The most critical question anytime a record is reported in a consumer report is whether it is referring to the subject of the background check. Most (but not all) consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) will only report a record if there are multiple identifiers that match the consumer information available.
Backing up a few steps, identifiers are things like full name, date of birth (DOB), address, driver’s license and social security number (SSN). Put together, there should be a unique set of identifiers for every consumer. Public records like criminal records are typically entered by name and may including one or more additional identifiers as part of the record or in the file. Public records rarely include social security information because social security numbers are not public information so CRAs rely on dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and addresses when they are available. In many jurisdictions we actually have to go to the court clerks and/or the original case files to confirm or exclude a possible record because the public record source doesn’t make any information beyond name accessible.
Some CRAs will use a process called extemporaneous notification where they will report a record (typically from a database) and they will just notify the consumer of the derogatory information reported about them so that the consumer can dispute the record if it is not accurate. This process is allowed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), but it can be problematic for an End User if they make a decision based on the report before the consumer has a chance to dispute information that is not correct.
Even with processes in place to only report records with multiple identifiers there are rare incidents when a record can be reported in error. One such situation can occur when two people with the same name and birth date are living in the same area. Another case we have encountered is when a consumer is the victim of identity theft and the thief has been convicted of a crime under that assumed identity. For a consumer in either situation it can be scary, but the (pre)Adverse Action and Dispute and Reinvestigation requirements in the FCRA are there to protect them.