Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Who Knows Your Secrets? Part 5: Employers & Landlords & Yentas: Oh, My!
Supreme Court justices and reality show contestants aren't the only folks subject to background checks, and government and corporate vetting committees aren't the only ones digging for dirt. Employers, dating services, landlords, wealthy parents of celebutantes--all have an interest in checking out somebody's background.
In our increasingly litigious society, many employers feel they must perform background checks to protect themselves against negligent hiring lawsuits. With an eye to prevent child abuse or abduction, the background of anyone who works in childcare or teaching will be investigated for past criminal activity. School and organizational athletic leagues must check out their volunteers and coaches to maximize the safety of the children--even the CDC has guidelines for screening such applicants.
Large corporations with major financial or corporate secrets feel the need to make sure there are no bits of grit on the squeaky clean reputations of their executives that might leave them open to blackmail or extortion. And of course, in light of modern terrorism of all sorts, background checks can bring to light histories of violence or other aspects that might make a particular person an inappropriate candidate.
Some of the reasons behind employer-driven background checks need not be as serious--sometimes they just want to make sure you are who and what you say you are. In promos for the new NBC series Community, attorney Joel McHale shares that he's in trouble because of his undergraduate degree. "I thought you went to Columbia?" queries the friend. Joel replies, "And now I have to get a degree from America." (Yes, the play on Columbia vs. Columbia doesn't work as well in print.) Governments, universities, hospitals and corporations need to be sure that the lofty claims on applicant resumes are checked out in detail.
Sure, some employers are satisfied to call references, Google your name and make sure you don't look too embarrassingly drunk in your Facebook page, but most responsible companies will perform more than cursory background checks, and there's quite of bit of data that can come into play:
(The Fair Credit Reporting Act disallows inclusion of the following in background checks: records of civil suits or judgments, paid tax liens, accounts placed for collection, and records of arrests, after 7 years; bankruptcies cannot be reported after ten years.)
- Employment--social security data, Workers' Compensation records, state licensing records (for medical, dental, legal, financial and other professionals, as well as for workers who care for children, the elderly and the disabled)
- Legal--court records (which may include criminal cases as well as a plethora of civil-litigation information), prison records, parole records, sexual offender lists, drug testing records, property ownership data
- Education--grades, academic probation records, honor code violations, student employment records, student housing and university police records
- Military--honorable or other discharges, records of service, dates of service
- Financial--credit reports, banking reports, bankruptcy records
- Auto-Related--driving records, vehicle registration records
- Character references from former employers, supervisors, co-workers, educators, neighbors, vendors, employees and others
- Medical records
Most employers would be hard-pressed to investigate all of these resources on their own, so they turn to Lexis-Nexis and ChoicePoint. Both companies are categorized as credit reporting agencies (CRAs) under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, meaning that you should have access to a free report annually and whenever you suffer an adverse action, and that you have the right to dispute errors and have them investigated and corrected. And, as with the insurance and medical reports we've discussed previously, you do have to provide written permission for a prospective employer to obtain many of these reports about you, including education, medical, and military records.
If you know you'll be undergoing a background check for employment, there are many things you can do to check--and even hose off the mud from--your paper trail. While you're waiting to receive your Lexis-Nexis and ChoicePoint consumer reports, which can sometimes take 30 to 60 days, check out the reputation-enhancing suggestions offered by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
Don't don't forget to clean up the dirt on your digital paper trail, as well. The e-Justice blog has a great post on "Who Knows What About You? 25 Free Tools To Find Out". (And take those Spring Break photos off your Facebook page!)
To get your consumer reports and find out what prospective employers will see:
1. Go to Lexis-Nexis. (Navigation to this link can be difficult. If you are ever unable to click directly, use the site map for http://www.lexisnexis.com to find the privacy section and then locate the "For Consumers" button.)
2. Click on Personal Information Request.
3. Review the two lists of items you may use to validate your identity via your Social Security number, name and current address.
--From the first list, you may select to send a photocopy of any of the following: your Social Security card, W2 form, military identification, a current pay stub (if your SSN is listed) or any other document containing your SSN.
--From the second list, to prove your address, select a photocopy of your driver's license (front and back) or a recent (within the past two months) utility, phone or credit card bill.
4. Print the Lexis-Nexis "Request for a Accurint Report" form.
5. Submit your form with photocopies of your identification to:
Accurint Consumer Inquiry Department
P.O. Box 105610
Atlanta, GA 30348-5610
ChoicePoint is a Lexis-Nexis partner, so don't be surprised to see Lexis-Nexis logos on their pages, as well.
1. Go to ChoicePoint.com
2. Select "Access to Your Personal Information" from under the Reports About You section.
3. Read the Instructions for Requesting Your ChoicePoint Full File Disclosure. You'll see the proof of identity and name/address submissions are largely identical to those listed for the Accurint/Lexis-Nexis report.
4. Print the Full File Disclosure Request Form and fill it out accurately.
5. Send copies of your identity validation documents and completed form to:
ChoicePoint Consumer Center
Attn: Full File Disclosure
P.O. Box 105108
Atlanta, GA 30348-5108
(Note: this is NOT the same address as listed for Lexis-Nexis, though they are similar.)
When you go to rent a new apartment or house, the owner has a vested interest in making sure you'll pay your rent on time and not turn his little loft or cottage into a crack den. Under most circumstances, a prospective landlord will pull your credit report; less often, depending on whether it's one duplex or a corporate-owned complex of hundreds or thousands of apartments, a landlord or leasing office may pull a complete background check.
However, another set of resources is available specifically for mid-sized (or "multi-family") property management offices. SafeRent and Rent Bureau collect and distribute a wide variety of rental application and personal data, including rent payment histories, references, credit ratings, and criminal record reports. They even have scores designed to predict the relative risk of a tenant turning rock-star and trashing the apartment, disappearing in the dark of night without paying owed rent, bouncing checks or otherwise acting in such a way that landlords will be inclined to start eviction proceedings.
Before you rent, be sure you know what your paper trail says about you:
SafeRent is the big player in rental records, operating a database of over 34 million records based on reported landlord-tenant histories.
1. Go to FirstAdvantage SafeRent.
2. Click on Consumer Relations.
3. Read through the explanations of the different types of files, then click on Consumer Disclosure Request Form in the body of the first paragraph.
4. Read through the requirements carefully. Note the circumstances under item #2 wherein you can receive a free annual report even if you have not received an adverse action notice (i.e., even if you haven't been denied housing).
5. Complete the form and make photocopies of your proof(s) of identification. As explained on the form, you may send a copy of your current driver's license or government issued ID, or copies of any two of the following: your Social Security Card, a non-government issued ID (like an employee or student ID), or a recent utility bill. Paper Doll advises against mailing copies of your Social Security Card whenever avoidable.
6. Send the form and proof(s) of identification to
FirstAdvantage SafeRent, Inc.
Consumer Relations Department
7300 Westmore Road, Suite 3
Rockville, MD 20850-5223
SafeRent should mail your report within three days of receiving your request.
If you have further questions, you can call 800-815-8664.
Rent Bureau maintains a database of approximately six million lessee records.
1. Go to RentBureau.com/Consumers.
2. Click on Credit File Request form to get a copy of your Rent Bureau Rental File.
3. Fill out the basic information and mail it to:
Rent Bureau, LLC
P.O. Box 18706
Atlanta, GA 31126
There is also a fax number listed, but Paper Doll advises against faxing personal information, particularly Social Security numbers, whenever possible. It's just too easy to mistype a number and send your private information where it does not need to go.
YENTAS (Matchmakers) and OTHERS
While it may seem that matchmakers have gone the way of the dodo in this generation of eHarmony, Match.com and OK Cupid, there are still a great number of personalized introduction services out there, and one of the reasons they can charge the high rates they do is because they purport to do a complete background check on every applicant.
Earlier this year, the NFL Players' Association, a union of professional football players, chose not to select former NFLPA President Troy Vincent for the position of Executive Director after the Associated Press completed an exhaustive investigation into Vincent's business dealings based on public records, financial statements and personal interviews. While finding no wrongdoing, per se, the NFLPA opted to go with a candidate not weighed down by controversial business dealings which some members felt could expose Vincent to lawsuits and distract him from important NFLPA work.
More and more, our lives are led in public, and very little can remain hidden or private. Paper Doll believes that in some ways, sunshine is the best (figurative) disinfectant, but in other ways, discretion is the better part of valor. Either way, our employment and financial futures will increasingly depend on the information about us that is collected and distributed by third parties. The best we can do is make sure our paper trails are accurate (and hopefully, squeaky clean).
Next week, we'll complete the "Who Knows Your Secrets?" series with important information just in time for you to head out for post-Thanksgiving Day shopping (and the inevitable returns).
posted on: 11/17/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
by Julie Bestry
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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.
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