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Can Background Check Errors Happen?

Running a business is made of a series of informed decisions. And it starts with the hiring process. Hiring managers review resumes, references, job qualifications, and background checks to separate the ideal candidate from everyone else. But what if the data you’re using to decide is outdated or just plain wrong? How do you get to the truth using as few extra resources as possible?

Here are the facts about background check errors.

Can a Background Check Be Wrong?

As the saying goes, to err is human. And while the best background checks are automated with API, they still require a human touch to calibrate. And make no mistake; background check errors cost your business in more ways than one. That said, the chance for error is reduced if you choose the right background check provider. Plus, there are ways to further limit the room for background check errors. But first, you’ll need to know the most common mistakes with background reports.

Common Background Check Errors

Incorrect Social Security: Capturing an incorrect SSN is one of the most likely mistakes, especially if handwritten. Even transposing a number can bring back incomplete results and other errors. This particular issue is compounded for candidates starting with ITIN before getting a social security number.

Identity Theft: Over 1.40 million Americans experience identity theft annually. That can result in everything from a poor credit rating to an arrest record your candidate doesn’t deserve. 

Credit Report Errors: Credit report errors aren’t always the result of identity theft. In fact, up to 34% of Americans, or 1 in 3, have errors on their credit. This can include paid debts erroneously reported as open or even behind on payment. Plus, many consumers aren’t aware they can correct these errors by filing a credit bureau dispute. Also worth mentioning is if your candidate claims an error with their credit report, then by law, you must pause the hiring process until the dispute can be resolved. 

Here are a few other common background check errors. 

Incomplete or Outdated Information

Incomplete background checks can occur for many reasons, not the least of which are slow turnaround times. For example, requesting a license verification may take a while if the institution that issued said license needs to catch up on updating their info, is closed for any reason, etc. The same is true for outdated information due to updated systems or even errors on the part of the school, business, etc. 

Incorrect Criminal & Financial Records

The law enforcement agencies themselves cause a significant chunk of incorrect criminal records. The fact is, in between all the daily responsibilities of peace officers, meticulously updating criminal records doesn’t rank high on the list. Additionally, there’s a difference between being accused of a crime and being convicted of one, and that difference may not always appear on an arrest record. This means a person can be proven innocent but still have a charge appear on their report. Another factor is expunged records that still pop up in error. 

Aside from the factors above, financial record mistakes can also be attributed to delayed payments or credit records that haven’t yet been updated. For example, credit scores and reports update every 30 days. If a candidate pays off a debt, but their report hasn’t been updated, then the background check will still show it as open – for industries like finance that require good credit, that can be a deal breaker.

Mixed Data

Mixed data is one of the number one causes of background check errors. It’s most likely to occur when a candidate has a common name like John Smith, Mary Wiliams, etc. The result is that a system may pull records from multiple like-named people and compile them into one report.

How to Fix Background Check Errors

Cross-referencing is one of the best ways to prevent or fix background check errors. Many employers run the bare minimum for background checks. For example, they may only run identity and arrest record checks, which can result in mixed data errors. With cross-referencing, you can reasonably eliminate mixed data errors by running an address check combined with an arrest record check. For example, if an address check shows your candidate lives in one state but an arrest record has them serving time in another, you may have pulled an incorrect criminal record. 

Better your odds of getting the correct data the first time by running a full battery of background checks.


Background check errors happen. But as a hiring manager, it’s your job to limit the errors as much as possible. One of the easiest ways to do that is by using a reliable background check service that specializes in providing fast, proven data. Partner with KarmaCheck to limit the room for background check errors and to enhance your hiring process. Everything you need is one click away. Contact us today to explore your options.


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