I’m going to share a little known fact about background screening – an applicant’s social security number is not used directly in matching criminal records. Put simply, when PeopleFacts conducts its research social security numbers are rarely available in public records. Whether your applicant is a match for a particular criminal record is determined by comparing the first, middle, and last names as well as the date of birth. Why isn’t the most universal identifier we have in this country not used, you ask? It’s a fair question. It would certainly make the process more reliable. The problem is by putting the social security number in the public record it exposes individuals to the risk of identity theft. So for many years now, courts have been redacting the social security number and more recently some jurisdictions have gone further by removing the month and the day of the date of birth.
What this means is that some criminal record matches are based on name and year of birth only. For individuals with common names that can be problematic. For example, did you know there are 46,105 John Smiths in the United States? (see www.HowManyOfMe.com) Let’s do some rough math here. The average life expectancy of men in the United States is 77.4 years. We’ll assume an even distribution of John Smith’s born in each year which gives us roughly 596. Assume the age range of our applicants is between 18 and 55. That’s a range of 38 years. Our potential John Smith pool is 22,648 (596 x 38). According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP) one in four Americans have an arrest or conviction that shows up in a routine criminal background check. That means using only the first and last names and the year of birth there could potentially be 5,662 John Smiths with a criminal record. If I have made the right assumptions and crunched the numbers correctly this is a pretty good example of how limited identifiers can impact a criminal record search.
The above example is a worst case scenario. PeopleFacts educates its clients on the value of providing the middle name or initial and there are still plenty of jurisdictions that include the full date of birth in their records. PeopleFacts employs other methods to determine matches as well. PeopleFacts can use the social security number of an applicant to generate an address history. Many times criminal records will contain the last known address of the individual. Cross-referencing with address history is a way to tell one John Smith from another.
It is important for you as a user of background check reports to understand how your provider determines a match. Ask questions so that you know how many points of data are included. You want to be confident in the data upon which you are basing your decisions.