If you’re a company that believes you receive a seven year criminal history from your background screening provider, this may not be the case.
The reason is due to the fact that criminal records are indexed by name and date of birth, NOT Social Security Number. This means that if your applicant has changed their name in the past seven years and you only requested the background check provider to search the current name of the applicant to save your company money, you may be missing criminal records on your applicants.
The common misconception is that criminal records are indexed by an individual’s Social Security Number. Although usage of a single number related to a person may make locating criminal records much easier, this is not how our legal system captures the information. The reasons are clear. Imagine a person gets pulled over for a DUI. The officer asks for their license and registration. Since the Social Security Number is not listed within the legal documents, the officer would then need to ask for their Social Security Number. Even IF they told the truth, the officer would then need to write down the number they provide at the risk of transposing it and thereby accidentally logging the charge under the wrong person. Then we also get into issues of personal identity theft surrounding Social Security Numbers and the issues just start mounting from there.
For these reasons, law enforcement must rely on the information contained within a driver’s license or other government issued identification. This includes full name, date of birth, address as well as visual features such as hair, skin and eye color. After the arrest is made, the clerk of court will then manually enter the individual’s information and index the charge by the person’s name.
So what happens when this same person who was arrested for a DUI charge gets married in a couple of years and then applies to a new job? The answer depends on the companies decision to opt in (or out) of maiden/alias name searches. If the company “opts out,” a missed record will occur because in the example above, the charge was recorded under the applicants maiden name. Although this company will save money overall on background screening, it comes at the risk of missing criminal records. Had the company opted in, all records for the new hire would have been reported by the background screening agency and the company would have all the information needed to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, opting in for maiden/alias names searches will cost more since a new request will need to made to the court for each name the person has used in the past seven years. For this reason, a company must decide if costs or comprehensiveness is most important when developing a background screening program.
So what does a Social Security Number provide? Applicants are required to provide their Social Security Number in order for the background screening provider to pull a seven year residency history. This information will direct the research team as to which counties to pull to ensure a clear criminal history on the applicant. Without this information, agencies would be reliant on the applicant to self disclose their past addresses and risk missing county searches that potentially have criminal activity reported.