What If a Background Check Shows False Criminal Record?

Last Updated:
April 24, 2023

Background checks are an important part of employment, lending, and housing processes. For instance, when you apply for a new job, odds are your employer will want you to complete a background check to make sure they don't hire anyone with a criminal record.

But what if your background check shows false criminal records, costing you a job opportunity and sullying your reputation? You need to know what to do and who to contact. Read on to learn more.

Background Checks and Criminal Records

Background checks are comprehensive, in-depth dives into a job candidate or loan applicant’s history. They include background information on things like previous loans and debts, employment history, educational history, and criminal records.

Whenever a person is arrested or convicted of a crime, that information will show up on their criminal record. However, if a person is exonerated or not convicted of a crime after an accusation or arrest, that information should be removed from their criminal record later.

But any criminal convictions can and do show up on background checks for many years into the future. Depending on one’s state, a criminal conviction can stay on their criminal record for up to seven years, 10 years, or more, possibly even permanently.

That said, some criminal records are meant to go away after a certain timeframe. Other criminal records are meant to go away after a successful appeal to a court to expunge or seal those records after the fact. If a background check returns false criminal record information, it’s in violation of consumer rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The FCRA states that all American citizens have the right to accurate, up-to-date information to be used for background checks and related purposes. As an example, an employer can only use accurate criminal record information when deciding whether to hire a job candidate, not outdated or inaccurate information.

When Do Criminal Records Show Up on Background Checks?

Generally, any felony criminal convictions will show up on background checks in perpetuity. Misdemeanor criminal convictions typically go away or do not show up on background checks without extra effort after 7 to 10 years. Note that these rules can also vary from state to state.

As an example, most criminal convictions in California (misdemeanors and felonies) do not appear on background checks after seven years. Furthermore, convicted criminals may request that their criminal records be sealed or expunged later on.

Sealed records are not deleted, but they are removed from most databases and are not meant to be seen by the general public, including background check agencies. Expunged records are deleted and are considered to be wiped away – this can occur if a convicted criminal is found to be not guilty of the crime they were initially convicted for after the fact.

If you’re not sure whether your criminal records should show up on background checks, ask your attorney or the local county clerk’s office, which should have a record of any criminal convictions.

Is it Legal to Show False Criminal Records?

No. Under the FCRA, background check agencies – third-party companies that provide background check services to employers, lenders, landlords, and more – are not allowed to intentionally show false criminal records.

“False” criminal records are any criminal records that:

  • Belong to another individual in cases of mistaken identity. For instance, you may apply to a job, only to look at your background check report and find a criminal conviction that applies to someone else, not you
  • Are out of date or should no longer be on your background check report. For example, if you were convicted of a misdemeanor 12 years ago but your state laws say that misdemeanors should leave your record after seven years, the criminal record is technically false or inaccurate
  • Should be sealed or expunged. Sometimes, a county clerk's office or other organization, such as a criminal background check company, may maintain out-of-date information about criminal records. If they don't receive an order from a court to seal a criminal record, for instance, they may provide that information to a background check agency by mistake later on

Why Do Background Checks Agencies Show False Criminal Records?

Background check agencies may show false criminal records for any number of reasons. The human officer or agent may accidentally make a mistake, such as confusing your identity with that of another person. Then, that person's criminal records show up on your background check report even though you were never personally convicted of any crimes.

Alternatively, miscommunications can occur that cause records that should be sealed or expunged to show up on your record regardless. As in the above example with a criminal background check company not receiving an order to seal a criminal record, this is more likely if multiple organizations already have access to your criminal record information.

Alternatively, computer systems can glitch out or make mistakes. In such cases, your criminal records may show up when they should or you may see criminal activity information on your background check report despite never participating in criminal activities in your life.

Regardless, false criminal records are always bad signs and major issues that you should take care of ASAP.

How Can False Criminal Records Harm Your Prospects

False criminal records can harm your prospects in many different ways.

For example, if false criminal records show up on a background check report as you apply for a great job, that prospective employer may decide not to extend a job offer to you. They may wish to only hire job candidates who don’t have any criminal histories. Even though you know you don’t have a criminal history, that can be difficult to prove to the employer without hard evidence.

Alternatively, false criminal records can compromise your ability to get good loans or lines of credit. Say that you want to buy a house with a mortgage. Your credit score is great, but the loan officer notices criminal record information on your background check. They decide not to extend a loan offer to you since they don’t see you as trustworthy anymore.

Criminal records can even affect your housing prospects. Many landlords don’t want to extend tenancy offers to those who have criminal backgrounds, as criminals are perceived to be more likely to cause damage to property or not make on-time rent payments.

As you can see, false criminal records are bad news no matter what you’re trying to achieve or qualify for.

What to Do if You See False Criminal Records on Your Background Check

Fortunately, the FCRA outlines several consumer rights you can fall back on to fix false criminal records on your background check.

Check for Other Errors/Mistakes

Your first step should be to check for major errors or mistakes. If a background check has a big issue like false criminal records, there is also the possibility that there are other problems with the background check information. You should double-check information like:

  • Your personal details, like your Social Security number and address
  • Your work history and education history sections. The background check agency may not know the details of where you worked or where you are educated
  • Your financial history, specifically pertaining to loans and debts. The last thing you want is to discover that several debts or loans have been listed under your name inaccurately, or for debts that you already paid off to show up on your background check/credit check report later on

As you uncover additional stakes or errors, write them down and keep all the information organized. This will come in handy when you file a dispute with the background check company.

Contact Legal Experts

Next, it’s a good idea to contact specialized background check mistake attorneys like Fair Credit. Specialized, boutique law agencies like Fair Credit can provide lots of assistance to your case. They can offer experience and guidance as you navigate this complex process and decide whether to sue the background check agency or not.

More importantly, the right lawyers can ensure that you file a dispute letter with a background check agency properly and accurately from the get-go. This will help you see a resolution much more quickly than otherwise.

File a Dispute Letter with the Background Check Agency

Under the rules and regulations established by the FCRA, background check agencies and credit reporting agencies must allow consumers to file disputes against them if those consumers spot inaccurate information. Then, once they receive word of a dispute, those organizations have 30 business days to fix inaccurate information.

Your dispute letter should include:

  • Detailed information about the inaccurate info, such as false criminal records. Be as specific as possible to help the background check agency locate and fix the inaccurate information
  • A request that the out-of-date or false criminal records be removed ASAP
  • A request that the background check agency tells your prospective employer, landlord, or other interested party the truth of the issue

Most background check agencies are happy to listen to dispute requests. If they find that they have made a mistake and shown false criminal records, they should remove those records from your background check report, apologize to you, and explain the matter to your employer, lender, or landlord.

Note that, if a background check company needs additional information to complete its investigation, the 30-day timeframe pauses. That's another big reason why you should contact lawyers before filing a dispute letter – they'll ensure that you have all the necessary evidence included in your dispute package.

Consider Suing for Damages

But what if a background check agency doesn’t remove inaccurate or false criminal records? In that case, it is in direct violation of your consumer rights under the FCRA, so you could have grounds for legal action.

At this stage, you may wish to consider suing the background check company for damages. If you are successful, you may recover up to $1000 or more to cover lost opportunities, attorney fees, and other expenses.

How Can Fair Credit Help You?

If your background check shows any false information, including false criminal records, law firms like Fair Credit are your best bets.

Fair Credit can provide lots of assistance for your case, in fact.

  • We can gather extensive evidence and documentation of the false criminal record information or other mistakes. This can be invaluable when filing a dispute letter or when taking a background check agency to court if necessary
  • We will provide you with sound legal counsel so you understand your best options and know how to file a dispute letter with the background check agency responsible for the mistake
  • We’ll represent you in court if push comes to shove. If needed, we can also coach you so you know what to say, how to stand, and how to present yourself most effectively
  • Not sure whether a lawsuit is worthwhile? We can guide you toward other options, too, such as arbitration, filing a complaint with the FTC, or something else

Best of all, you don’t need to worry about paying our lawyers a penny. We operate on a contingency fee basis, meaning we only get paid if you do. If you sue a background check agency and recover damages, we will take a small commission to cover our services. But if you sue that agency and don’t win any damages, you don’t have to worry about paying us anything.

At Fair Credit, we don’t believe you need to pay exorbitant fees just to protect your own rights. When you contact us, you’ll learn all the information you need to succeed in a legal action against a background check agency that has violated your consumer rights and you won’t break the bank.

Contact Fair Credit Today

Fair Credit’s trustworthy, experienced attorneys can help you file a dispute against the background check agency responsible for showing false criminal records. If necessary, they can also support you through the lawsuit process. Don’t take any of these steps alone; contact us today to see how we can help!

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