Most background check services search public records that may include such information as your phone number, address and criminal background. However, they can also process the information they receive from public record and build associations or perhaps even false information. For example, some people searches look for aliases that may lead some to think that you are someone else. If you have ever received a bill addressed to someone else, with a similar name, a collection agency may have ran a search and sent the bill to possible aliases in an attempt to locate a debtor.
So why background check yourself? Two reasons: one, to verify if information is correct and two, to see if someone else is using your identity.
Who might check your background?
- Employers- If you submit an application or a resume to a company, they can run a background check to verify your resume information such as past employment, professional licenses or degrees. It is a good idea to check your personal information before someone else does to find out if everything that comes back is accurate. For example, if your degree does not show up you can obtain the information directly from the school to give to the employer.
- Loan Processors- When you apply for a line of credit, you can assume a credit check will be conducted. Unfortunately, often credit reports come back with inaccurate information. Make sure to keep your own records, if you pay off a bill keep receipts and payment in full letters from creditors. They can also run asset checks to look for things such as home value.
- Collection Agencies- This is a common tool used by collection agencies when they are looking for a debtor. Sometimes they may get false information, or they may think you are someone else. Keep all of your own records to prove to agencies that you do not owe the debt. If you run a search on yourself, you may find other names that come up with your name, as aliases or as associations. These other people may be the ones that actually owe the debt. For example, if John M. Smith owes a debt and your name is J. Mark Smith, collection agencies may send you a bill, thinking that or hoping that you might be the debtor.
Someone may be using your personal information for credit applications or for other uses. Also, unintentional misuse may occur, for example if someone enters a SSN incorrectly.
- Credit Monitors or Credit Watchers- This type of service offered by many background search services, helps you monitor your credit. You can use a credit monitor service to watch your credit over a period of time to look for inaccuracies, credit score changes or to see if some is trying to use your information. For example, you can run a search using your SSN to find out if any other names are associated with your number.
So what do you do if reported information is incorrect? Unfortunately, changing inaccurate information can be a confusing, complicated process. Nevertheless, there are a few ways to change report information:
- State, County, National Information: You have to contact appropriate public agencies to correct public record. These types of records include criminal, court, tax, liens, judgments, small claims, driving and bankruptcy records, as well as birth/death and marriage/divorce records. Public record also manages information regarding property including real estate and motorized vehicles.
- Credit Reporting Agencies: The three main credit reporting agencies include Experian, TransUnion and TRW. Current law provides that you can receive a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months, see www.annualcreditreport.com. To change information on your report begin by writing a letter to all reporting agencies disputing the claim, include copies of supporting documents if you can, wait for them to analyze and investigate your claim and make appropriate changes. If changes are made you can request another free report to verify.
- To Block Searches: Some background search services enable you to opt-out of their search program. They report that they cannot block you from every search option but from most. Most search services require that you send them your social security number, full name with middle initial, aliases, current and former addresses as well as birth date. Keep in mind, that for complete protection you will have to make this request with every reporting service separately.
To find out how the Freedom of Information Act governs federal agencies see the US Department of Justice, Freedom of Information Act page at http://www.usdoj.gov/04foia. This act does not control records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies. You will need to contact your state or local agencies to discover their guidelines in regards to the release of public information. For local information, see the Washburn School of Law webpage at http://www.washlaw.edu/uslaw/states/allstates. This site offers links to all 50 states and links to other legal pages of interest.
If you are curious to see what is being reported about you, visit US Search.com and run a personal records profile that will report information regarding your address up to 10 years back, aliases, associations (roommates, relatives and neighbors), bankruptcies and liens, small claim records as well as property and home ownership data including value.
Generally, all of your public information is available to anyone that asks for it, but it is up to you to make sure that the data is accurate. It is also up to you to protect your personal contact or identity information.