Identity Verification: The Misconception that Background Checks Confirm Identity
You use your identity to get credit, a driver’s license, and even a cell phone number. Identity is also an important part of hiring and background screening effectiveness. Confirming candidate identity at the start of the background check process paves the way to accurate background check results.
Not all background checks include identity verification. Some background screening companies don’t verify candidate identity before conducting a background check, and instead they rely only on the name provided by the candidate during the hiring process. Conversely, when your background screening provider helps you take steps to confirm identity before continuing the background check process, you’re assured of getting results for the right person.
The Importance of Confirming Identity
Identity verification finds candidate names and addresses, so you can perform a background check on accurate information. In fact, verifying candidate identity can often provide a more complete picture than the one provided by candidates. Without realizing the impact on background check results, candidates can provide a nickname, a middle name instead of a first name, or a recently-changed surname. In some cases, candidates may even intentionally provide a false or incomplete name to hide something in their background.
Without taking the proper steps, your organization can become the victim of candidate identity fraud. It’s more common than you think. Of the 3.2 million instances of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019, identity theft was the most commonly reported type of fraud, accounting for 20.33 percent of cases.
Confirming identity is also important because many background data sources rely only on name information and not a more unique identifier, such as a social security number (SSN). For example, criminal databases, sex offender registries, and court systems use first and last names as key search parameters.
An important early step to confirm candidate identity is the SSN trace. A 2020 Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) survey found the SSN trace to be a key component of background screening for 81 percent of organizations, and it should be a part of your background screening tool box, too. Your background screening provider can conduct the SSN trace by performing a reverse index search on a candidate’s social security number. This search yields the names and addresses associated with the SSN, allowing for a complete background check on the valid names associated with the person.
Benefits of Using SSN Trace to Confirm Identity
In addition to saving time and money on erroneous background checks, identity confirmation delivers other benefits to your organization, including the following:
- More accurate results: When you confirm candidate identity up front, you avoid doing related searches on the wrong person—for example, criminal searches, employment and education verifications, and public record searches.
- Expanded name search: Conducting a background check on a single name provided by the candidate yields results for only one name. By confirming identity with an SSN trace, you can possibly yield additional names for search, such as aliases and maiden names. If there are conflicts or multiple names for the same person, background screeners can conduct cross-checks to clear any discrepancies.
- Follow-up on limited results: Sometimes a search yields limited or no information—for example, in the case of a young person with little credit or address history. In such a case, background screeners can perform additional research to determine if there is a valid reason for limited SSN trace results.
The Risks of Not Confirming Identity
Identity verification isn’t just a “nice to have” component of the background check process. It also helps you avoid specific risks to your organization’s bottom line and reputation. The following are some of the risks of not confirming identity when conducting background checks:
- Time waste: A background check on someone other than the intended candidate is the same as having no background check at all. Without proper identity confirmation, you’ll need to go back and re-run a background check, which causes delays in your hiring process and increased turnaround time. In the time it takes to run another background check, you could lose your candidate and have to start a new search.
- Poor candidate experience: Delays caused by having to re-run an incomplete background check can damage the candidate experience, leaving candidates with an unfavorable impression of the offer process. Candidates can also grow frustrated with an overly long or unorganized background check process, and they may seek a new opportunity with another organization.
- Reduced likelihood of complete verifications: Not knowing a candidate’s complete name history can result in getting no information from educational and employer verifications, particularly if the candidate used a maiden name or a birth name during college or their time with a former employer.
- Needless adverse action: When you don’t include identity verification in background checks, your results can wrongly suggest the need for an adverse action review. This wastes time for you, and it can also be very unsettling for a candidate. One man had two housing applications denied because a background check on a person with a similar name showed he had a sex offender charge, even though he had never been convicted of a crime.
- Reputational damage: Conducting a background check on a false or inaccurate name can cause you to miss criminal history committed under a candidate’s alias or former name. Your organization can suffer embarrassment and reputational loss, not to mention possible lawsuits, if your background check process failed to identify individuals who later caused harm to others in the workplace.
Steps to Confirm Candidate Identity in a Background Check
Confirming identity in a background check is akin to making sure you have the right resume for a candidate before you begin the interview. You need to get your bearings and know you’re talking with the right person. There are some specific steps you can take to build identity verification into your background screening program, so you can realize the benefits and avoid the risks.
Collect complete candidate data
It’s important to start the background screening process off with as much candidate-supplied information as possible. Before you submit a background check request, be sure to ask candidates for their name and address histories, including:
- First, middle, and last names
- Name suffixes, for example, Sr., Jr., and III
- Former and maiden names
- Full address, including apartment and house numbers
Include SSN trace in your background screening program
A SSN trace confirms information supplied by candidates and also generates any additional names associated with their SSN. Results from the SSN trace can also be researched further by background screeners if needed.
Work with your background screening partner
The key to building a comprehensive background screening program is a partner who can guide you in identifying risks associated with candidate identity. Your current background check company may not make you aware of possible improvements to your program or instances where you’re receiving incomplete or inaccurate results because of unverified identity. Conversely, when you work with an experienced and reputable screening partner, you can be assured of advice and resources to help you get the most accurate background screening results possible.
Make Identity Verification Part of Your Background Screening Program
Changes in best practices and legislation will have a continued impact on how you conduct background checks, so it’s essential to review your background screening program for improvements. Identity verification helps you start background checks off on the right foot, allowing you to obtain accurate and complete results the first time.
As you consider the most effective ways to improve your hiring and background screening program, be sure to work with a partner who prioritizes identity verification at the beginning of the background check process. For more information about trends and insights to enhance your background screening activities, read our 2020 Hiring and Background Screening Trends Report.