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When Background Checks Go Bad: How to Fix Misinformation in Your Report

Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela

Misinformation in a background check can impact your chances of landing a job. Here are the steps you can take to ensure everything found in yours is accurate.

  • An error reported in a background check can cost job seekers a lot of opportunities.
  • To prevent background check errors, job seekers should consider conducting a background check on themselves.
  • To fix background check errors, look at public reports to find misinformation and ask for corrections.
  • This article is for job seekers who discover or fear that their background checks contain misinformation.

Imagine this: You've made it to the end of an extensive interviewing process with your dream company, only to find out that your background check did not come back clean. The worst part? What they found is not true.

Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. Many job seekers are confronted with misinformation in their background checks, forced to prove the findings wrong and fight for the position they deserve. If you're afraid this might happen to you, it's never too early or too late to tackle the issue. Here's how to prevent and fix misinformation in your background check.

How to prevent background check errors

You don't have to sit back and hope for the best when someone is running a background check on you; you can take action right away. Here are some steps you can take.

Investigate online reputation management.

You might want to consider using online reputation management services to establish and preserve your best public image. While most online reputation management companies serve other businesses, several offer services for individuals. Online reputation management services for individuals can conduct research on your behalf to evaluate your online image. Depending on what they find, they can take various steps to improve that image, including SEO work to push positive information to the top of search engine results about you.

Editor's note: Looking for the right online reputation management service? Fill out the questionnaire below to be connected with vendors that can help.

Run a background check on yourself.

You can also run a background check on yourself "to see what employers will see and double-check that the information is accurate," said Elizabeth McLean, general counsel for GoodHire, an employment screening company. "However, it's important to use an FCRA-compliant consumer reporting agency – the same type of provider that an employer would use. Online background screening services that cater only to consumers may not have access to the proprietary resources and specialized databases that many employers require, and they won't show you the same depth of information."

McLean says you should check for these issues when you review your results:

  • Misspellings of your name
  • Forged signatures
  • An incorrect Social Security number
  • False claims of unpaid loans and credit cards
  • Warrants issued over bad checks you never wrote
  • Suspended licenses falsely obtained in your name

You can also take simple measures to avoid such issues in the first place, like making sure all dates, titles, and degrees or professional licenses on your resume are accurate and up to date, added Rebecca Weiser, compliance manager at Verified First.

"These are the easiest pieces of information to fact-check and are often where discrepancies arise," she said. "It's better to be honest about gaps in employment history or whether or not you graduated college than to have errors found during the verification process."

Additionally, if you have a common name, provide your potential employer with other identifying information to help them search for you specifically, like past or current residences, your Social Security number, full middle name, suffix (Jr., Sr., etc.), birthdate, your maiden name, or any aliases you may have used, Weiser said.

Key takeaway: To prevent background check errors, run a background check on yourself and look into online reputation management if necessary.

How to fix background check errors

If you find misinformation in your background check, don't fret – it's not too late to fix it. Even if your potential employer is the one who finds these discrepancies, background check laws require them to give you a chance to prove the findings are false and clear them.

1. Ensure the employer is complying with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

"Employers should follow the adverse action process outlined in the FCRA, notifying candidates they might not hire them due to information found on their background check," Weiser said. "Employers must give the candidate a reasonable amount of time – defined by the Federal Trade Commission in the form of a letter as a minimum of five business days – to respond to the pre-adverse action notification before finalizing their hiring decision."

The employer will then provide you with a copy of your report, a copy of "A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act," and the name and contact information of the credit reporting agency (CRA) that compiled the report, Weiser added.

2. Learn the most common background check errors.

After receiving a copy of your report, you should know where errors may be before you read it so you know what to look for. Background check errors often fall into one of these categories:

  • The report was generated for someone else with a similar name to yours.
  • Sealed or expunged information appears in the report.
  • One criminal charge appears several times.
  • Misdemeanors are listed as felonies.
  • Arrests are listed without indicating that no charges were filed.

3. Learn where to find common background check errors.

Once you know which background check error you're facing, you should locate the error's source. This often requires more than contacting the company that the employer hired for your background check – usually, these companies are just taking the information they find elsewhere at face value. Instead, one of the below public records is likely your error source:

4. Report signs of identity theft or other issues.

If you find anything strange, like signs of identity theft, follow the guidelines of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the FTC for reporting and addressing these issues, said McLean.

"During the reinvestigation, the hiring manager cannot make a decision on the job to be hired for – they must wait until the matter is resolved," Weiser said. "The CRA will notify the company that a dispute is in process. Once the inaccurate information is corrected, then the hiring process may proceed."

Your potential employer may not appreciate the wait involved, so it's best to be proactive and check the information yourself well in advance to prevent the background check process from reaching this point.

Key takeaway: To fix background check errors, you need to ensure your potential employer gives you your legally protected chance to clear them up, identify any errors' sources, and report any signs of identity theft or fraud.

Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: Iamstocker / Getty Images
Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't writing for business.com and Business News Daily, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. She is also the content manager for Lightning Media Partners. Check out her short stories in "Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror," which is sold on Amazon.