6 Essential Things to Know About Online Background Checks

Maybe you’re just curious about your online presence, or maybe your potential employer has notified you of a mandatory background check; whatever the reason, knowing how your information is going to be used is important.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 6 essential things to know before your information is pulled. After all, knowing a check has been ordered is one thing, but feeling confident about it is entirely different.

1. Employers require consent to perform background checks

Although the practice of checking all potential employees is becoming more common and widespread, an employer can’t log on to a website and pull reports for anyone they want.

An employer background check can occur during the hiring process and throughout employment, depending on the terms of your contract. Pre-employment scans will typically be more comprehensive, with criminal, driving, and employment histories being one of the top areas of concern. Other areas may include drug use, social media records, and medical histories.

To complete the check, an employer must have the candidate’s SSN, full name, birth date, and current address. They must also have a signed consent form on file to run the check.

2. Reports contain years of information

Anytime you pull your background information, you can expect to see a collective history of the last seven to ten years. It’s important to know that not all items are considered as red flags, so a financial past with a few delinquent accounts aren’t necessarily a means to discredit your application.

Every employer is going to consider individual sections of the report differently, depending on the industry. Some may consider driving records or criminal histories more prominently than credit reports, but the only way to confirm the relevance is to ask the employer directly.

3. Employers can refuse to hire if you decline the background check

It may feel like an invasion of privacy, but an employer is looking to mitigate any risk in the company. These risks include potential employees who may open their company to complaints or lawsuits, particularly if they pertain to criminal or financial loss.

Refusing to complete a background check raises concern and suspicion for a candidate’s qualifications (or history) and could be against the established hiring practices.

4. Background checks can lessen the impacts of fraud

Knowing your history is important for theft and fraud purposes, especially if you’re trying to limit the potential risks of your information being used online. Identity theft can happen quickly, with many thieves only needing minimal information to take your identity and ruin your credit. Unfortunately, reversing those damages can be time-consuming and costly, depending on how long it’s been occurring.

With maintaining frequent monitoring of your report, you’ll be able to regularly review your financial and personal accounts (like previous addresses or employment) and identify any erroneous accounts or charges. By identifying and reporting these fraudulent accounts, you’ll lessen the impact of identity theft on your credit report. Remember, it’s easier to stop identity theft if it’s caught early, instead of repairing years of damage.

5. You won’t know if someone has pulled your report

Although your employer may need your signature and consent to perform a background check, that doesn’t stop other individuals from ordering your report. While an employer needs to prove consent for compliance purposes, pulling reports on a personal level is a rather grey area. The only thing a person needs to prove when pulling a report is “personal interest.” Assuming the results of the report can influence the relationship, they’re allowed to order your personal information.

6. Occasional episodes of mixed identity can happen

Running a background check on an individual (or a potential employee) is never without risk and sometimes that risk is a case of mistaken identity. Every once in a while, two individuals with similar names get identified together (on the same report) or as each other. This most often occurs when an employer doesn’t verify the address information on file, or a quick check is performed instead of a formal application.

Should you discover information on the report that doesn’t match yours, reporting it is the first step in removing the wrong information. If the information is criminal, the first step would be contacting your local police department for more information. If the information pertains to your credit report, writing the credit reporting agency with the error or fraud is the first step in having it removed.

Although background checks can seem intimidating, understanding what information is being disclosed and how it’s going to be used is important. Information submitted in your report helps employers confirm that you are the individual you are presenting yourself to be. It’s not a matter of wanting to spy on you or invade your personal space in any way. It’s simply a matter of confirming you’re the perfect person for the job.