How to Spot a Bad Background Check

The search for the perfect candidate is never easy. You go through applicant after applicant and nobody seems to quite fit the bill — until finally, the right person comes along. You’ve been impressed by their interview, their resume, and their overall demeanor, but there’s still one more bridge to cross: the background check. Proper background checks minimize liabilities for your company by ensuring that you don’t hire an unreliable, risky, or otherwise problematic person. 

Some employers take it upon themselves to run a background check by calling references, checking public sex offender registries, scanning social media accounts, and trusting their own intuition. These verifications can be faulty if done the wrong way, with the potential to come back to bite you. Unfortunately, even third-party background checkers sometimes take shortcuts and jeopardize the integrity of the process. 

So, how do you spot a failed background check? What criteria should a background-screening vendor meet in order to be reliable? We’re here to make sure you know what shoddy background checking looks like so you can save yourself the hassle of a bad hire and even litigation.


What Is a Bad Background Check and What Are the Associated Risks?

A bad background check can be one you’ve done yourself or one you’ve commissioned a third party to run for you. While it might seem tempting to do your own screening or to hire a third party without doing your research on them, investing in good background checks (i.e. comprehensive and FCRA- and EEO-compliant vendors) is an investment in the security and longevity of your organization.

If your organization is found to be noncompliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) or Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws (or if you are sloppy with a criminal background report), you could face expensive class-action lawsuits. These laws ensure that, when a company or employer uses public records in the hiring process, the individuals involved are notified promptly and given the chance to respond to red flags and correct any inaccuracies that may arise. 

Take Starbucks, for example. The company was recently sued for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by a Colorado man who was denied employment because of inaccuracies on his background check. 

The main takeaway here is to be careful, understand what’s expected of you under the FCRA, and do your due diligence in finding reliable vendors who can help you avoid these legal battles.

Warning Signs to Look For When Choosing a Vendor

When investigating vendors, it’s important to find out their processes and methodologies for running criminal background checks. These checks are only as good as the questions asked and the places searched. Do they utilize multiple resources or stick to a single registry? Errors commonly occur when background screeners employ poor practices, lack knowledge and skills, or simply take shortcuts. But what looks bad on a background check? Here are some examples:

  • The use of outdated matching criteria
  • The failure to update databases regularly when getting information from bulk dissemination of state/federal databases
  • The failure to prevent false positive matches by not using all available information
  • The failure to understand procedures for state-specific criminal background checks
  • Not verifying information from subcontractors

When choosing a third-party vendor to conduct your background checks (the highly recommended way to go), you should be aware of specific red flags during your research so you can choose the right service. Below, we’ll go more into depth about important warning signs to be aware of.


Promotion of Instant Criminal Background Checks

Instant reporting products are notorious for false positives, and they’re known to produce incorrect/outdated data. They rarely give you an accurate or complete look into a person’s history, as they utilize unreliable search parameters that could turn up the wrong person or fail to give you important details about a case, such as an arrest not leading to a conviction. You should be very wary of companies that advertise instant results.


Failure to Obtain Sufficient Applicant Information 

Some background-checking companies use only an applicant’s first and last name and birthday to conduct a screening. In reality, there’s not much you can obtain with such little information. State criminal record databases usually use biometric information (such as fingerprints) to match an individual to records, which means a screening company couldn’t get criminal history with only a name and DOB. Look for a vendor that elicits more applicant information so you can get a clearer picture of the person’s history.


 Failure to Explain Background Checking Methods

A reliable and trustworthy third-party screening company is transparent. They not only disclose their sources and methods of screening, but they’re proud of the way they do things and are excited to share what they do. You’ll know if you’ve found a good one when they’re happy to tell you about the sources they used, the way they gathered data, and how regularly the databases are updated. 


Subcontracting of Background Screening

Sometimes, background-checking subcontractors do subcontract their work — and in some cases, your subcontractor’s subcontractor might even subcontract the background check to someone else! It may sound outlandish, but this isn’t unheard of in the industry — and it’s problematic for you as an employer. This practice further removes you from the process and means less accountability, visibility, and transparency.  

Surface-Level Investigation Into Multi-State and Federal Records

Another red flag is the failure to thoroughly search a person’s state and federal criminal records during a background check. A good background check means taking an in-depth look at these records, so make sure that your vendor does this. Below are some real-life examples of what happens when an employer or third-party screening company fails to obtain this information from local and national databases.

  • In New Mexico, a Los Alamos minister was discovered to have been a convicted sex offender, but the shallow background check that was run on him didn’t turn up this information. Similarly, a Texas pastor was found after the fact to have been charged with capital murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery.
  • In one instance, a home care aide was hired and later discovered to have a prior drug conviction, several prison terms, and a court-issued restraining order on her criminal record. Despite the fact that the home care agency ran a form of employee background check, her criminal history was only discovered after she had swindled a 92-year-old woman out of $30K. The lack of a thorough criminal background check was highly costly for the employer. 
  • In another scenario, the Charlotte police department hired a new police officer despite the fact that he had a protective order against him, levied by a former girlfriend for domestic violence. Even law enforcement can fail to run thorough investigations into criminal history.


Reliance on Single-Issue or Non-Comprehensive Background Checks

When choosing a vendor, be sure they conduct comprehensive background checks rather than ones that rely on a single issue. For instance, the Cook County state office had a close call when they nearly hired a man who had been sued by a former employer for theft. He was under investigation by the FBI for fraud (as well as other deviances), all of which had slipped under the radar during a background check that failed to take a comprehensive look at his employment history.

Get More Screening Tips From VICTIG

While the screening portion of the hiring process is only one step, it’s arguably the most important of all. To get more advice on what to look for in a background check vendor or to learn how VICTIG can help you conduct reliable background checks and make smart hires, give us a call today.

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