When most people think of a background check, they consider it more in terms of the entity running the check on someone else in order to protect their interests. Employers, banks, insurance companies, landlords, and other establishments do this as a matter of course. But checking your own background is not only an interesting exercise but can protect you in various surprising ways.
Who uses background checks?
The list of professional entities performing background checks has grown in recent decades, and even private individuals can run them on a small scale.
- Rental property owners
- Lenders and creditors
- Firearm dealers
- Insurance providers
- Dating partners
To say that a bad mark on your background could impact your life is putting it mildly. There’s a lot of opportunities lost when a flag on your profile catches you by surprise. By law, most entities who report on your background are required to provide you with a copy of the information they found when turning you down for reasons that came up in the check.
But you can also preemptively head off possible misfortune by running the background check yourself. There are many online services where you can do this freely and anonymously, such as CheckPeople. Using these services, you can scan your background for problem areas and address them beforehand. If it’s clean, you can go to that job interview with no worries.
Problems to look for on your background check
Mistaken or stolen identity
Various news agencies have reported over the years that anywhere from 10% to 30% of citizens have mistakes in their background profile. This is a broad category covering cases of fraud or stolen identity, innocent computer errors, confusion resulting from similar names, and various system glitches. There have been cases, though they are scarce, where a person was reported as multiple individuals, or even falsely reported as dead! Identity theft is usually the cause of most of these issues.
Credit report errors
The second most common error by far. Since there is little federal regulation over credit reports, the “big three” credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are free to keep their own databases and run checks against them by their own rules. Credit histories are notorious for containing mistakes, with up to one-third of all profiles containing an error. This can involve mistaken communication, payments not being reported, mistaken charges, or accounting errors. Even if a bad credit report doesn’t prevent you from doing business, it can still raise your rates when applying for insurance or a car loan.
Unexpected criminal record
Notwithstanding cases of stolen or mistaken identity, criminal background checks can uncover surprising red flags for people who thought they were clean. Nobody is perfect, after all, but sometimes a minor infraction can be mistakenly recorded as if it were a more severe violation. “Zero tolerance” policies have landed people on the terrorist watchlist or sex offender registry for apparently unrelated incidents, such as an ill-considered gesture of affection made while the offender was still a juvenile or an overheard remark taken out of context. Errors in the system can also run to things like a forgotten traffic ticket going to a bench warrant.
Social media drama
Online harassment is a growing problem in social media, which can lead to unlucky individuals being the target of smear and harassment campaigns. There’s no predicting what can set some people off or what drastic measures they can take when they have a lot of time on their hands.
Solving problems in background checks
There is one regulation on credit agencies: The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires agencies to release credit reports to consumers, and an opportunity to take up any errors with the reporting agencies.
Problems with legal listings is a matter to take up with law enforcement departments or other branches of government. This can be a frustrating fight against bureaucracy, so retaining the services of a lawyer might be beneficial.
There are various laws now against cyberstalking and harassment, so offending information about you online can be purged by requesting it from whatever website is listing it. In some cases, reporting the incident to law enforcement will also be necessary.