Inaccurate criminal background checks cause significant hardship

Up to half of some criminal background checks are inaccurate or misleading.

One in four adults have a conviction or arrest history that can show up on a routine background check. This has led many Americans to have difficulty finding work or appropriate housing. With the digitalization of background checks, it is easier and cheaper than ever for employers and landlords to conduct such checks. A number of professions and positions, including many government jobs, also require criminal background checks as a condition of employment.

But many Internet background check vendors are unreliable. Some, for example, offer "discount" background checks, many of which have questionable accuracy and may not involve much more than a cursory online search. While some background check firms hold to internal and industry standards, the majority do not, meaning that how well a background check company performs its search on you largely depends on luck.

Background checks are often misleading

The upshot is that even if you are not one of the many Americans with a criminal record, you may still suffer because of the proliferation of background checks. For example, according to the FBI, up to half of the background checks it conducts are misleading. While states are required to report the disposition of a case resulting from an arrest to the FBI in a timely and accurate manner, these federal laws are not enforced. As a result many of the arrest records held by the FBI are not up-to-date.

Fortunately, relatively few employers are allowed to conduct an FBI background check, although certainly state and federal government positions can be subject to an FBI search. And even if your job does not entail a federal agency background check, if the FBI cannot provide background checks that comply with federal law, how trustworthy are private companies that have little to no self-regulatory or accuracy checks in place?

Many types of mistakes are included in criminal background checks

According to a recent report by the Center for Community Change, inaccuracies on criminal background checks take a variety of forms. These include:

  • Reporting the criminal history of someone else with the same or similar name
  • Revealing information that has been expunged or sealed, meaning the courts have ordered the information withheld from prospective employers and the public
  • Failing to provide the final outcome of an arrest, such as if criminal charges were dropped
  • Inaccurately reporting the charges, including reporting a misdemeanor as a felony
  • Misleading employers through the report, such as by listing all of the court dates for a single criminal charge

Fair Credit Reporting Act governs

Fortunately, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law, does set minimum standards of accuracy for background checks. Private companies who violate the FCRA are liable for damages they cause through reporting misleading or inaccurate information.

Clearing up your good name

In addition, it is possible to correct your criminal record, if necessary, or to refute an inaccurate criminal record. However, the process can be stressful. With the consequences of an inaccurate criminal record as significant as they are, mistakes made when attempting to present your true history can be devastating.

At Surovell, Isaacs, & Levy, PLC, our firm has represented applicants and employees in both the private and public sector who have suffered negative consequences because of an inaccurate background check. Contact our office to discuss your situation and legal options.