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Background Screening Myths Explained: Myth 1 – Identity Verification

June 14, 2016 | By Katie Hartley

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While we have written many articles on our blog geared toward the background screening industry best practices, compliance, and even something on “holiday baking,” I find myself increasingly reading articles and online advertisements promising real-time background check results, identity verification, and “the most” comprehensive background checks.  I have noticed this, particularly, in the last year or two as the industry has moved towards API offerings and had many new entrants.

As the Director of Products for Accurate Background’s API offering and someone who has been in the industry for 14 years, I spend a lot of time reading between the lines, doing the investigative work around those claims and explaining the myths of how it really works.

With that in mind, we are writing a series of articles around commonly used background check products that will outline their benefits, their limitations, and how to compare different providers when shopping around. Whether you are in the shared economy (AKA gig/trust/on demand economy) where your business relies on consumers trusting your team or a large employer, hopefully this series of articles will help you.

In this first article, we will outline what some background check companies are claiming is “Identity Verification.”

Most comprehensive background checks in the U.S. start with what many call a National SSN Trace.  This search can be pulled from a database of thousands of sources like magazine subscriptions, utility bills, online accounts, and credit history.

Benefits of this product

This service is meant to provide an independent determination of where a person has lived.  It also provides any past names they have used (i.e. aliases or maiden names) as well as estimates on the time they lived in each location.  Some tools will also tell you if the Social Security Administration (SSA) Death Master File indicates the SSN belongs to a reported deceased person. Using this service, companies like Accurate Background know which counties and jurisdictions to search for criminal history, without needing to ask the candidate to explicitly provide that information.

This service should also be used to systematically add the counties that need to be searched on the candidate for criminal history and be available on demand through an API product.

Turnaround Time

Average Minimum: Near real time

Average Maximum: <1 hour

Limitations of this product

Myth #1 – this product does not verify that the SSN provided by the candidate belongs to that candidate therefore it is not an “Identity Verification.” The SSA can verify a candidate’s identity through what is called a Consent Based Social Security Verification (CBSV) but that (as implied in the name) requires a specific federal consent form from the candidate and does not provide you with an address history.

How to compare different providers when shopping around

It is recommended you look for a background check provider that gets their National SSN Trace from a database that pulls from thousands of sources.  You are likely to uncover more comprehensive address history that way.  Some providers will provide this service through a credit header from one of the credit bureaus and that is often limited to the 3 most recent addresses (see example below).  Not only is a credit header limited in the results it provides, it assumes all candidates have credit history.  For younger candidates or those individuals that don’t have an extensive credit history, using a credit header to determine address history is not a useful method.

It is also good to look for a provider that not only leverages the National SSN Trace to uncover address history, but does a search of where the person has gone to school and worked.  In many parts of the United States, it is easy to cross county lines outside of where you live so limiting it to a person’s residential address could limit the search.

In our next article, we will focus on how driving records are conducted in the U.S.  In future articles, we will also provide detailed information on different services and compliance rules nationwide and around the globe.


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