5 Bad Background Checks and 1 Perception Problem

Nick Fishman

Criminal Record Background Checks

I guess you can’t blame Huffington Post blogger Erin Steiner for her post entitled “5 Stories of Background Checks Gone Awry” where she highlights five individuals who were adversely affected by inaccurate background checks.  It’s time to acknowledge that we as background screening companies and employers have a perception problem.  The mainstream media continues to highlight instances of inaccurate background checks as they occur.  I think that’s fair.  It shouldn’t happen.

Background screeners have a responsibility to their clients and to their clients’ employees and job candidates to ensure maximum possible accuracy.  That means that they should confirm that the record belongs to the subject of the report before ever reporting the information.  Employers, hiring managers and human resources can’t walk away blameless either.  They have a responsibility to partner with suppliers that are committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure the results are reliable..

That begs the question of whether the perception fair?  And my question; does it really matter whether it’s fair or not?  It’s a perception.  The only thing I disagree with in Steiner’s article is her conclusion:

“The sad news is that mistakes happen all the time over the course of background checks. Sometimes it happens because the reporting agency has old information. Sometimes it is simply human error. Whatever the reasons are, the number of times it happens is staggering. One company has had it happen so often there is a class action lawsuit being brought against it. It is happening so often that there are groups popping up all over the place whose sole purpose is to help people fight back against bad background checks.”

This doesn’t happen all the time.  And here’s the message that I want to shout from the roof top over and over again:  There are far more of us that care to get it right the first time than those who don’t.

As for our part, we’ve defined our philosophy and practices with our “No Shortcuts” approach to employee background checks, but it is worth repeating.

The FRCA requires that we (as a consumer reporting agency) ensure “maximum possible accuracy” in all of our reports—a responsibility our company takes very seriously. That means that with every background check, we take steps to verify the information before it is reported to the employer.  We go to the most current, accurate source each and every time.  We confirm the identifiers on a record belong to the subject of the report such as name and date of birth and, or social security number, and follow standards for acceptable and legal reporting.

As a result of our meticulous process, we stand by the accuracy of the information we report.  Our dispute rate is just 0.15%. And when disputes do occur, we handle them quickly; so that in the unlikely event the information needs to be modified it can be done without penalizing the candidate or unnecessarily delaying the hire.

5 Stories of Background Checks Gone Awry

Background checks are one of those things that have become so ubiquitous in our culture that we very rarely even think about them anymore. You submit to them when applying for a job, opening a bank account, renting or buying a home, securing financing because you’re starting a business, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, sometimes background checks are just wrong.

1. Daniel Baker was lucky. His employer actually called him to ask about the information on his background check that seemed weird before simply assuming the information was correct. It’s a good thing, too, or Daniel would have to prove that no, he hadn’t actually been convicted for two counts of embezzlement. He was able to get a criminal record check from the county fairly quickly that proved that though their names and middle initials were the same, the embezzler had a different birthday.

2. After applying (and being hired) for a position at a Walmart in Sacramento, Patrick Padilla was astonished to find out that suddenly, in spite of living his whole life as an upstanding citizen, he had amassed a slew of criminal charges running the gamut from false imprisonment to criminal sexual contact (and some others). This is another case of name mix-up.

3. Samuel Jackson (not that one) was surprised to learn that he was a registered sex offender after a background check done by a potential employer turned up that information. Not just any registered sex offender, but a nationally registered sex offender. It turns out that the company used for the background check had simply mixed up this Samuel Jackson with another.

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Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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