How to Dispute an Incorrect Background Check

By Ruth Mayhew - Updated April 07, 2017
Set the record straight by disputing errors on your background check.

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Discovering that your background report has errors can be disheartening and infuriating, but as long you put in the legwork and time, you can easily correct inaccuracies and clear your name. Begin with a copy of the full background report and the company that obtained your information.

Background Check Realities

Background checks help potential employers narrow the list of viable candidates. Leasing agents use background checks to determine if a tenant is trustworthy and stable. Even potential suitors use background checks to minimize their chances of being taken advantage of by unsavory characters. The reality is that an inaccurate background report can affect practically every area of your life. Errors on your background report can cause you to lose your dream job, the home you've always wanted or the love of your life. Devoting the time and energy to correcting the errors on your background report can put your own mind at ease, and possibly others, too.

Background Report Details

Aside from the usual credit history that many background checks include, a report might contain your criminal history, previous addresses or any outstanding tax liens and judgments. Extensive background checks such as those required of some government employees who need security clearances may even include what your business and personal acquaintances say about your character and integrity. Always get a printout of your background report so you can mark the inaccuracies you need to fix. Notify the company that conducted the background check that you are correcting the errors on your report. Ask the company which sources it used in obtaining your personal, social and professional history, and ask about instructions for correcting the errors.

Setting Your Criminal Record Straight

If your background report contains inaccuracies about your criminal history, get a copy of your driving record and any criminal charges from law enforcement. If you have been charged, tried or convicted of local or state crimes, your local police department or the criminal court in your jurisdiction will have a record of the charges. If you ever faced federal charges, you will need to obtain records from the state or federal agency that charged you with the crime. If you believe something about your criminal history is wrong, get hard copies of the local, state or federal reports. To dispute the errors in the background report, you need verifiable and clear evidence of the truth. Be prepared to provide copies of the records you obtain from law enforcement and the courts.

Likewise, if you have never been charged and convicted of a crime, ask the local police department to provide you with a copy of your local background history. For federal backgrounds, contact the FBI or check the FBI website for steps on how to request your Identity History Summary. The latter is proof of your federal criminal history or documents that prove you don't have a history related to federal crimes.

Search Your Civil History

Bankruptcies, tax liens and judgments resulting from civil litigation can sully your professional and personal background. A civil litigation history riddled with lawsuits, liens and bankruptcies can be just as damning as a criminal history. Search the courthouse records for every area where you have lived. Many courts have their civil records online, so you can search from the comfort and privacy of your home. Look for "online records" at the various courthouse or jurisdiction websites. If your background check contains an erroneous bankruptcy, a tax lien or civil judgment, you will need to obtain records from the federal courts for bankruptcy, the IRS for federal tax liens or the local or state tax authority. Online court records will have records of judgments filed against you.

If you don't have any past or current judgments, you can get a statement from the court indicating that you have no civil judgments in the past nor any current ones. If you satisfied a civil judgment, there should be a document called "Satisfaction of Judgment" filed with the court that proves you paid the amount you owed. Get a copy of that document to dispute any pending judgments on your background report.

Clearing Your Credit History

A letter-writing campaign is the easiest way to clear up inaccuracies about your credit history. Obtain a copy of three separate credit reports – one each from TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. All three of these companies contribute to your credit history. Research the steps on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website for information on the time within which you must request a report, as well as the two important steps for disputing errors on your credit report. Correcting errors on your credit report can be time-consuming, but it's definitely worth the time and trouble.

Go Back to the Source

Once you compile all the documentation that refutes the information obtained through the company's background check, follow the instructions you were given for making the corrections. This critical step should be in writing; don't think that having a conversation with someone about your background report and showing the investigator your documents is the solution. Document everything, including the date that you submitted the dispute, and get copies of the documents. Give the investigator at least a few weeks to digest the information, and once the inaccuracies are corrected, schedule another complete background check to ensure your documentation and proof actually cleared your name.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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