Is Your Own Criminal Records Check Really Worth It?

By Michael Klazema on 2/7/2011

A criminal records check isn’t just about looking into the history of the people you come into contact with every day. We’ve all heard about the companies that run criminal history checks on their employees, either voluntarily or because it is a legal requirement, and we’ve also heard about private citizens that use information from the sex offender registry to make sure their neighborhood is safe. Sometimes, though, the most beneficial background check is the one you do on yourself.

There are a couple reasons to do your own criminal records check. First, if your identity has been stolen and used to commit fraud or other crimes, this may be the only way to find out about it before it is too late. Second, if you share a name or other personal details with a criminal, a possible employer or authority figure could mistake you for the person who committed the crime.

Most people probably think that this could never happen to them. After all, how many people really share the same name with someone who committed some heinous crime? And even if this huge coincidence did come up, it could surely be cleared up quickly. Right?
Not necessarily. Just recently there was a case up in Canada where a woman applied for a job that required a criminal background check. This woman had never committed a crime, had never been charged or convicted of any criminal offense in her life, but for some reason her background check came back saying that she was a possible convicted sex offender.

The most surprising part of this story is that it wasn’t even her name that matched the real criminal’s. It was her birthday. What followed was a four-week process to try and clear up the misunderstanding. This meant she had to get fingerprinted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police so they could run her through the system to prove that she was not, in fact, the same person who had committed those crimes. Of course, this woman was extremely confused by this experience. It seemed like a strange criteria to use to match her to someone that committed a crime. Strange or not, though, she lost out on the job opportunity while she waited for the situation to get cleared up.

It turns out that the reason for the policy of matching birthdays was implemented because they were concerned that pardoned sex offenders would simply change their name, and, depending on the province, that new name might not get linked to their record.  While employers are encouraged to be understanding and work on a case-by-case basis, it does show that anything could happen if someone runs a criminal record check on you. The only way to be prepared is to do your own ahead of time and make sure you are prepared for anything that might come up.

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