How do I fix errors in a pre-employment background report?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Get a copy of the report that your prospective boss reviewed and look at the problem entries. You need to go to whatever agency is providing the background company with the erroneous information–and then challenge their reporting of the data to the private reporting company.

In today’s society, we can run reports on or do research about anyone. There are many suppliers of background reports because it is so (relatively) easy to find information. But most—the vast majority—of those report vendors don’t verify the accuracy of the information. Rather, they are simply collating or aggregating information from other sources, such as court or other public databases, or information reported by banks or creditors or landlords. That means that to fix errors you have to go back beyond the report provider, to the sources of their original information, since that is most likely where the error originated. You also need to do this because as stated, there are many sources for such background information: if you fixed the problem with one such report vendor or supplier, that would not help the fact that the other vendors would still be supplying inaccurate information.

Ask for a copy of the report from the prospective employer. Because this is a consumer report, you have a right to see it and, as appropriate, dispute it. When you get it, review it carefully; make note of any and all errors. Then contact the company which generated the report, discuss the errors with them, let them know about your dispute(s), and find out from where they obtained the contested information. Then go back another level to those sources and dispute the error(s) with them.

Of course, they—the source of the information–will not simply take your word for things. After all, someone could be lying to improve their credit or background check. You will need proof or evidence of the error. For example, say that there is a notation that you were convicted of or pled guilty of a crime, when in fact the charges were dismissed. To correct, you will have to contact the court in question and get a copy of the original case disposition (the judge’s order, for example) and use that to get the court system to correct its entry about the outcome of the case. Or say, the vendor mismatched you with another person with the same or similar name, and so the other person’s criminal record is being reported as your own. Get as much identifying information as possible about him or her from the court (e.g., address, age) and then show that it is a case of mistaken identity, not you, and have any entries corrected.

The same principal applies to correcting other negative information. For example, let’s say that there is a foreclosure showing against you on a credit report but your home was never foreclosed. You and the bank worked matters out before that occurred. Contact the bank, if necessary show them proof (e.g., a settlement agreement) of the real outcome, and have them correct the information they reported to the credit rating and background check entities.

If the source of negative information will not voluntarily correct information about you, you may have to take legal action. If the court system has made the error, you can make a motion under that case’s docket number to fix a mistake, or bring a new action by an “Order to Show Cause” or similar proceeding to have the court correct its records. If a private entity is falsely reporting negative information about you, you could sue them for defamation, seeking both a court order that they stop doing so and monetary compensation for any harm the false information caused you.

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