One of the biggest areas of confusion regarding background checks is how they consider name changes. Some estimates point to 50,000 people changing their legal names each year in the United States. Since criminal records are typically filed based on name, there is some worry among employers that standard background checks won’t find information associated with a candidate’s previous name. At the same time, some job seekers wonder if they can avoid red flags on a background check (such as criminal history) by listing a false name on a job application.
The good news for employers is that running an alias background check on a candidate is an easy, affordable, and effective option.
People change their names for many different reasons. Marriage and divorce are the most common reasons for name changes, but they aren’t the only ones. Actors, musicians, and other performers often adopt “stage names,” whether officially ( legally) or unofficially. Transgender individuals typically adopt new names that match the gender with which they identify. Some people just change their names because they don’t like the name that they were given at birth.
In employment situations, the question is, what happens to all the history that is associated with a person’s old name?
Some elements of a person’s past are easier to link to their new legal name than others. For instance, when a person changes their name and gets a new driver’s license, the DMV will update the name across that person’s driving history. If an employer runs a DMV background check on that person, all their past tickets, license suspensions, and other infractions—from before and after they changed their name—should show up on the background check.
Other types of background information are less likely to be linked to a new name. For instance, if you want to verify a candidate’s work history as an employer, you may have trouble doing so if the individual has changed their name recently. Past managers or HR departments know your candidate by a different name and likely have that person’s employment records filed under that name, not the one that you know.
These situations can cause some confusion when employers verify employment history or education. Professional licenses, in most cases, will update to match the candidate’s new name.
While some people assume that all criminal records are linked to a person’s Social Security Number, that is not the case. Because criminal records are a part of the public record, they can’t include any sensitive information—which means no SSNs. The top pieces of information about a person that will be linked to their criminal record are name, birthdate, and address. For this reason, most criminal history searches are name-based. If a person has changed their name and an employer runs a background check using their new name, the check won’t find any information associated with the candidate’s old name.
There are solutions for this conundrum. When a candidate fills out a job application, they are typically asked for a wide variety of information, including name, current address, birthdate, past names (including maiden names), SSN, and even past addresses. With these pieces of information, employers can widen the scope of their background checks to find more accurate information. Instead of looking for criminal records in just one place or under one name, the employer can order background checks in multiple locations and for multiple names.
Getting this information directly from applicants—and trusting them to provide it—isn’t the only option. At backgroundchecks.com, we always ask the employers that we serve to provide SSN details for their candidate background checks. This information helps us to link a person’s true identity with their criminal history records. It also enables us to run an address history check or alias background check, both of which can help us dig deeper into a candidate’s history.
While name changes can complicate certain parts of a background check, they aren’t a permanent barrier. Employers should utilize tools such as our alias background check to avoid false negatives when they vet their candidates. Job seekers, meanwhile, should be honest about maiden names and other past names. Not disclosing this information upfront could cause delays in the background check process, frustrate hiring managers, and even be viewed as a way to evade background checks.
In the wake of COVID-19 and the high unemployment rates that it has caused, job seekers could be more desperate than usual to find work. This situation could lead to increased dishonesty in the hiring process, including lies about name and identity that are meant to hide criminal history or other elements of a person’s background.
Contact backgroundchecks.com for help designing a thorough background check process that includes failsafe protections against candidate lies.
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