But their background check came back clean!


A 6-part blog on why background checks miss records: Part 1

Welcome to a six-part blog on why many background checks miss important, even frightening criminal records. First, let’s make sure we are on the same page about one thing: there is no single, 100% accurate, up-to-date, repository of criminal records in the United States. In fact, criminal records are divided into literally thousands of different resources governed by almost as many different laws. This means it is possible for any background check to potentially miss records. The key is to layer multiple different searches using a variety of resources to piece together the best possible picture of an individual’s past without going to enormous expense. It’s important to use as much real-time and original source data as possible. So let’s get to it.

Make Sure you have the Right Person

One of the most preventable mistakes is running a background check on the wrong person or someone who doesn’t even exist.

There are two methods used to determine identity:
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Fingerprints

It is a common misconception that criminal records are tied to a person’s social security number. It’s likely because CRAs (Consumer Reporting Agencies – aka background check companies) require the SSN to conduct their search. The truth is that the SSN is supposed to be used to verify the person’s identity. Unfortunately, it isn’t always used effectively.

The Dangers of Typos

The overwhelming majority of criminal records searches are name based. One of the most common mistakes is simply misspelling the person’s name and running the search. Simple mistakes like Michelle with three Ls, or Thompson vs Thompsen, or Phillip vs Philip, will yield faulty results. You end up either getting reports on someone other than your applicant or a “clean” report because there was no such person, to begin with.

Validation vs. Verification

Many companies will do a SSN validation. This is a simple inquiry to the SSN database to see that the number is valid, but takes no further steps to connect it with the applicant. A SSN verification takes additional steps to check that the applicant’s name is associated with the SSN, that the issue date of the number corresponds to the person’s birth date, that the address provided is included in the address history and other data points. A few companies will also check the SSN against death records and the best ones will verify the spelling of the person’s name as it’s been provided with the name on record with the SSN.

So What About Fingerprints?

Fingerprints are the only 100% sure way to identify a person. The FBI Fingerprint database ties a record to the fingerprint. Special conditions and legislation must be in place to allow access which disqualifies all but a select few from using it. Those who are required to use it typically face higher costs and considerable wait times for the results, which can take up to 8 weeks.

In summary, make sure you are searching the right individual, that you have properly spelled the name, and are using a service that does a thorough SSN verification. Next time, we will discuss the Nationwide Criminal Search. Is it really what people think it is?



One Source TotalCheck and TotalCheck Plus packages start with an applicant verification that manually checks the applicant’s information to SSN Records including:

  • Spelling
  • Address History
  • Date of Birth
  • Death Records Index
  • and More!



About Author

Greg Simmons
Greg Simmons

Greg oversees the nonprofit business development at One Source. He helps clients around the country and across a full range of industries, hire the right people by providing the most comprehensive pre-employment screening products and services.

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