We all know it is common practice for employers, landlords, volunteers, dating services, etc. to conduct background checks. Understanding how this information is retrieved will answer the question of, “Why did someone else’s criminal record show up on my background?” The common misconception is that one database exist in which all criminal records are stored and maintained. The other misconception is that criminal history is searched by a persons social security number. This is a dream scenario but in reality is not the way background checks are performed.
Criminal history is searched a number of different ways. The most common way is to search a Multi-State Database comprised of scraped county and state records that companies have built and sold to employers, landlords, etc.
This method is searched by Name and Date of Birth only which is the most common reason for other peoples information showing up on your background report. For instance, if you are both named John Smith with a similar birthday, and one of you has a criminal record, the chances are Good John will have to deal with Bad John’s criminal history showing up every time there is a background check conducted. Even with uncommon names an individual can still have the same name and similar birthday as someone else with a criminal record. When this happens it would be a good idea to call the county court clerk for the county the said offense took place. In some cases they will issue a clean report to keep for your records that states the individual showing on your background is in fact not you. The employer or landlord can confirm this themselves but this will allow them to see that you are proactive and have taken the steps to ensure they understand it is not you.
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Since criminal history is stored by name and date of birth, alias names are also a big factor, for example: “Kathy”, “Katie”, “Kate”, “Kat”, etc., can all be variations of “Kathryn” , same for “Bob” and “Robert”, and other names like this. It is important that the person running the background check enters in the correct legal name of the applicant because that is most likely where the criminal history will be stored. Another variable that must be considered is when individuals have been married multiple times. This is where a Social Trace will help, a Social Trace retrieves information by using the social security number of the applicant. *a social trace does not search for criminal history. A Social Trace will bring back alias names, past married names, year and state issued, and 10 years of previous addresses. Once all the alias names have been gathered every name should be searched for criminal history to ensure the best possible accuracy. If the current name is the only name that is searched, there could be a record from a past married name in which criminal history might have been found. With all these variations is it wise for an employer or landlord to use an outside company to conduct their background checks. This allows for better accuracy which lessens the liability of making a decision based on an inaccurate criminal record retrieved on the internet.
Many people do not realize that criminal history is split up between different levels government, the following places must be searched individually to get the most accurate background check. These databases are separate from one another. If criminal history is missed for instance, it might be found in one of the other levels.
- Federal Criminal Records
- State Criminal Records
- County/District Criminal Records
- Municipal (city) Criminal Records
Which background screening company does law enforcement use?
N.C.I.C. – Police Database *most background screening companies do not have access to this database
If you are the subject of a fingerprint background check that search goes through the N.C.I.C. – National Crime Information Center. This is common for federal jobs, child care jobs, some healthcare positions, and other various instances where federal clearance may be required. Most employers will not use this method, it is more expensive and still does not cover all the places criminal history may be stored. Click here for information on why a fingerprint check may not be enough.
If you are pulled over or detained by a police officer they will most likely search their state database for criminal history. For instance, Arkansas Law Enforcement would search the A.C.I.C.- Arkansas Crime Information Center; Texas Law Enforcement will search the T.C.I.C. – Texas Crime Information Center, and so on for each state.
I hope this helps in understanding the variables to running a background check. When all else fails, call the company that performed the background check and they should have a process in which an applicant can dispute criminal history that in deed belongs to someone else.