The Battle Over Expunged Criminal Records

Criminal Background CheckMillions of Americans who have had brushes with the law are urgently fighting to have their records expunged. They’re taking advantage of a recent movement by dozens of states that have loosened laws that allow for the expungement or sealing of criminal convictions and arrests. But even when people believe they have taken all of the necessary steps to clear their name, some background check companies (or Consumer Reporting Agencies) are still reporting this information.

The basics

This month, the Wall Street Journal has been examining this issue and reporting on why and how it happens, and what people can do about it. Here’s the highlights of what they have to say:

  • About one-third of the adult population in the U.S. is listed in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s master criminal record file, a database used by law enforcement.
  • People with expunged criminal records say their arrests or convictions are still showing up through background checks conducted by private agencies.
  • It’s not known how many people are affected by this, but it’s believed that more people are experiencing this because more employers, landlords and creditors are requiring criminal background checks.
  • CRAs and screening companies are required to try to avoid reporting expunged records.
  • Applicants have an opportunity to view their background check results and report erroneous data or information that was supposed to be expunged.
  • Research suggests that only a small fraction of applicants actually review their screening results and contest information.

Who’s got it wrong?

Big Brother is watching this situation closely and hammering down on CRAs who are still letting expunged records slip through their results. The screening industry is heavily regulated and the chief body who oversees compliance is the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is charged with making sure CRAs comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the main governing law of background checks. Since 2009, the FTC has brought eight cases against big name screening agencies like HireRight Solutions Inc. and LexisNexis Risk Solutions Inc. for failing to achieve “maximum possible accuracy” in their reports. The WSJ reports that other “private plaintiffs have also filed lawsuits against background screeners in recent years, alleging they reported inaccurate information about applicants.” The companies named in the lawsuits have settled outside of court but have not admitted doing anything wrong.

So, the question is, if these companies are not doing anything wrong, why does this keep happening?

In a word – laziness.

Here’s the deal. CRAs get their information from a variety of sources like courts, creditors, law enforcement, driving records, corrections. It’s then up to the screening agencies to spend the time, money and manpower verifying these results. The bigger the company, the less likely they are to have boots-on-the-ground talent going into courts, double-checking driving records, or calling creditors and references back to make sure the initial information is correct. The problem with expunged records comes into play when this re-verification process gets ignored. That’s because most states don’t provide a notice that a record has been expunged. If a big name CRA fails to have a qualified researcher double-check these results, errors, and eventually, lawsuits occur.

Why Active Screening is different

That simply doesn’t happen at Active Screening. We NEVER hesitate to send our expert team of researchers into the field – be it a courthouse or state agency – to verify results. We perform 80% of our background check research in-house – that means we have a dedicated and trained staff who collaborate together to gather information about candidates. We DO NOT outsource our duties and risk erroneous information creeping into our results. Our Active Screening team understands that the most up-to-date information is gathered in the field, and that’s why we head straight to the source where the info originated. There is no laziness among Active Screening researchers and our customer testimonials prove it.

It’s one of the many benefits you get with working with an independent, boutique agency run by some of the sharpest minds in the industry. Our leaders are on the cutting edge of screening trends and have developed a corporate culture and operating procedure that demands excellence while maintaining the highest standards of compliance, including the re-verification of criminal records so accidents with expunged information do not happen.

If you’d like to talk with one of our team members, send us an email here.

This entry was posted in Background Screening, Criminal Records, Driver’s Records, General, Human Resources, News, References & Credentialing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , by Patricia Carlson. Bookmark the permalink.

Patricia Carlson is a content writer who specializes in B2C and B2B inbound marketing. She blogs regularly for clients about the background screening and finance industries, and generates newsletters, white papers and email campaigns for a variety of businesses. Patricia also produces a heavy rotation of editorial material for home design, law enforcement, and family magazines. She’s been writing professionally for more than a dozen years, and for Active Screening for more than two of those. Check out LinkedIn for a roster of Patricia's clients and links to published works. When she’s not interviewing sources or researching trends, she’s living a fast-paced Florida life questioning the antics of her two young children, partner and mischievous cat. Patricia loves to talk tennis and TV on Twitter - give her a shout @pattycfreelance.
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