Why Do Employers Run SSN Background Checks or Address History Checks?

By Michael Klazema on 1/4/2019

A growing number of employers are incorporating Social Security Number background checks into their pre-employment screening processes. The SSN background check has value for numerous reasons, though those reasons are not necessarily what most people think. In most cases, criminal records are not linked to SSNs, which means that an SSN background check does not actually pull up a person’s past convictions. What is linked to a person’s SSN is their name history and their address history.

These histories are important because most criminal background checks depend largely on two pieces of information that can change throughout someone’s life: a person’s legal name and where that person lives. Names matter because criminal records are usually filed by legal name. As a result, job seekers can attempt to hide their criminal records from employers by changing their names or using aliases.

Addresses matter because deciding where to run a background check—in which countystate, or federal jurisdiction—will influence the details that background check returns. Most criminal charges are filed at a county level, and most crimes are committed near where a person lives. As a result, knowing where a candidate has lived previously is crucial to selecting and conducting the background checks that are most likely to uncover past criminal history.

Employers use SSN background checks—also referred to as “address history background checks”—to unearth information that may be critical to the rest of the background check process. SSN checks reveal any names that are associated with a Social Security Number, including maiden names, name changes, and known aliases. An employer can then run criminal checks under each name to be as thorough as possible.

Similarly, running an address history check can tell an employer where a job candidate has lived over the past few years. In some cases, all those addresses might be clustered around the same county or even within the same city or town. In other cases, they might span multiple counties, cities, or states. In either case, knowing where a candidate lives and has lived gives an employer the information that they need to order the proper criminal history searches.

Ultimately, the value of an SSN background check or address history background check is its power to ensure a more thorough vetting of criminal history. While some people believe that there is a gigantic database that contains every criminal record ever filed, the truth is that criminal records are scattered across different courthouses and jurisdictions. Checking addresses and names is the most effective method employers have for covering all their bases with criminal history searches.

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