in another. While it is not permissible to ask for DOB on a job application, it is permissible to ask for this information on the Disclosure form an applicant signs giving consent to run a background check. While this may be seen as a technicality, it increases your chances of finding criminal records while at the same time offering additional protection from a negligent hiring lawsuit.
EmployeeScreen IQ has created two additional solutions that will not compromise the integrity of the screening process for clients who still do not want to obtain the dates of birth for their applicant. The first option is to direct your applicants to call our DOB Hotline, an 800# created just for this purpose. The second option is a link on to our website, www.EmployeeScreen.com, where applicants can also provide this information. Unfortunately, solutions like this may increase the amount of time your background checks take to complete, because the search does not start until your applicant calls or logs onto our website. However, as some clients have said, the speed at which that is done is a good indicator of how much or how little they want the job.
Please understand that while Name, DOB, and SSN are the three identifiers most closely linked to conducting a compliant, accurate, timely background check, we remain open as to how that information is provided to us. EmployeeScreen IQ continues to remain committed to crafting flexible pre-employment screening solutions, to give you a background check you can use with confidence to make an informed hiring decision.
Kevin Bachman is Vice President of Quality Service for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Kevin can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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