Can People Search Sites Damage Your Job Prospects?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 80% of employers check criminal history of job applicants. They obtain information from the databases of information brokers and people-search sites. The problem is, there is no such thing as a perfect database and the growing number of individuals get wrongfully linked to crimes they did not commit. This happens for a number of reasons, but whatever these reasons are, the consequences can be devastating for your career and life. Ethan, a software engineer from Seattle, told us his story.
job prospects damage

"Someone else’s criminal record showed up in my background report" - Ethan, Seattle*

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This happened three years ago, when I already had 12 years experience as a software engineer in three companies on the West Coast. I wanted to move to the East Coast at the time and applied for an engineering position in Boston. The week after the online technical interview they said they wanted to fly me out for an onsite interview. The company paid about $1,000 to get me to Boston for an all day interview with a team of 8 people that I would be working with if I got the job. At the end of the day, the CTO of the company told me that they like me and a formal offer should be ready in a couple of days.

When I had not heard from them a week later, I reached out to the CTO only to hear that something was “wrong” with my background check and they chose another candidate. I then spoke to their HR manager and understood that they found a criminal record in my background report.

I was surprised, to say the least. I’d never been arrested in my life. I’d never broken the law, except for the one speeding ticket I had. On a friend’s advice, I bought a background report on myself on one of the sites that came up on Google when I searched for my name. What I found there didn’t look good. A 10-page long background report said I had been convicted of a misdemeanor and had served 5 months in jail. Having re-read the “criminal” part twice, I realized that the criminal record belonged to a completely different man – much younger and of a different race but who had a similar name and lived in the same city.

After many weeks trying to find the source of all this wrong information, and having run the background checks on myself on several sites, I found that this error only occurred on some of the sites. Being a programmer myself, I understand the error could happen during the update of the database when new data was merged with the old data and the system assigned another guy’s record to “my profile”. But understanding how it works doesn’t make things easier for me. I researched the topic and realized that it was close to impossible to remove the record from that database. What I could do though is request that the sites that have wrong information on me remove my profile altogether. 

After days spent communicating with background check companies and multiple people-search sites, it became clear that removing my profile from sites that list my incorrect info was no easy task. They really don’t want your profile removed from their database and make you work to do it. Some even require you to snail mail them a form. I finally found OneRep and freed myself from this mess.

I tried to convince that company in Boston that there was an error, but they never responded. I did change my job afterwards and all went well, but I still worry about that false criminal record that can pop up again and ruin a good job opportunity for me should I decide to switch my job again in the future.

How can someone else’s criminal records appear in your background report?

There are many scenarios that can lead to criminal records being linked to a wrong person in the background report. This can happen because of identity theft or due to human and technical errors. Here are the most common scenarios:

Identity theft

An imposter can use an innocent person’s identifying information when detained by police. Another scenario is when tax liens incurred by the identity thief are listed in the name of the victim.

Data cross-matching errors

In order to keep their databases up to date, people-search sites run regular updates. It is a complicated technological task to correctly cross-match new information about hundreds of millions of people with their existing “profiles” in the site’s database. 100% accurate data cross-matching algorithms do not exist and errors happen, resulting, among other things, in an individual inheriting someone else’s criminal records. This is how a profile of John Doe from New York gets criminal records of another John Doe from New York based on the similarity of a name and location.

How can OneRep help?

Lost job opportunities is not the only problem that people-search sites can cause you. Others include identity theft risks, risk of stalking, intrusive marketing calls and even threats to your physical safety.

In theory, the law gives you the power to request that people-search sites remove your records. In practice, these websites spring up like mushrooms, their opt out procedures are overly complicated, and even if you manage to remove your data from a website, your records can eventually re-appear, in weeks or months.

At OneRep we built a technology that monitors 196 people-search sites in real time and removes OneRep users’ records from them, all fully automatically. If you are worried about people-search sites publishing your data without your concern (and we think you should be), click the button below, enter your name and location, and have OneRep scan the web to find sites that expose your information. Then, request these sites to remove these listings or let us help you remove them.

*Identifying details have been changed for privacy protection

Maria Shishkova

Digital Marketer & Privacy Expert at OneRep | LinkedIn