Probably not, right? Sounds like a silly suggestion at best, but it may be a good idea if you are looking for a job. You should know what information, whether accurate or inaccurate, is out there and being reported about you. To help illustrate the importance of this, consider for a moment that a recent study by The National Law Project found that an estimated 50% of the records in the FBI’s criminal database system are flawed and earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that approximately “one in four consumers identified errors on their credit reports that might affect their credit scores.”
To start with, typical background checks involve a search of public record information, including criminal filings, civil records, and traffic infractions, to name a few. The prevalence of inaccurate reporting of public record information is why consumer protection laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) were enacted in the first place. A criminal record, bankruptcy, or other falsely attributed or inaccurate items can have a devastating effect on your ability to get hired. The FCRA’s Summary of Rights fully details your protected rights as a consumer.
Another thing to consider is that not all background checks are created equally. The term can mean a variety of things ranging from a quick internet search to a review of your resume to a full scale due diligence investigation. The quality of these checks can also vary wildly based on the scope of the research conducted and the experience of the investigator performing them.
So, what can you do to ensure that the next pre-employment check performed on you will be a true and accurate assessment of your personal background? Follow these simple steps:
Find a reputable company. And no, that company that is offering you a complete background investigation on-line for less than $20 is not a reputable source. Make sure the firm you hire maintains the proper licensing (such as for private investigations) in the state they operate and that they specialize in pre-employment screening. Visit their website to review services, look into any complaints that may have been filed with the state, and screen on-line reviews (via sites including Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, or Google Places) for more details. Make sure to ask questions about their background check service and be comfortable with the answers provided regarding the scope of the investigation, particularly pertaining to what is included and what is not.
Order your pre-employment background check. At the very least, make sure this includes a thorough review of public record information. Often times other sources, including reference checks and co-worker interviews, are offered for an additional fee. While that is helpful to employers, for your purposes it will be most cost effective to limit the inquiry to public records. Focus on potentially derogatory filings, including: criminal records, sex offender registry listings, bankruptcies, warrants, foreclosures, lawsuits, judgments, and lien filings.
Challenge any incorrect records. Once you have your background check in hand, thoroughly review the documents for any inaccuracies and records that have been associated with you in error. It is your right under the FCRA to challenge and correct these items. If the company that provided the check did not include the specific sources where they retrieved certain information, ask them to provide this information to you in writing so you know where to send your dispute resolution letters. Here are two articles that act as a good primer from the FTC on employment background checks generally and how to dispute incorrect items.
Another thing that will be helpful to protecting your reputation is to take advantage of your free annual credit report. While not all states allow the use of credit reports in selecting job applicants, if you live in one that does this may be taken into consideration. Order a report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) annually and verify the information contained for accuracy.
If you have had a background check done recently when applying for a job, request a copy of it from the company in writing and follow the same review and dispute process, especially if you weren’t hired. The same holds true if you are looking for investors or participating in a business merger or acquisition. The news is littered with stories about poorly conducted background checks; don’t let yourself become a victim.
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