Employers need a job applicant’s legal name for background checks. Names and birthdates are the primary means of linking criminal records to individuals. However, what if someone changes their name? This area is one of the main dilemmas for employers considering criminal background checks.

Some estimate that there are approximately 50,000 legal name changes in the United States annually. While that’s a small number in such a large country, some employers still have concerns. If criminal records rely on names, does that mean you might miss critical information associated with an old name? Job seekers might wonder the same thing. An unscrupulous job applicant might contemplate using a false name to avoid their history. That could be an issue in the effort to avoid negligent hiring.

There’s good news for employers: an alias background check helps uncover other names. This tool is easy, affordable, and effective. Learn more about the facts behind name changes, criminal records, and background reports below.

Name changes are a common legal process

People change their names for many reasons, and surprisingly, it’s quite a typical part of life. For example, most people change their last names when they get married or after a divorce. Actors and musicians might officially adopt a stage name or retain their legal name but use an alias unofficially. Transgender individuals make name changes to assist with their transitions. Others simply don’t like their birth name or wish to disassociate from a family.

All these people go through an official process to obtain a legal name change. It usually involves going to court and submitting a petition to a judge. Marriages and divorces are the exceptions. In other cases, these judges must decide whether there’s a reason not to issue the name change. They’ll grant the new name if there is no reason to believe the change is against the public interest.

A potential employer may worry that someone could abuse this standard process to hide from serious criminal records.

Can felons change their name?

Felons can change their name in some states—but not everywhere. For example, the law prohibits felons from obtaining name changes in Florida and Illinois. Other states require felons to disclose their criminal history during the name change application. This status may make a judge less likely to grant a petition for a new name.

Because the state laws vary, employers should consult local statutes to learn more. In states where a felon might change their name, does that mean you won’t find their criminal records? What happens to all the history associated with an individual’s old name?

The impact of name changes on public and personal records

The answer to that question depends on several factors. That history does not disappear, and individuals cannot easily use name changes to hide from criminal records if employers are diligent. A name change does not erase the history of someone’s previous names. Sometimes, finding both names associated with the individual’s records is easy.

For example, consider someone who changes their name and has a new driver’s license issued. The state DMV typically updates the name across all their records. If you were to order a motor vehicle record based on a license number, you’d likely see both names. All driving records remain associated with the individual’s new name. Likewise, professional licenses will usually update to match the new name.

Finding other types of information might require knowing the old name. Verifying employment history, for example, could be more difficult. A business is unlikely to update their records if a change occurs after the individual leaves. Education verification may face similar issues. What about criminal records?

Does a name change affect background check results?

If criminal records were linked to a person’s Social Security number, there would be no problem. However, criminal records are part of the public record. SSNs don’t appear on such records due to the privacy risk. Instead, states associate criminal records with people via their name, birthday, and sometimes address. That factor is why most background checks use name-based queries. If you use only a former name for a background check, you probably won’t see criminal records attached to their old name.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find them, however. It just means some extra diligence is required.

Request applicants to provide detailed information on their job applications. You may ask them to list their current and previous names – like requesting someone’s unmarried name. Asking about aliases can immediately give you the information you need. However, you should also collect information about addresses, birth dates, and their SSNs.

Building confidence in your background check process

At backgroundchecks.com, we encourage employers to provide SSNs to support candidate background checks. You can order an alias background check that uses this number to search official records. This search can detect name changes and inform you of a candidate’s other possible names. Using address history checks simultaneously can help you better understand someone with a changed name. Remember to always use these consumer reports in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

You can obtain the information necessary to conduct background checks with an alias background check. You can then more reliably detect any criminal records associated with the candidate. Avoid false negatives with help and support from backgroundchecks.com. Name changes can complicate your pre-employment screening, but it isn’t a permanent barrier to discovering more. Speak with us today about searching for aliases and developing better hiring processes.

Get instant updates on Background Screening 101

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

Michael's recent publications

More Like This Post

State Criminal Search

Virginia Criminal Search

A Virginia state background check can uncover more criminal records. Learn about these tools and the legal restrictions involved.

Order a Search for Virginia