A new focus on accuracy in the background screening industry has emerged after several reports about inaccurate background checks appeared in the news recently. The latest story is a blog on HuffingtonPost.com titled ‘5 Stories of Background Checks Gone Awry’ that describes how background checks used when people apply for jobs, open bank accounts, or rent or buy homes can sometimes be “just wrong.” The HuffingtonPost.com blog, which lists five specific incidences of when background checks contained bad information, is available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erin-steiner/5-stories-of-background-c_b_2427586.html.
The HuffingtonPost.com blog cites five stories about inaccurate background checks that include:
- A man with information on his background check indicating he was convicted for two counts of embezzlement. A county criminal record check proved he had the same name and middle initial of the embezzler, but a different birthday.
- A man discovered his background check contained someone else’s criminal charges ranging from false imprisonment to criminal sexual contact on his background check after applying to a position a Walmart.
- A man was mixed up with nationally registered sex offender with the same name on a background check.
- A woman was fired for lying on her application when a background check conducted by her employer turned up a criminal conviction of her similarly named twin brother. The woman cleared up the mistake and got her job back.
- A woman was surprised to find out that she was “digitally dead” and unable to use her own debit cards, credit cards, and checks after mix up at a credit reporting agency.
The background screening industry has faced greater scrutiny over accuracy of reports recently. This increased attention included a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report recommending regulations on data brokers and the FTC charging companies with alleged Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations.
- The FTC was also active on the legal front. In June 2012, in the first FTC case to address the sale of Internet and social media data in the employment screening context, a data broker agreed to pay a $800,000 fine to settle FTC charges that the company marketed profiles to companies in the human resources, background screening, and recruiting industries without taking steps to protect consumers required under the FCRA. For more information, read http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/06/spokeo.shtm.
- In August 2012, in a case representing the first time the FTC charged a background screening firm that delivers reports to employers with violating the FCRA, a background screening firm agreed to pay a $2.6 million penalty to settle charges it violated the FCRA. In both cases, the FTC charged the companies violated the FCRA by failing to use reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of data provided. For more information, read http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/08/hireright.shtm.
In addition, an April 2012 report on background check companies from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) called ‘Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses’ claimed mistakes on criminal background screening reports conducted for employers prevents many job seekers from finding work. The report from the NCLC is available at http://www.nclc.org/issues/broken-records.html.
However, the NCLC report was “itself fatally flawed with errors and inaccuracy,” according to Attorney Lester Rosen, a background check expert and author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ a comprehensive guide to employment screening. To address the “erroneous information and unfounded conclusions” contained in the report, Rosen wrote an article, ‘Consumer Group Report on Inaccurate Criminal Background Check Reports Loses Impact Due to Lack of Objectivity and Errors,’ that is available at http://www.esrcheck.com/articles/NCLC-Report-on-Criminal-Background-Checks-Inaccurate.php.
In the article, Rosen – Founder and CEO of background check firm Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – writes that while the NCLC report suggested “inaccurate criminal background checks are widespread,” the report only cited “a handful of anecdotal stories and some court cases where an inaccurate background check had grave consequences on a consumer’s ability to get a job out of the millions of background checks conducted yearly.”
Rosen also wrote the report failed to differentiate between “data brokers who assemble and sell unconfirmed bulk data” and Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) that conduct FCRA regulated background checks that “provide a background check report where all information reported has been confirmed at the source during its preparation.” In lumping CRAs together with data brokers, Rosen writes that the NCLC report fails to note that a group of approximately 170 leading CRAs formed a group called ‘Concerned CRAs’ to publically reject the use of databases without taking the steps necessary to a ensure accuracy and completeness as required under the FCRA. The Concerned CRAs position statements on bulk data and offshoring can be found at http://www.concernedcras.com/.
In response to recent stories critical of the screening industry, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) refuted reports critical of the screening industry and pointed to an accreditation program created by the NAPBS to improve the accuracy of reports. In June 2012, the NAPBS – a non-profit trade association for the screening industry – announced that an in-house study of background screening companies affirmed the accuracy of background checks and refuted the NCLC report that accused background screeners of routinely making mistakes. The study, validated by veteran market research agency Mathew Greenwald & Associates in Washington, D.C., found that 98 percent of screening providers surveyed encountered consumer disputes less than 5 percent of the time out of millions of background checks performed annually. More than 95 percent of those disputed background check reports were ultimately found to be accurate. The NAPBS press release is available at: http://www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2012/6/prweb9603002.htm.
In November 2012, NAPBS Chairman Fred Giles called an NBC Today Show report about background check firms making errors that mistake innocent people for criminals causing them to lose jobs “misleading” as well as “potentially dangerous.” In the NAPBS statement, Giles said the report did “a disservice to employers and the general public by focusing on a small number of unfortunate instances in an attempt to indict an entire industry that is critical to the safety of our homes and workplaces.” By relying on only a few examples, Giles said the Today Show “ignored the vast majority of the millions of background screens conducted each year and the serious workplace problems they helped to prevent.” Giles said that NAPBS members actively help consumers resolve disputed records and noted that “fewer than 1% of consumer disputed records are actually found to contain an error.” The full NAPBS statement is available at http://www.napbs.com/files/napbs_today_show_response.pdf. The NBC Today Show report is available at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/49505767/ns/today-today_rossen_reports/.
In his statement, Chairman Giles also said the NAPBS had developed “a comprehensive individual certification program and a company based accreditation program with more than 58 specific standards of compliance to ensure our members provide the highest level of performance.” Back in 2010, the NAPBS launched the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP) to promote best practices, legal compliance, and standards that protect consumers in the employment screening industry. The Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) oversees the application process and ensures that a background screening organization seeking accreditation meets or exceeds measurable standards of competence. To become accredited, background screening organizations must pass a rigorous onsite audit conducted by an independent auditing firm that examines policies and procedures related to six critical areas of screening:
- Consumer Protection;
- Legal Compliance;
- Client Education;
- Product Standards;
- Service Standards, and;
- General Business Practices.
Any U.S.-based employment screening organization is eligible to apply for NAPBS accreditation. A copy of the standard, policies, and procedures is available on the NAPBS website at http://www.napbs.com/.
The new accreditation program for background screeners offered by the NAPBS is an effective way of giving employers some peace of mind regarding the quality of screening services. The accreditation process is extremely intensive and the best way of ensuring that a background screening firm is providing accurate information in compliance with all the various laws that are involved. Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is accredited by the NAPBS for successfully proving compliance with the BSAAP. For more information, visit: http://www.esrcheck.com/ESR-NAPBS-Accreditation.php.
The recent focus on accuracy is also the number one trend of the 6th Annual ‘ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends for 2013’ featuring emerging and influential trends in the background screening industry selected by ESR Founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen. The complete list of trends is available at http://www.esrcheck.com/Top-Ten-Background-Check-Trends-for-2013.php.
About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Founded by safe hiring expert Attorney Les Rosen in 1997, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM’– provides accurate and actionable information that empowers employers to make informed hiring decisions for the benefit of their organizations, employees, and the public. CEO Rosen literally wrote the book on background checks with “The Safe Hiring Manual” and ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction held by a small percent of screening firms. Employers choosing ESR know they have selected an agency meeting the highest industry standards. To learn more about ESR, visit http://www.esrcheck.com or call toll free 888.999.4474.
About ESR News:
The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the ESR News Blog Feed, visit http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/feed/. To subscribe to the complimentary ESRcheck Report monthly newsletter, please visit http://www.esrcheck.com/Newsletter/.