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Online background check services aren’t infallible

  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at 10:40 p.m.

Don Cameron is a smart job hunter – smart enough to know that something he experienced may affect others, too.

Cameron ran a background check on himself to see what potential employers might find out about him.

One service he found online returned a shocker: “Supposedly tied to my Social Security number was a 1956 conviction for involuntary manslaughter. Seriously,” Cameron said. “Didn’t matter that the individual named in the report had a different middle initial than mine.”

The report, for which he paid $19.86, also had Cameron’s date of birth wrong.

Cameron complained to the company. It apologized in writing and refunded his money.

But he doesn’t know what damage to his reputation might have occurred.

He also doesn’t know whether job hunters or prospective employers read the fine print when they engage some background check services. The apology and refund letter he received included a “disclaimer of warranties.” It said: “Instant checkmate does not guarantee the accuracy of information found on the site or through the services. Use of the site, the services and any data accessed while using the site or the services is at your sole risk. The site, the services and all contents of each are provided on an ‘as is’ and ‘as available’ basis.”

Cameron’s experience dovetails with a mid-February report by the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC report found a 1-in-5 chance there’s an error in credit reports issued by the three major agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

The commission encouraged people to check their own credit reports to help avoid problems with employers, lenders or insurers.

Cameron urges personal vigilance. He contacted county and state attorneys general offices about his problem and found no jurisdictional or staffing ability to address his complaint.

Some background checks may be flawless, so this isn’t an indictment of all such services. It’s just a reminder to watch for mistakes and act when they’re found.

Reach Diane Stafford at dstafford@kcstar.com.

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