Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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A Story of a Botched Background Check

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2012

We’ve written about different facets of conducting background checks here on Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes.  One thing we stress is that to retrieve a true criminal history on someone, the background professional (sometimes, it’s a PI) must go the courthouse in the county where the individual worked, lived or attended school.  Why?  The most current and complete criminal histories are maintained by county courts.

That bears repeating: The most current and complete criminal histories are maintained by county courts.

(Note: federal courts also house federal criminal histories, but for this post, we’ll keep the discussion to county courts)

Imagine being told you have to prove you’re not a criminal who has your same name!

So imagine our surprise this past week when a family member who’s been job hunting was turned down by a company because they “discovered” that the family member had a felony conviction in another state.  The family member came to us and said, “Yes, I lived in that state, but I’ve never been charged with a crime, must less convicted!  And I’m being denied a job because they think I’m some felon who has the same name as me!”

He contacted the company and said their background check was wrong–they said if he could prove it was wrong, they’d keep the job open for him.  Imagine: You apply for a job, they conduct a background check that says you’re a convicted felon and you must prove your innocence in order to get the job.

We knew right away what the “background professional” who conducted this check did: They ran our family member’s name in some online database that promises national criminal histories for $19.95.  As we’ve warned numerous times in this blog: Don’t purchase criminal histories/records from any online sites that advertise “national criminal histories” because there is no such thing as a national repository of criminal records.

So we did what should have been done for our family member–we made arrangement for his criminal history to be pulled from the

We made arrangements for court files to be pulled from the courthouse where the person lived.

courthouse in the county where he had lived.  Because this is in another state, we contacted a professional private investigator in that state and asked for him to 1-Pull any criminal history for our family member, and 2-Pull the criminal history for the individual with the same name who has the felony conviction.  The PI did, and we received the documentation from the courthouse that 1-Our family member has no criminal history in that county, and 2-The guy with the same name who has the felony conviction has a different middle name, is ten years older than our family member, is 5 inches shorter than our family member, and other differentiating facts.

We then forwarded this documentation to our family member, who presented it to the company.  They hired him.

Great.  But the work we did (retrieving the criminal history from the court) should have been done by whoever conducted the background check to begin with.  “Must have been someone in the office who doesn’t really know how to conduct a background check,” we guessed.  No.  That incorrect information was provided by a professional background check company who specializes in employment background checks.

Unfortunately, that “professional” background check company is still in business conducting screenings for other companies!

So there you have a basic, important lesson about obtaining criminal histories: Go to the source (the courthouse).

Below are links to other articles we’ve written about background checks.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Employment Background Checks: Know What’s on Yours BEFORE the Interview by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes

How to Order Criminal Records by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes

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