13 Most Common Background Check Errors (and How to Fix Them)

Last Updated:
April 23, 2023

Ideally, background check agencies – the third-party companies that divide background check services for lenders, landlords, and employers – would provide perfect reports without any errors whatsoever. In truth, many Americans have uncovered serious background check errors that have cost them employment opportunities, excellent loans, or apartments.

If you’re looking to apply for an apartment, a job, or alone, you need to know how to spot some of the most common background check errors and how to fix them. Let’s take a look at how you can do just that.

Outdated Financial Information

Outdated financial information makes up a major proportion of the most common background check errors. Here are some specific examples.

Debts/Bills Not Listed as Paid

When you look at your background check report, you might notice that debts or bills you previously paid off are erroneously listed as unpaid. This can have drastically negative effects on your credit score, plus make you seem financially irresponsible. 

For instance, if you see a record of a loan that you paid off but it still has a balance, you need to contact the lender or the background check agency at the earliest opportunity. That way, you can correct the record and prove your financial stability. 

Expired Bankruptcies are Still Listed

Background check agencies may also inaccurately list expired bankruptcies on your reports. Expired bankruptcies are those that are older than seven or 10 years, depending on which type of bankruptcy you previously filed. Old bankruptcies shouldn't continue to show up on your background report after a certain date.

Incorrect Criminal and Other Records

Among all the most common background check errors, mistaken or inaccurate criminal records and other information are potentially the most damaging.

Inaccurate Criminal Records Are Used

Inaccurate criminal records are very damaging to your reputation and job prospects. Say that you notice a criminal conviction for grand theft auto on your background report. Even though you know you were never convicted of that crime, prospective employers or landlords don’t, so you need to fix the inaccurate information through the dispute process quickly. 

Expunged or Sealed Charges Still Reported

Most criminal convictions can be expunged or sealed, especially after a certain amount of time. If you had a criminal conviction that has previously been expunged or sealed that is still showing up on your background report, that's a big error. It can sometimes occur if a criminal records agency, which provides that information to background check companies, doesn't receive a memo from the courts to seal or expunge your records.

To tackle this issue, you may need to file a dispute not only with the background check company but also with a criminal records company responsible for the issue in the first place.

Someone Else’s Criminal Records Are Used

In the worst-case scenarios, another person's criminal record can be attributed to your good name. This can occur if your identity is mistaken, such as if your Social Security number has one or more missing digits (see more below).

Arrest Reported, No Charges Filed Not Noted

An arrest is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. But your background check report may not mark the distinction. If you notice an arrest record on your background report, but there isn’t a note stating that charges were not filed, it can make you seem like a convicted criminal in the eyes of an employer or landlord.

Inaccurate Evictions Reported

If you have never been evicted in your life, yet you still notice inaccurate eviction line items in your background report, you need to fix those issues quickly. Inaccurate eviction line items can occur if an eviction almost happened but you managed to stop it or if your identity was confused with another person’s. In any case, one or more inaccurate evictions can drastically affect the likelihood of you qualifying for an apartment or home.

Inaccurate Debts Reported

What if you take a close look at your background check report and see a variety of inaccurate debts, like loans, lines of credit, and other financial actions you never took? That can have a terrible impact on your credit score, causing it to drop by dozens of points in no time at all.

Unfortunately, solving this issue may require a little extra work on your part. You’ll need to request a copy of your credit report from each of the big three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Then, you’ll need to pour over each of those credit reports and see if you notice the same inaccurate debts on each.

Once you have all this information, you can file an individual dispute with each of the credit bureaus. The odds are good that the background check company providing your report got this information from the credit bureaus. Therefore, the only way to fix the problem and restore your credit score to its rightful state is to contact the credit bureaus directly, rather than disputing the issue with the background check agency.

Mistaken Identity

Sometimes, background check agencies mistake two individuals' identities. This is admittedly more common if the individuals share common names (e.g., Mary M. Anderson), but it can happen to anyone. Here are a few examples of how mistaken identity errors can show up on your background check report.

Inaccurate Social Security Number Used

It's easier than you think for individuals or software to transpose a single number in an individual's SSN. If this happens to you, it could cause the rest of your background report information to be inaccurate as well, as the background check agency's computer software may have retrieved it all from the inaccurate Social Security number.

Wrong Background Info Used

Therefore, be sure to look through all of your background report info. The wrong background info being used can make you seem like a different person or, even worse, can make it look like you deliberately lied on your application or employment paperwork.

Repetitions of the Same Information

You may alternatively notice that your background check report repeats the same negative information more than once. Not only is this bad for your background check, but it could indicate bad news for your credit score – one bad line item repeated multiple times will drag your score down by the same number of points for each instance!

Multiple Debts Listed More Than Once

For instance, if you see multiple debts or negative line items listed more than once, that’s a bad sign. You need to contact the background check agency and get them to eliminate the negative line items. Depending on the specific line items, you may need to contact one or all three of the big credit bureaus and file an individual dispute with each.

Multiple Criminal Charges Listed More Than Once

Similarly, sometimes criminal charges can be listed more than once on your background check report. That makes it seem like you committed the same crime multiple times: never a good thing when you are applying for a new job or housing opportunity.

Multiple Evictions Listed More Than Once

Be sure to check for multiple records of the same eviction, too. Some landlords will excuse one eviction as a result of bad circumstances or youth. But multiple evictions can make it very difficult to qualify for any housing opportunity in the future.

How to Fix Common Background Check Errors?

The above background check errors can show up on anyone’s background check report. But under the rights of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, there are ways to fix these errors ASAP.

Contact Attorneys

First, you should contact knowledgeable attorneys like Fair Credit. Specialized background check mistake attorneys can help you file a dispute against the background check agency in question, answer any questions you have, and help you file a lawsuit if necessary.

File a Dispute with the Background Check Company

Each background check company is required to allow consumers to file disputes regarding inaccurate or out-of-date information. If you believe your background check report has erroneous info, you can file a dispute with the background check company online or by physical mail.

You should include all the evidence and details necessary to prove the information is inaccurate. Once your dispute has been received by the background check company, it has 30 days to investigate the matter and fix erroneous info (if applicable).

File a Lawsuit if Needed

What if a background check company decides not to fix inaccurate information? In that case, it’s in violation of your FCRA rights and you could hold them liable for a lawsuit. Knowledgeable attorneys can help you file a lawsuit and recover up to $1000 or more in damages.

Contact Fair Credit Today

The most common background check errors can affect any opportunity during which you submit to a background check. Therefore, if you receive an adverse action letter, be sure to read through it carefully to see if you spot any of these errors. If you do see a mistake, don’t hesitate to contact Fair Credit for further assistance!

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