How to deal with incorrect information on background check reports

Employers have the right to run a background check on job applicants as part of their hiring process. B ut what if your background report returns incorrect or false information about you?

If you’re waiting for your report to come through or you’ve been denied an opportunity because of a failed background check, here’s what you can do:

  1. Request a copy of your report and carefully review it.
  2. File a dispute if you spot mistakes. 
  3. Correct public records.
  4. Prevent errors in your background check in the future.

Let’s look at each of these options more in detail.

1. Review your background report

If you’ve been turned down for a job because of a failed background check, you have the right to ask the employer for a copy of your report. In fact, the employer must provide it to you together with an explanation as part of their justification for rejecting you. 

Once you receive a copy of your background check, read it carefully and check for common errors. Here’s what you should pay attention to:

  1. Personal information: Check if your name and date of birth are correct to eliminate cases of mistaken identity. 
  2. Sealed or expunged records: These should not appear on your background check.
  3. Criminal charges: If you have criminal charges in your report, make sure each charge appears only once.  
  4. Arrests without charges: Consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) cannot hold any information about an arrest unless it resulted in a criminal conviction or charges are still pending.
  5. Misdemeanor offenses listed as felonies: Misdemeanor offenses are less serious than felonies and usually do not carry a prison sentence.

2. Dispute errors with the background check company

If you find inaccurate information on your background check report, the first thing to do is to contact the background check company. If you don’t know the company’s name, check with the employer; they have to provide the details. 

If you find a background check error before the employer makes the final hiring decision, it’s best to contact the company as soon as possible to follow up on the mistake.

The exact dispute process will vary from one background check company to another, you’ll find more information on how to file a dispute on the company’s website. Make notes on the incorrect details beforehand and prepare a proof of error if you have it.

Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

According to federal law, you have the right to dispute incorrect information on your background check, and the dispute process should be free of charge. Background screening companies have up to 30 days to review your claim and update the information if they made a mistake.

You can complain to the Federal Trade Commission if the background screening company refuses to investigate or correct an error. The FTC can also intervene if the employer requests a background check without your consent.

3. Correct your public records if the mistake was made at the source

If the background screening company confirms that the data reflects your public records correctly, you may have to verify your information directly with the public agency that holds it.

The information on your background report can be inaccurate for several reasons. Some agencies do not update their records regularly, leading to outdated information on your report. There may also be some data processing errors. 

How to deal with incorrect information on background check reports: example of a screening report

Here are some of the records that are usually consulted as part of a background check process:

  • Credit history
  • Criminal records
  • Driving records
  • Military records
  • Educational history
  • Past employment
  • Social Security Administration (to validate your name and Social Security number).

You’ll see a source next to each piece of background information in your report.

Contact credit reporting agencies to dispute mistakes

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information in your credit reports with credit reporting agencies (CRAs). You can request an investigation into the disputed information, and CRAs must respond within 30 days of your claim. If the information is inaccurate or unverifiable, the credit reporting agency must correct or remove it.

Review your background check and see which credit reporting agency listed the mistake. If the error is repeated by all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), you’ll have to contact each one separately and follow their respective dispute processes. The easiest way is to fill out an online dispute form, but you can also send it via post.

You’ll find contact details, template letters, and links to dispute forms on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) website.

How to deal with incorrect information on background check reports: example of a screening report-1

Report criminal history records

To dispute errors in your criminal history records, reach out to your state’s office, which is responsible for handling such matters. It might be called the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Department of Justice, Bureau of Identification, or something similar. In some states, you may need to contact the court where the criminal information was filed. You can find the court’s contact details online. 

Call or email the relevant institution to find out how to dispute the information on your criminal record. You can usually do this via email or over the phone. Prepare documents to support your claim, such as court orders or a copy of the order to expunge or seal your record.

4. How to prepare for a background check before applying for a job

If you don’t want to risk being denied employment opportunities because of a failed background check, it’s best to anticipate and correct any background check errors in advance.  

Check it before they do

You can easily obtain all the information background check companies will request to build your report: 

  • Contact a credit reporting agency to obtain your free credit report.
  • Verify your Social Security number at the Social Security Administration’s website.
  • Contact your local police department to check your criminal history.
  • Request your driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
  • Reach out to prior employers to verify if you have correct employment records.

Review your online presence

Take a critical look at your online footprint, especially the information you share on social media. If you want your data to stay private, delete your social media profiles or update the privacy settings

You can take it one step further and take a more holistic approach to your online privacy by removing your personal information from the internet. Follow our detailed guide to find out how to do this for free. You can also use a data removal service like Incogni to do the job for you, saving you hundreds of hours of work.

Know your rights

How to deal with incorrect information on background check reports: example of a screening report-2

Many forms of discrimination are illegal, and if you think that a potential employer has discriminated against you following the outcome of your background report, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and report it. The EEOC makes sure federal laws protect you from job discrimination based on various factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or disability. 


What does “undefined” mean on a background check?

“Undefined” on a background check typically means that the specific information sought or checked could not be located or identified in the available database or record.

Why would someone not show up on a background check?

A person may not show up on a background check if no relevant information is available about them in the records searched. This could occur if they have a minimal or uneventful history, if the databases are incomplete or outdated, or if the person has intentionally kept their information private.

Why is my background check taking so long?

Your background check might take longer than expected due to various factors, including the thoroughness of the check, the complexity of your background, delays in obtaining information from reporting agencies, or high volumes of background checks being requested.

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