Social security background checks, or SSN checks, are reporting products that require candidates to provide their Social Security numbers for an additional layer of identity verification. A related service, called an SSN trace, verifies the validity of a Social Security Number and provides a list of results for addresses, names, and the birthday associated with that number. Not all background checks require candidates to provide their Social Security Numbers.
Should employers always try to use Social Security Numbers in their background check processes? What benefit does an SSN background check have over other types of background checks? Let’s take a quick look at the answers.
Why Do You Need an SSN for a Background Check?
The information you glean from SSN checks and traces is useful for several reasons and can ultimately contribute to stronger, safer, and further-reaching background check processes. The reasons to run an SSN background check include:
Checking a Social Security Number against SSA databases helps verify an individual’s identity. This check can send up red flags if the candidate has committed or is committing identity theft. At the same time, it makes it simpler to match criminal records to a specific individual, which is not always easy when you’re operating based on a name.
A list of aliases is useful for conducting a more thorough criminal background check. Since criminal records are associated with names, someone can change their name to avoid being flagged by a background check. Using an SSN to match criminal records to an alias produces more thorough background searches.
Address histories are exceedingly helpful in widening the scope of a background check. Most criminal convictions are filed at the county level, which means county criminal searches are a common first step to finding a candidate’s criminal history. By telling you where a candidate has lived in the past, an SSN background check tells you where to order additional searches.
Criminal Records Search
While Social Security numbers can play a vital role in improving your background check process, there are some caveats to keep in mind whether you’re hiring a new employee or running a background check for volunteers.
An SSN is not necessarily essential for an accurate criminal background check. Contrary to what some believe, SSNs are not associated with criminal records in any way. Criminal records are part of the public record, while SSNs are private and sensitive personal information. No criminal record is only associated with a Social Security Number, nor is any criminal record searchable based on SSN alone. Checks using SSNs are merely a tool to provide additional context.
While checks using SSNs aren’t directly applicable to criminal record searches, they do have another important role to play. Annually, tens of thousands of people change their names—legally and arbitrarily. At the same time, identity theft has been a persistent and rising threat for many years. These factors mean that people may not always be who they say they are. That doesn’t automatically imply malicious intent, but additional work in the vetting process.
For instance, say you were to order a US AliasSEARCH check through backgroundchecks.com. Unlike criminal searches, this check relies directly on SSN information: it checks the candidate’s Social Security Number against the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Death Master Index. It draws information and aliases (including maiden names) previously associated with the SSN. It also verifies the state and date of issuance for the particular SSN. With this information, you can zero in on the correct records in a criminal search.
SSN Trace and Address Search
Included in the US AliasSEARCH is an SSN trace service that can help employers uncover address history information based on data held by the Social Security administration. Employers who run address history checks can improve their confidence level while also expanding the scope of the records they review. A best practice is to check county-level criminal records in the locations an applicant has lived going back for the last seven years. An SSN trace helps you find that information.
Social Security Number Verification
Without incorporating SSNs into portions of the background check process, it is possible to encounter potential mistaken identity scenarios. In one state, a man who shared the same name with his father—the latter being a registered sex offender—found himself facing difficulties clearing background checks due to the mismatch. Although the courts ultimately ruled that the FCRA was not violated in this instance, it still necessitated expensive litigation. Always verify an individual’s identity using names, addresses, and Social Security numbers before making decisions.
Does an SSN check show employment history?
No. These checks only verify the validity of a Social Security number and provide address history options.
Why should a background check include Social Security Number verification?
Using SSNs ensures you don’t miss criminal records associated with an individual’s former name(s) or aliases. The address history supplied with the check opens the door to more thorough background check processes, letting you know where to look to examine local records. Simultaneously, using SSNs helps you verify that you’re looking at records for the correct individual.
Why do employers run SSN background checks or address history checks?
Even though SSNs aren’t tied to criminal records, SSNs help employers add more detail to their background check process and avoid overlooking potentially decision-altering information. Employers may want to look back at records held by counties in which an applicant previously resided for additional confidence.
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