New background screening iPhone apps are negligent and harmful

There are new apps for the iPhone, Droid and Blackberry that have personally gotten me all fired up.  With these apps, people are entitled to “free background checks”, or unlimited searches for a monthly fee.  It’s companies like these that harm the integrity and reputation of all legitimate background companies.  There is no such thing as a “free criminal background check”.  This entire app and process is negligent on so many levels.  This sort of “instant background checking” is not FCRA compliant and violates people’s privacy. 

Every time you fill out a credit application, turn on a utility, purchase property, file bankruptcy, sue someone in court, violate traffic and criminal laws, a public record is created.  Various agencies purchase this information and make it available in database form.  There are databases with just criminal records, ones with tax liens and judgment information, one with property record assessments and deeds, etc.  The companies that created these apps is disseminating the information compiled from these “public record sources”.  There are several problems with this information.  First, some people need to remain private for safety reasons.  Second, the information is frequently incorrect, outdated and unverified.  Lastly, when is enough enough?

We’re so curious in this country.  We’re a tabloid culture where everyone wants to know every last detail of other people’s lives, whether they’re entitled to it or not.  On the surface these apps may seem like a fun, harmless way to find out some information about yourself or your neighbor.  Now ask yourself, how much are you comfortable with people knowing about you?  We love to look at other people, but expect everyone else to respect our privacy.  We build fences around our properties, install alarm systems, guard our social security numbers and banking information – for a reason.  These apps grant unnecessary access into YOUR lives.  The only benefit from these apps is the bank account of its creators. 

As a private investigator, I am often hired to locate people.  I have signed multiple privacy contracts to access very private information and a violation of those contracts subjects me to a $100,000 fine and the loss of my reputation and everything I’ve worked for.  When I locate someone, I get written permission from them to pass along their contact info to the person trying to locate them.  This app (and others like it) gives stalkers complete access to people with no regard whatsoever for anyone’s safety.  I have worked several stalking cases, and the damage a situation like this can cause to an individual or family is devastating for the victims.  Apps (and companies) like this that disseminate this information so readily to anyone are negligent, harmful and inconsiderate to say the least.

These apps also do not provide an accurate or thorough background check for any employer, concerned parent or dating single as mentioned in some articles mention.  A thorough background check must include three things: First, you must have a signed authorization form AND release form from each applicant.  This informs the applicant of their rights, lets them know that a background is being conducted on them and gives the background company permission to conduct the search.  Second, a social security trace and verification – to determine all the names a person has used, all the jurisdictions they’ve lived in and verifies their correct date of birth.  Third, you search for criminal records in jurisdictions of residence, employment and education for the last seven years.  Less than 50% of US criminal records are available online, and in many jurisdictions you need to search through a court clerk and pay a court fee.  In NY, for example, the fee is $55, and no criminal records will show up for NY in a free, online search anywhere.  Information contained in databases is also frequently incomplete, incorrect and should always be subject to verification at the actual court level.   

After the background has been conducted, an applicant with derogatory information on their report is entitled to see the report and verify that the information is correct.  Identity theft is a huge problem in this country, which is why people have a right to see what information is being used against them.  We must also restrict information based on each state’s individual compliance laws, and give an applicant the right to dispute any inaccurate information.  Most importantly, if you’re going to effect someone’s employment or housing, there are laws in this country that ALL employers MUST adhere to.  A violation of these laws can subject employers to hefty fines and unnecessary litigation. 

We always ensure that all of our clients are adhering to all federal, state and local compliance laws.  It is my job as the background industry to inform my clients of their responsibilities in this area.  Our client’s safety and well-being is our number one priority.  Somewhere out there is an employer doing a free search on an applicant, with no release, not verifying any factual data about the person, and making a determination about their worthiness for a job.  That applicant could be any of you out there, and there’s a reason the federal, state and local governments have created guidelines to protect you.  It may not be a perfect system, but it was created with you in mind.  Thess apps were created for money.


Erika Worth

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