Checking background checks

Once upon a time, background checks were performed by law enforcement officers who checked records and interviewed acquaintances. Today, anyone with a computer can obtain records and make conclusions based on what they have seen. If those records are inaccurate, so are the conclusions.

I have previously mentioned my experience with the legal system. It is not an episode I am proud of, but I have made no attempts to hide it. A few years ago someone was looking to discredit me and brought up the incident. I took their misinterpretations as personal bias. My mistake.

Recently, as part of the hiring process, a potential employer paid the company “First Advantage” a fair amount of money to run a background check on me, which included sending me a copy. When I pointed out the inaccuracies in the background check to First Advantage, I received a phone call from the prospective employer informing me there were inconsistencies in my background check, and I would be allowed five days to “straighten them out” or the job offer would be rescinded. Unlike the America I thought I lived in, I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent.

I am not in the business of doing background checks, it took me two days to discover the location of the records (hard copies are maintained by the state), at which time I was told it would take at least a week to obtain a certified copy. The information I had been given was inaccurate, so tracking it down, given additional inaccuracies of what records were required and what the docket numbers in question are would naturally be beyond the abilities of an average civilian. This was not an episode I wanted to cherish, so in the intervening decade I had discarded my copies of the disposition. It is too late for it to make a difference to this prospective employer, but I ordered the copies anyway, I will probably need them again. I just wonder how many of the jobs I did not get were denied to me because of the inaccurate records.

On my copy of the background check I found numerous clerical errors. I had acknowledged the arrest and sentence, the date and location, but First Advantage had searched for records in my present location, noting on their report “subject admitted offense, no record found.” Maybe I am a bit sensitive, but that sounds a little prejudicial. Then came the record First Advantage did “find”. Despite my acknowledging the details, dates, and location, the inept “investigator” who performed the search found this offense to have been “unreported by subject.” The wanker had just searched for the same information in the wrong state, and could not connect this information to that search. The report was a summary by the “Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” It contained some inaccuracies in the “sentence” section, stating I had been incarcerated for twenty three months.  Following the summary was this disclaimer:

“Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Notice and Disclaimer: The electronic case record information received from the Commonwealth is not an official case record; official case records are maintained by the court in which the record was filed. The data or information provided is based upon information received by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”). AOPC makes no representation as to the accuracy, completeness or utility, for any general or specific purpose, of the information provided and as such, assumes no liability for inaccurate or delayed data, errors or omissions. Use of this information is at your own risk. AOPC makes no representations regarding the identity of any persons whose names appear in the records. User should verify that the information is accurate and current by personally consulting the official record reposing in the court wherein the record is maintained.” (emphasis mine)

So the AOPC states this is not an official record and distances themselves from any claim of accuracy, imploring the “user” (First Advantage) to use the information at their own risk, further suggesting investigative responsibility by saying they should verify the information. How did First Advantage verify the information? By running the search a second time. Yep, it still says the same thing, no point in personally consulting the official record. There are reasons professional investigators earn more than minimum wage, I am realizing First Advantage is not professional. First Advantage did not even know where to look, telling me to contact the police department instead of the court, and asking for a “police narrative” rather than a record of disposition. Instead of using the information at their own risk, they used it at my risk.

The adventure brings me to the records department of the County of Delaware, where my records have been sent for me to view. For only $9.50 per page I may have certified copies. I find three pertinent pages, the “certificate of imposition of judgement of sentence”, and the two page “guideline sentence form”. There are discrepancies even between these pages, so I ask for certified copies of the pages, and when I get home I realize one page wasn’t certified.  Total bumbling of court records is apparently not a criminal offense.

At some point, the lack of reliable information will cause this system to collapse. The number of errors in my records can not be taken to mean I received them all and everyone else got away clean. In the meantime, I’m planning to file with the court to expunge my records based on their inconsistencies, as anyone (anyone other than a court clerk) can see no two pages agree on the terms of the sentence, the record is meaningless. I have plenty of time, it’s not like I have a job or anything. No doubt they will lose my filing, and arrest me as a prison escapee because there is no record of my having served twenty three months in prison.

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2 comments on “Checking background checks

  1. Mike R says:

    Those of us who have not shared your experience likely do not appreciate the fact that we live one interaction with the judicial system away from administrative hell. I recall a friend who spent $2000 extra for car insurance due to the fact that the court system in some obscure little town had recorded a high-speed driving violation as being occurred by him. He was guilty only of possessing the wrong “john doe” name when the event was recorded. By the time he discovered what legal expenses would be incurred in clearing his name, it was cheaper to pay for several years of extremely high insurance costs. I can only wonder what the cumulative effect of countless errors in the nation’s legal system will be. As you suggest, a system collapses when the data becomes sufficiently unreliable.

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  2. Dear God it is a mess. A few years ago we suddenly began receiving bills for one of our kid’s college loans that I had no record of. After months of calls/letters etc. we found out that our payments had been going into someone else’s account and, in fact, this new bill was for some other child! IF I HAD NOT CAUGHT THIS the US Government wouldn’t have had a clue.

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