The Pitfalls of Cheap Background Check Companies and Their Automated Screenings

By Michael Klazema on 6/23/2020

Whether you’re vetting a prospective employee or conducting tenant background checks on potential renters, it is critical to understand that not all background check companies are the same.

As in any other industry, there is a spectrum of quality for background check providers. Some companies are extremely thorough and go to great lengths to deliver the most accurate and up-to-date results possible—such as sending “court runners” to county courthouses to conduct in-person records checks. Others rely exclusively on outdated digital databases or automated searches with limited human oversight or quality control.

Low-quality background checks not only impact your business by causing you to potentially miss red flags. They also have far-reaching implications for the prospective employees or tenants you are vetting.

An article by Finance & Commerce explained the pitfalls of low-quality automated background checks. Samantha Johnson was denied an apartment in Seattle after a background check overturned more than a dozen criminal convictions in her past. Those convictions ranged from driving without insurance to disorderly conduct to selling drugs to domestic assault. The only characteristic that the convictions shared: none of them were on Johnson’s record. Instead, they were convictions belonging to not just one but five other women who shared her name.

How did the convictions of five people conflate into a single background check? This story reveals the failings of cheap, automated background checks that search criminal histories based on name alone. The commonality of most names is why background checks must take other information into account as well. Middle names, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, address histories, and other details can add nuance to background checks so that they don’t deliver false positives.

None of these additional details factored into Samantha Johnson’s tenant background checks. Finance & Commerce reported that the background checks flagged criminal convictions from states where she had never lived and belonging to women who shared her first or last name but not other identifying pieces of information (such as middle name, date of birth, or even race). One of the women whose convictions came through wasn’t even legally named Samantha Johnson but had rather used the name as an alias.

These kinds of scenarios are common in hiring and tenant screening situations. The Finance & Commerce article listed three other examples in which prospective tenants from different parts of the country were denied housing based on inaccurate background checks. The only solution is to utilize a more reputable background check process and company.

At, we require full names (including middle) for all candidates whom our clients choose to vet through our service. We also require dates of birth and Social Security Numbers and offer checks that enable you to learn a candidate’s past legal names or associated aliases, address histories, and more. This broader base of information—extending far beyond a first and last name combination—allows us to be more accurate with our background screenings.

To learn more about the services that we provide and our commitment to accuracy and quality control, get in touch today.

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