Unfortunately innocent people are accused of criminal records on background checks everyday, and it can be devastating for those denied employment. The only way to combat this problem is with an investigation layer. “I Was Framed – Good News and Bad News” Story 5 is inspired by a true story behind the scenes at Cluso, a Texas licensed Private Investigation Company.
The Real Story
The Dallas county court house moved to electronic record keeping in the Seventies. Visit the courthouse and “green screens” were available for “self serve” public access and look up. The mainframe terminal search let you put in a partial identity and an index of cases appeared based on the input. A researcher could open an electronic summary of the case and see complete defendant identifiers such as name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, and full residential address. Since the researcher had to manually write down the details of each case, they made sure a case was truly matched the candidate First. The incentive to match the case to the person was a natural filter and only truly matched cases made their way onto background reports.
So what has changed? Two major changes combined to create a Perfect Nightmare Storm for common named candidates.
Read More Of The Real Story
An identity theft issue emerged when all those electronic records (with identifiers) were made easily accessible from any computer with a browser. Before the data was available at the local courthouse but all the information was decentralized and those mainframe terminals created an intimidation barrier for the less savory types. Now most everyone knows how to use a computer and a web browser. In response to the identity theft risk, the courts blocked social security numbers and drivers license numbers. Federal courts also blocked date of birth. The essential need to remove identifiers (like social security number) to protect identities has now made it more difficult to eliminate a person from being a defendant in a case. By design more people will be accused of having criminal records.
Also because the court electronic records were moved online or made available for purchase from court and state sources, data brokers purchased or scraped the data for free (and started storing it.) Low cost searches against pre-purchased or Free online court data was born. So when a common name like “Michael Johnson” is entered into a data broker online automated background check site, a hundred pages of cases are listed. The list appears “finished”, but in fact, it is just a discovery list requiring more investigation to determine if each case is matched to the job candidate.
In this comic strip we mention a common name candidate and he is matched to a criminal case with name and date of birth. On the surface the electronic file appears to match him. To try to avoid accusing innocent people of cases which are not theirs, the case file can be pulled and reviewed at the court house. The electronic record is just a summary typed in (by a court clerk) of an actual filed case. Yes, some cases are available to pull electronically as a full document but only some courts offer that online. The extra steps to pull a case require more time and money, so a status quo background check company will just list the identifiers on the electronic record instead of seeking out more identifiers from the stored, filed case.
The stored case usually contains an affidavit with identifiers including identifiers from the Driver’s License at the time of the arrest. Often we will find descriptions including tattoos and other key identifiers we are able to list on our reports to help our clients determine if a case is matched to their candidate. Sometimes full name is matched, date of birth is matched, height is matched, race is matched, eye color is matched, and it comes down to whether a tattoo exists on a particular location of the body or not.
Employers: Be suspicious of background reports showing “Possible case matches” for common name candidates; there is a chance the report is just inaccurate for your candidate. Making a hiring decision on poorly conducted backgrounds creates a higher lawsuit risks.
Job Candidates: If you have been told a background report shows a case which is not yours, you may want to find out the case number and the source court details. You can contact the clerk of the court (call them if they are in another state) and get the case copy including the affidavit on the case. Having a case copy is a great way to quickly defend yourself for a current background check problem or for the next background check accusing you of the same case reported which is not yours.
The combination of 3000 county courts data, all those sources moving to electronic records, making the information available online, and then data brokers gathering information (buying, scraping, and storing) has led to low cost resale of stored data online. The problem is the data available they are storing (making available online) has incomplete identifiers and common named individuals are being accused of cases which are not theirs. The only solution is to pull other identifiers from the actual cases filed at the court and it cannot be instantly.
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