What is in a Name? Millions of Dollars in Settlement Funds, Apparently!

Background Screening | August 27, 2020

Those with the last name Smith, Williams, Reilly, or even Clark know they are unique, even if their names are not.

The challenge with background check reports, however, is that they rely heavily on names. People with more common names are at a higher risk of getting caught in situations where background screening results are issued with little to no regard for the complete and accurate confirmation of whether the record belongs to the correct individual. This means criminal records can potentially be reported incompletely or worse, incorrectly, on an individual who is completely unaware of the implications of such an error.


Identification Process for Background Checks

When working with a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), it is important to know how they handle the identification and review process for names and what their matching criteria are for reporting criminal records. Attributing a record to an individual who does not have a criminal background, or worse, missing a record that does belong to them can have significant adverse impacts on their eligibility for contracts, employment, and their life overall. This record matching process is important with unique and novel names but becomes increasingly relevant when dealing with a common name like those noted above.


FCRA Regulations Promote Accuracy

CRAs are required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), to have practices in place to assure maximum possible accuracy when reporting records and reviewing results in a consumer report. This means that when a record is received, standard operating procedures should require the review of all identification data – names, date of birth, address, or other identifiers – to confirm whether the information in the record does indeed belong to the individual being screened. Although the FCRA contains provisions for disputing incorrect information before any adverse action is taken, this is not the failsafe CRAs should use for confirming their records. It is not up to the individual to prove a record is not theirs but rather on the CRA to provide sufficient evidence that it is the same individual.

Additionally, if the individual has a name identified as common by the U.S. Census, additional steps should be taken to confirm the individual’s identity as there is an increased likelihood of a false record being attributed to them.


Ways to Identify the Individual Being Screened

In a typical policy, a CRA may use at least two identifiers as their criteria for matching.

When dealing with common names, the threshold raises to at least three identifiers which may include the following, in addition to those noted above:


Interestingly, while the focus tends to be on using the above criteria to confirm the individual’s identity, a fulsome policy should also use the same information to negate the individual. For example, if the individual’s name is Chris Clark and they are known to be a female with the full name Christine Clark, if any information returned to indicate this individual is a male with the name Christopher, that is sufficient to determine that there is not a match and the potential record should not be attributed to that individual. This use of data to confirm the individual is not the same is often overlooked by CRAs and in many cases creates the matching problems that result in litigation and significant settlements.


Tips to Improve Quality and Accuracy of Background Screening Results

So how can an organization improve the quality of the results they receive and reduce the chance they will find themselves in such a predicament? When submitting screening requests, an organization should:


In addition to improving the data entry of background screens, work with your CRA to understand their matching criteria and operational processes. When submitting requests, ensure you include a Person/Identity Search in your package. This search will pull any names and addresses as well as dates of birth, that have been associated with the SSN provided. This can be very useful when reviewing criminal records which may contain references to previous names or addresses. It also serves to verify that the name(s) and date of birth that have been submitted are accurate and consistent. The CRA should review this Person/Identity Search information for discrepancies and amend the order and demographic information as needed to ensure a complete and accurate search is being conducted.


One last consideration is how much automation is used in the review of records and the way results are evaluated. Several cases have arisen lately indicating that while automation does have its benefits, the risks inherent in using only algorithms and static rules needs to be balanced by a manual, in-person review of data. The most prudent approach uses a combination of technology and people to review records for accuracy, and not return that burden to the individual being screened or the organization requesting the information, to clarify any issues.


As you can see, “John Smith” takes on a whole new meaning, with notably increased risk exposure, in the background screening world!


Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel concerning their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.


About PlusOne Solutions

PlusOne Solutions has been an industry leader in the risk management field by specializing in compliance programs that meet the complex challenges of geographically dispersed contractors, vendors, and employee networks. PlusOne Solutions protects companies from possible financial, legal, and reputational risks associated with contractor and vendor relationships while creating safer work environments. To learn more, visit


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