Navigating Aliases/AKAs in National Criminal Records Searches

As mysterious as the word “alias” can sound, you don’t have to be a secret agent to have one. In fact, nearly everyone you meet has gone by a different name at one point in time. In social settings, the confusion can lead to awkward situations at worst, but when a person applies for a job with your company or organization and they have multiple AKAs (also known as), or aliases, conducting thorough and accurate employee background checks can get complicated, as you can imagine, especially when searching criminal record databases. Before hiring an employment screening company, here are the key points to remember about aliases and AKAs to make sure you’re getting the most accurate results possible.

Word to the Wise

Make no mistake: if one of your candidates has something to hide, they’re not going to offer up the information you’d need to track it down, especially if there’s a way to muddy the water. The criminally minded will know the subtle ways to confuse the background check process, or cover their tracks, whether that means omitting past aliases and addresses on the application or making minor misspellings to their name on the background check authorization paperwork.
Cynicism aside, however, omissions and misspellings can also be the result of innocent oversight. But with the following pointers and best practices, you can avoid confusion and conduct criminal background checks with confidence.

How Do Criminal Record Searches Work?

The reason why it’s so important for screeners to know an applicant’s previous aliases and AKAs is that name searches are the universal Step One in criminal record research. Generally, a different name may as well be a different person in this sense, especially when/if one name pulls up a criminal case file and another (for the same person) doesn’t.
  1. Step One: Searching court indexes by name. At this stage, if no record match is found for a given name in a jurisdiction, the name is cleared for that jurisdiction and the search continues across other jurisdictions, such as the applicant’s other places of residence and/or employment.
  2. Step Two: Confirm findings. If a match is found for a given name, the verifier will then confirm the match and criminal record findings by honing the search with additional identifiers, such as the applicant’s social security number (SSN), date of birth, or driver’s license number.
When working with quality screeners, a court index search is conducted for each name provided by the applicant. Verify with your screener before contracting with them that searching multiple AKAs is part of their process.

When Requesting Name Variations

Keep in mind that of all the reasons for a person to change their legal name, the majority are likely personal, or have to do with topics you should generally avoid probing into as an employer, such as marital status, gender identity, or religious orientation.
When requesting aliases and AKAs on your applications and paperwork, adopt a neutral approach and tone and refrain from using terms like “maiden name” or “married name” on the form. Safe, neutral alternatives are “other names by which you’ve been known” or “previous names used,” for example.
Other important points for consideration:
  • Nicknames versus legal names. Sometimes an arrest record can be indexed under a nickname instead of the individual’s full name (i.e. “Bill” instead of “William”). In the time between the arrest, the creation of the court case record, and the conducting of a criminal background check, the criminal justice system may have updated the records with the individual’s legal name, but this isn’t a certainty that can be relied on. For that reason, it’s a good idea to include a search for known nicknames while conducting a criminal background check.
  • Cultural nomenclature. In some cases, an individual’s surname will include their mother’s maiden name, as is the case in many Latinx cultures. For example, Enrique Iglesias can also legally go by Enrique Iglesias Garcia. It’s important to request and include these possible name variations in an alias or AKA search.
  • Hyphenation. Hyphenated surnames present a similar issue. Mary Little-Lamb may also have recorded aliases under Mary Little and Mary Lamb. Verifiers will need to search all three AKAs in the interest of thoroughness.
  • Middle names. Like extended surnames, middle names can cover a lot of ground during a criminal record search and contribute to faster turnaround times and increased accuracy. Unless the applicant doesn’t have a middle name, it’s important to require that they include the full spelling of the name and not simply the initial, though an initial is better than nothing.

Extra Tips for Quality Alias/AKA Criminal Background Checks

For every background check the goal should be accuracy over speed and efficiency over waste. An accurate and efficient background check will produce the turnaround time you want with the reliable results you need to make informed decisions for your company. These tips will help you save time and resources during the verification process.
  1. Asking when name changes took place. Knowing an approximate date that an individual changed their name will help you in determining which aliases are relevant in your search. For example, if you are only interested in a picture of the applicant’s activities over the past ten years, then a two-decade old name change is irrelevant. Depending on your goals, the extra time it would take to research the prior AKA would be better spent elsewhere.
  2. Social Security Number Trace (“Alias Search”). A valuable investigative tool, an SSN Trace may or may not be a routine part of an employee screening company’s process. It’s important to determine whether or not this is the case as SSN Trace reports are useful in identifying undisclosed aliases or AKAs, addresses, and even typos within the database which are attached to an individual.
  3. Misspellings. Speaking of typos, unintentional or otherwise: at the time of filing the paperwork, it’s a good idea to verify the applicant’s spelling with a legal form of identification, which the applicant should be ready to supply at this stage in the interview or hiring process.
  4. Verifying degrees and certifications. If the position in question requires certain degrees and certifications and the applicant has gone by other aliases, it’s important to know the name that the school or institution has on record for your applicant at the time the degree was attained.
  5. Consent and full disclosure. Applicants must provide written authorization before a background check is conducted, but employers can likewise require that applicants certify with an initial or signature that the information they have provided on the application is both accurate and up-to-date. The requested information can include their current full name, date of birth, SSN, previous addresses, and especially all previous aliases and AKAs. While an SSN Trace will reveal undisclosed aliases and addresses, the employer can choose to disqualify any applicant that failed to provide accurate information where requested. If you want to reserve the right to disqualify applicants on this basis, your official paperwork should clearly communicate this possibility so that applicants will take this stage of the process as seriously as you want them to.

More on Social Security Number Trace Reports

Ensuring FCRA and EEOC compliance is naturally an ongoing concern for hiring departments, as well as hiring the best candidates, so it’s important not to confuse an SSN Trace—sometimes referred to as an “Alias Search”—with a consumer report. It is an entirely separate investigative tool with advantages and limitations that should be fully understood as you conduct your own employee screening or contract with a provider.
As stated above, an SSN Trace reveals names and addresses associated with a given social security number. The report is aggregate data collected from potentially hundreds of private sources, which can include utility bill records, voter registration records, USPS address forwarding information, credit headers, etc.—all important, investigative information for employers and screeners, and here’s why:

The Advantages of an SSN Trace

Such deep digging may seem like excessive gate-keeping for some jobs, but for positions in sensitive industries, it’s vital for employers to know exactly who they are dealing with. An SSN Trace will:
  1. Paint a picture of the applicant’s history for as long as they’ve been using their social security number to conduct life in the modern world.
  2. Help employers refine their screening focus by comparing information provided on the applicant’s initial application with the results on the SSN Trace report, revealing undisclosed name and address history, confirming what was disclosed, or filling in the blanks.
  3. Assist in criminal records searches by revealing jurisdictions in which the applicant has lived under present or past aliases. Because local courts don’t share data across jurisdictions, this is an especially crucial aspect of SSN Traces. No national criminal database currently exists that contains the complete criminal history of any given person, so a thorough criminal background check must follow the applicant’s movement patterns and search local court indexes accordingly.
  4. Provide extra assurance that the applicant is who they claim to be.

The Limitations of an SSN Trace

While you may be convinced at this point that SSN Traces are an essential part of a complete and thorough criminal background check, it’s important to understand the limitations of this tool.
  1. While it can be an extra assurance that the applicant is not fraudulently representing themselves, an SSN Trace only proves that the number provided has been associated with the name provided. It can’t be considered definitive verification that the SSN belongs to the person in front of you.
  2. Because the data reported in an SSN Trace is collected by many private sources, there is considerable room for error in its integrity. Generally, the picture it paints can be relied upon to assist in a criminal records search, but it’s important to keep in mind that some information can be incorrect, incomplete, or displaced.
  3. Due to its variable nature, the findings of an SSN Trace CANNOT be used as the basis for hiring decisions, especially when taking adverse action. While allowing for the disqualification of applicants who have not disclosed requested or correct information after certifying on the paperwork that everything provided was correct and complete, the findings themselves can’t be used to disqualify an applicant.
  4. An SSN Trace is not an official overview of government records and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Dealing with Aliases and AKAs Going Forward

SSN Traces offer a fallible but useful view of an applicant’s name and address history and despite the limitations, they are a critical piece of any quality screening strategy. Contact VICTIG today to learn how we used SSN Traces, as well as many other tools and processes, to achieve a #1 ranking on the “Highest Rated Software Services in America.”
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