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What is an SSN Background Check?

By Michael Klazema on 5/10/2018

Some background checks require candidates to provide their Social Security Numbers, while others don’t. 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?

In most cases, it is easy for employers to use Social Security Numbers in background checks, as this information is typically provided by a candidate as part of the job application. Do note, however, that an SSN is not necessarily essential for an accurate criminal background check. Contrary to what some people believe, SSNs are not actually associated with criminal records. 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.

Because of these factors, criminal background searches work based on name, fingerprint, or other identifying information—such as date of birth. While more detail is always helpful to confirm findings, not providing a Social Security Number for a background check won’t render a criminal search ineffective.

What an SSN background check can do is provide additional identifying information that can be useful for 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 and pulls address history information and aliases (including maiden names) previously associated with the SSN. It also verifies the state and date of issuance for the SSN in question.

This information can be useful for several reasons:

First, checking a Social Security Number against SSA databases helps verify an individual’s identity. This kind of check can send up red flags if the candidate has committed or is committing identity theft.

Second, having a list of aliases or alternate names can be useful for conducting a thorough criminal background check. Since criminal records are associated with names, someone can change their name to attempt to avoid being flagged by a background check. By using an SSN to find that person’s alias history, you can conduct background searches of older names and find any associated criminal activity.

Finally, address histories can be extremely 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 can tell you where to order additional county searches. This strategy is often an effective and efficient way for an employer to expand the scope of a background check beyond local jurisdictions.


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