Last updated: November 27, 2023
Performing background checks on potential new hires has become a common practice in many industries. Some companies require employees to submit to them periodically as well. There are dozens of companies online that specialize in completing background searches for their customers. They look for red flags in many areas of a person’s life.
These areas include:
- Home addresses
- Social media profiles
- Real estate transactions
- Voting records
- Family information
- Arrest records
- Driving history
Unfortunately, though, many online companies fail to verify that the information they receive is accurate. Mistakes of this nature can cause someone to be passed by for—or let go from—a much-needed job. And in this age of digital data, it could happen in a matter of minutes.
Common errors have life-changing effects
According to an article posted on TechTarget’s website, lawsuits against a number of background check companies include errors that show a lack of basic attention to detail. Recurring mistakes often include cases of mismatched names and addresses. People having the same first and last names but entirely different middle names have been mistaken for one another as well. These oversights have had detrimental effects on the lives of the plaintiffs.
Moreover, human resources (HR) departments are causing industry practices to be brought into the fray. It seems that before a job candidate whose background check contained an error causing them to be refused a position is able to rectify the mix-up, HR writes them off and hires another candidate to fill the position.
FTC going after companies
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) determined in early September that two background check websites, namely TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate, must pay fines amounting to $5.8 million to settle charges against them. One of those charges is “failing to ensure the maximum possible accuracy” of their reports. These unregulated “find anyone now” companies violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It’s a federal law that regulates the dissemination of consumer information to ensure the accuracy of background checks and credit reports.
Inaccurate background checks have devastating effects on the lives of the people misrepresented. They may lose jobs, homes, or any number of opportunities. Moreover, if word gets out, unending public shaming and a false reputation could follow them into the future.
The Hill paired up with Criminology to conduct a study of 101 people who had background checks completed on them. They quickly discovered that every person participating in the study had at least one error on the criminal record information obtained about them. They compared the results found on study participants from “people search” companies to official, fingerprint-based governmental “rap sheets.”
Seventy-four percent of the total criminal charges reported by online companies that advertise finding data fast for a fee didn’t show up at all on the official state reports.
The participants in The Hill’s study described all types of hardships resulting from errors reported on a background check. Some even stopped volunteering at church or their children’s schools for fear of what might come up on a required background check—even though they never had any type of criminal charge against them!
Resolving the issue
The FTC realizes that online “people search” companies have been masquerading as tech companies rather than official background check companies for years. Issuing hefty fines against these companies is a good start toward getting them under control.
Now that these companies are on the FTC’s radar, it’s hopeful that it won’t be long before it really cracks down on their less-than-desirable business practices. Reporting incorrect data to a potential employer is bad enough. Selling someone’s personal information to anyone who is willing to pay for it is extremely shoddy. Moreover, it could be extremely dangerous for the person being sought out.
Background screenings are intended to be used to keep people safe not to ruin the lives of those who are being researched.