July 3rd, 2014 | Sterling

Instant Checks Could Equal Instant Trouble

Instant Checks Could Equal Instant Trouble | SterlingBackcheck

As background checks have gained popularity and exposure, it’s no real surprise that their low-rent cousin, the “instant background check”, has popped up all over the internet. These types of companies promise valuable information about neighbors, friends, colleagues, dates or anyone else that you want to learn more about. The information contained in the reports can range from address history, criminal records, sex offender registries, marriage and divorce records, and other personal information. Although consumers may find this information useful for personal purposes, employers should steer well clear of any instant background checks when screening their employees.

A popular instant background checking company, Instant Checkmate has been criticized for allegedly providing inaccurate reports containing false or missing information. According to a recent story, consumer Chris Gardner revealed that the majority of the background reports he received from the company were not accurate. His own report claimed that he had a pilot license from 1969 when he was an infant and that he had a traffic violation when he was five. When he requested a refund for the $60 he paid, the company refused.

The media investigators reporting Gardner’s story looked into the matter further by running a search on Oregon governor, John Kitzhaber. The results yielded warnings of graphic content, which Instant Checkmate claimed simply meant that the report was detailed. The company also noted that they rely on public records and therefore, the information may not be 100% accurate.

Instant Checkmate was charged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in March 2013 for offering background checks for job applicants and renters without taking measures to ensure the accuracy of information reported through the website. The company was fined $525,000 and was required to make changes in order to follow the law.

Since the story broke and the FTC imposed its financial penalty, Instant Checkmate has added warnings to its website that the information is not to be used for employment purposes and that it is not considered a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA.

For employers who may be tempted by the promise of the instant or inexpensive checks produced by a public record database, they should reconsider their options as this choice could result in inaccurate information and possible legal action. Since public record databases work by matching personal information, the results often report information on individuals with a similar name or date of birth. Instant background checks can also lead to a false sense of security for employers as the results are not comprehensive and may not include felonies, misdemeanors or other reportable information that would reasonably result in an adverse hiring decision.

The fact of the matter is that offering instant public records searches for employment purposes is generally not compliant with the FCRA. Though public record searches can be a useful addition to a background screening program, they must be used in a compliant manner, which requires using reasonable procedures to ensure maximum possible accuracy. Ultimately, the best way for employers to satisfy their obligations is by contracting a reputable and NAPBS Accredited background screening provider.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.