Occasionally we get a call letting us know an applicant’s name was misspelled or put in backwards followed by the question “Do I need to re-run it?”. The answer is always yes.

One of the biggest misconceptions pertaining to criminal background checks, is that the Social Security Number (SSN) is the identifier in which criminal records are searched. When law enforcement agents take personal information from someone the information is taken from their driver’s license or state issued identification card. Officers do not want to write down any information that cannot be verified at the time of the incident. Most people carry around their driver’s license and not their social security card so this is the information law enforcement will use to verify the identity of someone.

Criminal records are public information. This means that since people have access to this information, a SSN will not be listed on public indices and it is often redacted if available. The most common identifiers for a criminal case are name, date of birth and address with a driver’s license number showing up occasionally. This is where the importance of a middle name or initial comes in. A middle name is extremely important when looking for criminal records for a common name such as John Smith. When a middle name is provided it allows the researcher to narrow the search to provide more accurate information.

When an applicant knows they have negative information that may interfere with the position they are applying for, they may misrepresent the truth in order to keep the information from being found.  Since most applicants also believe that a criminal background check is based on SSN’s there are times they will intentionally transpose numbers. Applicants may also provide a wrong date of birth, not provide a full address history or give an incorrect middle name in attempt to throw off results.

 So, what good is a SSN if it is not found on criminal records? Running a Social Security Trace on an applicant can provide you with the correct spelling of the name, a middle initial/name and any aliases associated with the SSN. A Social Security Trace will also provide any addresses associated with the applicant. This may alert you to run criminal background checks in other jurisdictions that were not listed on the application. An address history can be useful if there is no date of birth on the records which can happen occasionally. A SSN is also required if you would like to run a Credit Check on an applicant.

As an employer there are a few steps you can take to ensure the correct information is provided by the applicant. Make a copy of their driver’s license or passport for proof of identity. It is also good to get in the practice of running a social security trace on each applicant for additional address history. As we say there is no one single source for all criminal information on an applicant, but by double checking and using additional tools, the hiring process could be more thorough.

Please check with state and/or local jurisdictions for laws that may apply to your hiring process.