THE BLOG

5 Stories of Background Checks Gone Awry

01/07/2013 06:03 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2013

Background checks are one of those things that have become so ubiquitous in our culture that we very rarely even think about them anymore. You submit to them when applying for a job, opening a bank account, renting or buying a home, securing financing because you're starting a business, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, sometimes background checks are just wrong.

1. Daniel Baker was lucky. His employer actually called him to ask about the information on his background check that seemed weird before simply assuming the information was correct. It's a good thing, too, or Daniel would have to prove that no, he hadn't actually been convicted for two counts of embezzlement. He was able to get a criminal record check from the county fairly quickly that proved that though their names and middle initials were the same, the embezzler had a different birthday.

2. After applying (and being hired) for a position at a Walmart in Sacramento, Patrick Padilla was astonished to find out that suddenly, in spite of living his whole life as an upstanding citizen, he had amassed a slew of criminal charges running the gamut from false imprisonment to criminal sexual contact (and some others). This is another case of name mix-up.

3. Samuel Jackson (not that one) was surprised to learn that he was a registered sex offender after a background check done by a potential employer turned up that information. Not just any registered sex offender, but a nationally registered sex offender. It turns out that the company used for the background check had simply mixed up this Samuel Jackson with another.

4. Donnie Ward was already on the job at a department store in Milwaukee when she was called in to the HR department and fired for lying on her application... except she hadn't fibbed. The background check the store did on Donnie turned up a criminal conviction for her twin brother (named Don). In spite of the insurmountable evidence that she was not, in fact, her brother, she was still told to leave the store. Thankfully, Donnie knew how to clear up the mistake and was given back her job -- two weeks later.

5. While trying to open a safety deposit box at her local bank, Judy Rivers was very surprised to find out that she was dead. She was so digitally dead, in fact, that it didn't take long for her to stop being able to use her own debit and credit cards or even use checks at the grocery stores. It turns out that at some point, something had gotten mixed up at a credit reporting agency and the digital word spread like wildfire and, unfortunately, figuring out exactly what wrong isn't something that Judy will ever be able to do. All she can do is wait for the error to reach the Social Security Administration who will, hopefully, then allow her to correct the issue.

The sad news is that mistakes happen all the time over the course of background checks. Sometimes it happens because the reporting agency has old information. Sometimes it is simply human error. Whatever the reasons are, the number of times it happens is staggering. One company has had it happen so often there is a class action lawsuit being brought against it. It is happening so often that there are groups popping up all over the place whose sole purpose is to help people fight back against bad background checks.

If you are unemployed (and a lot of you are), make sure you know how to dispute a background check if it comes back with false information. You aren't just allowed, you are entitled to the information contained in it. It is, however, your responsibility to make sure that things get corrected.

If you need incentive, think on this: Are you really okay allowing anybody to believe that you are a felon, a sex offender, or your own twin brother?