Justifacts Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions on Background Screening: Part 2

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background screening

The background screening process can get confusing at times. With so many different screening searches, law changes, and best practices, it’s easy to see how the background check process could stir up many different questions. There are so many questions that this is a Part 2 of our Frequently Asked Questions on background screening.

Be sure to check out part 1: Justifacts Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to more of our Frequently Asked Questions:

Why do I have to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act when I’m not doing credit checks?

A: While the name – Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA – may be misleading, it does serve as the primary legislation regulating the background screening industry. Meaning, the FCRA applies when performing various background screening services; including criminal record checks, driving record reports, degree confirmations, and employment history verifications… just to name a few. Therefore, when you are engaging the services of a background screening provider (or CRA), you will be provided with various FCRA related information and certifications that will be necessary to complete/sign prior to requesting services.

Why can’t we just conduct a national criminal database search?

A: There are a few components of a criminal background check that will provide you with a comprehensive background search, including the National Criminal Database Search (sometimes referred to as a Multi-Jurisdictional Search). While we strongly recommend including the National Criminal Database as part of your background check package, it does have some drawbacks and should only be relied upon as a “safety net”. One issue with this type of search is that it is limited to the criminal record information that is reported. The source information for each state varies, from as little as the sex offender registry to sources including all criminal cases filed through the states Administrative Office of Courts. Most states sources are very good, however, there are others that are more limited.

When conducting the National Criminal Database as a stand-alone search, you may miss criminal records at some point. Additionally, under section 613 of the FCRA, there is a requirement that any public record information is current and up-to-date. Since most databases are updated on a periodic basis, there can be compliance issues with using a database product without further follow-up searches.

Our recommendation is to conduct a state or county level search, the national criminal database, a federal district court search, along with a Social Security One Trace.

How does a national criminal check differ from a federal criminal record search?

A: It can certainly be confusing to decipher the difference between a national and federal level search… and why it’s important to have both as part of your background screening package. The national criminal database search offers a broad range of information. This is including criminal record information from across the country along with various sanction lists. It is often referred to as a safety net when used in conjunction with an individual county or state search. However, as we addressed in the question above, there are limitations to the national criminal database search.

What our Federal District Court Search provides is information pertaining to federal crimes… or crimes committed on federal property. And, because of the way federal crimes are maintained, these types of crimes are not normally shared with other sources; such as state, county, and national searches. While we don’t find as many criminal records at the federal level as we do at a county level, we do find them. They tend to be high-level or white-collar crimes in nature.

This is why it is important to conduct both a national and federal search, along with a county and/or state search.

Why is a 2-Letter Adverse Action Process needed?

A: While recently giving a couple of presentations on FCRA compliance, we have found that there is a high percentage of employers who are not using a 2-letter process when initiating adverse action against an applicant. In addition, we have seen dozens of class-action lawsuits against employers for not using a 2-Letter. Section 604(b)(3) of the FCRA requires a “Pre-adverse” letter whenever requesting a report for employment purposes. The purpose of having a 2-Letter process in place is that it gives the applicant an opportunity to dispute or contest any of the information contained in his/her background report. This is properly executed with the Pre-Adverse Action Letter (or first letter) being sent…then followed by an Adverse-Action Letter (or second letter).

Why is it important to work with an Accredited NAPBS company?

A: The National Association of Professional Background Screeners – AKA the NAPBS — has maintained that there is a strong need for a singular, cohesive standard for the background screening industry. Beginning in 2003, the NAPBS has grown to have over 700 members in its group, with less than 2% being ‘accredited’ by the NAPBS.

To become accredited, a consumer reporting agency (CRA) must pass a rigorous onsite audit of its policies and procedures. These audits relate to six critical areas. These include consumer protection, legal compliance, client education, product standards, service standards, and general business practices. Usually, an independent auditing firm handles this difficult audit.

Thus, by working with an ‘accredited’ background check company, you can feel confident that they are looking out for your best interests of the business, along with their applicants and employees.

Justifacts was proudly accredited by the NAPBS in September 2014.

What’s the importance of conducting a Social Security Trace?

A: The Social Security Trace serves as a name and address verification search. Thereby conducting this search, we can find out if your applicant has lived outside of their current county or state. Additionally, we can also determine if your candidate has an alias or maiden name associated with their social security number.

This is important because of how criminal records are stored in the court system. Meaning, we can determine if your candidate has a criminal record history under a different name… or outside of their current residence/jurisdiction.

How can we tell if an applicant received a degree from a diploma mill?

A: By definition, a diploma mill is an organization that issues counterfeit diplomas bearing the name of real universities…and qualifications that aren’t accredited and/or not based on a proper academic assessment. These types of diplomas are commonly associated with work or life experience and not an actual study. With diploma mills, degrees can be obtained in as little as a few days to a few weeks.

Characteristics include:

  • Accreditation (lacking authenticity)
  • Teaching (not based on hard or proven sciences)
  • Facilities (lacking tangibles of a brick and mortar school)
  • Promotion (primarily used for securing employment by paying a set fee).

Can you speak about deciding factors when reviewing credit check results?

A: The laws applying to credit check reports are significantly different from the laws governing criminal record checks when making a decision whether or not to hire an applicant. Credit checks are more of a “gray area” when companies are using them to determine suitability for hire. One of the most helpful areas of the credit report to review is found in the Profile Summary section. It provides a summation of the applicant’s overall credit history. Certainly, other factors to look at include delinquencies, bankruptcies, liens, etc. With the growing number of states who are limiting the use of credit reports for purpose of employment, it is important to remember to conduct a credit check only on individuals who will have access to financial data, cash, credit cards, etc…and as it pertains to their job responsibilities.

When an employer is located in one state, but the candidate lives in another state that has restrictions not applicable to the employer’s state. Do the laws in the employer’s state or the laws in the applicant’s state apply?

A: State laws can vary widely. Some laws are directed at employers while others are protections for consumers. For maximum compliance and to avoid unnecessary litigation, Justifacts suggests using both the applicant location and hiring location to determine which laws apply.

What is the danger of using Social Media Searches to screen applicants?

A: The risk employers need to understand, when using social media as part of their recruiting process, occurs when the process moves from sourcing to screening candidates.

Social media is an ideal way to find and recruit candidates. However, the difficulty occurs when information provided on social media sites is used to screen or eliminate a candidate from consideration. This elimination, when based on data found through social media content opens the employer to the potential risks of liability, discrimination claims, and non-compliance with regulations.

Given this point, it’s important that companies have policies in place that protect against discriminatory practices and are explicit in how social media information can be used by employers in the hiring process.


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