White Paper Examines Accuracy of Background Check Mobile Phone Apps and Instant Background Check Web Sites

Users of mobile phone apps and Web sites offering “instant” background checks on anyone at any time with little effort or cost should be aware that while these services are fast, cheap, and easy to use, they may not provide entirely accurate information, according to the white paper ‘Background Check Mobile Phone Apps and Instant Background Check Web Sites: Fast and Easy, But Are They Accurate?’ The complimentary white paper, by Lester Rosen, CEO of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), and Kerstin Bagus, Director of Global Compliance at LexisNexis® Screening Solutions, is available on the ESR website at http://www.esrcheck.com/Download/.

According to the introduction to the white paper: “You’re an employer with a tight budget or a volunteer agency trying to do the impossible—find good employees and volunteers with virtually no budget. Or, maybe you have an apartment to rent and you want to check out a prospective tenant. Or you are dating and want to find out about a prospective partner. You’ve read about low-cost background screening applications available for smart phones and instant online background checks. Could these services help you effectively screen your people, instantly and for little to no cost?”

In this informative discussion for consumers and employers, Rosen and Bagus examine background check mobile phone apps and instant background check Web sites run independently of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) – a federal law that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information – and reveal the benefits and pitfalls for both the person being searched and the person or agency initiating the search.

These apps and web sites allow users to perform instant background checks on anyone anytime from their mobile phones and computers by searching publicly available records and checking social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, while this kind of information is “viewed as a lead source for further review” by professional investigators or researchers, in the hands of the average person the data “can lead to hasty and dangerous conclusions.” According to Rosen and Bagus, some of the dangers of using these instant services include:

  • Reporting inaccurate information. Since these services typically return raw data not fully verified or confirmed with the original record source, they can include outdated results such as a conviction history that does not exist. Even worse, they can show no criminal history when one actually does exist and create the false impression that the individual searched is a “safe” person with no criminal record.
  • Returning information for the wrong person with the same name. Since these services do not generally require identifiers such as dates of birth, they can return results that match the name entered, but do not necessarily match that exact person—an issue often referred to as “common names.”
  • Creating a false sense of security. Safety issues can quickly arise when a “clear” background check result is naively interpreted as a promise that the person being searched has no criminal record.
  • Privacy issues for the person being checked. Since the average person is not knowledgeable about the proper usage of public records, there are no privacy controls in place for the individual being searched.
  • Reputational injuries to the individual being searched if the information is not correct.
  • Misuse of information for employment or tenant purposes. Employers and landlords who use results from these sites can find themselves in a legal and financial nightmare due to intense legal regulation surrounding the use of information for employment purposes from the FCRA as well as numerous state laws. While some of these services say that the data should not be used for employment or tenant screening or any FCRA purpose, these warnings are often buried in fine print. There are even sites that do not even mention the FCRA.

The white paper also notes that unsuspecting users of less-than-reputable background check apps or Web sites may not understand that “it’s just not that easy to get a complete picture of an individual’s background, particularly their criminal history” due to the following considerations:

  • No nationwide criminal record database exists that contains all criminal record convictions in the United States, not even the FBI database known as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). In other words, no single app or Web site is a comprehensive source for all criminal records.
  • If criminal information is found on an individual, it does not mean that the information is current, the criminal record resulted in a conviction (a critical distinction when making employment or other decisions), or the information belongs to the person being searched.
  • If no criminal record is found, it does not mean the person being searched does not have a record since the app or Web site can easily miss a criminal record.
  • Some of the information returned is based upon a “data dump” of billions of public records. For research and investigative professionals, it can point to meaningful clues, but can be of little more value than what is obtained from a quick Google search for everyday users.
  • The information pulled from social networking sites can be wildly inaccurate.

The white paper ‘Background Check Mobile Phone Apps and Instant Background Check Web Sites: Fast and Easy, But Are They Accurate?’ also discusses how to select apps from reputable providers that help users navigate results, social networking data, criminal record databases, and special issues for employers, landlords and volunteer agencies. The complimentary white paper is available from ESR at: http://www.esrcheck.com/Download/.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) and LexisNexis® Screening Solutions are consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) offering FCRA regulated background checks. Copyright © 2011 LexisNexis Risk Solutions and Employment Screening Resources (ESR). All rights reserved.

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR): Founded in 1997 in the San Francisco area with a mission to help employers and employees maintain safe workplaces, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) and provides industry leading technology, legal compliance, service, turnaround, and accuracy. ESR also wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by founder and President Lester Rosen. For more information, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com.