Are you the victim of a false background check?
If you apply to lease or rent an apartment, a condo or a home, chances are better than 95% that the owner or landlord will run a “background check” on you.
If you apply for insurance of any kind, chances are greater than 99% that the insurance company will run a “background check” on you.
If you apply for a job with any branch of government, even an entry-level job, chances are greater than 98% that someone will run a “background check” on you.
When you apply for a job, or a raise or a promotion, with any corporation from mid-size on up, chances are greater than 90% that it will run a “background check” on you.
By this time, you may ask, “What exactly is a background check”? You may think that it would involve calling the persons you list as references on your application, but this is a small part of what is involved with the modern “background check”.
The modern “background check”, more often than not, involves pulling an “investigative consumer report” about you. These “investigative consumer reports” gather all kinds of information about you: your credit history and credit scores, public records (such as judgments or tax liens), employment histories, insurance claims histories, names of persons who may be related to you…on and on. There literally is no longer any limit to the information which corporate America is gathering on you, without your knowledge or consent.
“investigative consumer reports” frequently contain false, inaccurate or unverifiable information ABOUT YOU! You stand to lose jobs, insurances and housing opportunities, and more, if there is false information about you in an “investigative consumer report.”
Consider the following:
With more and more financial transactions occurring electronically, it is becoming easier for your bank, and for other corporations, to track your earning, investing, spending and saving patterns. For instance, banks are now tracking your direct-deposit history, and selling this information to the large consumer information centers (such as Lexis/Nexis) which in turn sells this information to its subscribers. Reason? If there is an interruption in your pattern of direct deposits, this could signal that you have lost a job, and this could affect your creditworthiness and other aspects of your life.
It should come as no secret that your web browsing, particularly on your smart phone, is not all that secure, and evidence is growing that phone and internet service providers are compiling this information and in turn selling it. Moreover, the government has had the ability under the Patriot Act for nearly a decade now to monitor where you go on the internet.
Any interaction you have ever had with an insurance company (a claim of any kind, a lawsuit, an application for insurance) has been housed and stored with Choicepoint, originally a spin-off of Equifax but now owned by Lexis-Nexis.
Any record of leasing or renting by you, particularly any public record, is stored in databases used by landlords in screening potential tenants.
Are you starting to get the picture? So-called “Big Brother” from the book 1984 by George Orwell now looks more and more like a picture of our everyday lives.
California consumers do have rights and remedies to ensure fair and accurate investigative consumer reports
California passed, many years ago, legislation called “The Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act,” found at Civ. Code Section 1786 of the California Civil Code. As our society has evolved with floods of consumer information available to landlords, insurance companies, employers and investigators, it is now impossible for a consumer to prevent much of his or her private information from getting into one of these vast databases. Now more than ever it is important to ensure that consumers have accurate information reported about them, and consumers themselves are the first and best option to keep the information accurate.
The Protections that The Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (“ICRAA”) Provides to Consumers
- ICRAA governs any and all reports in which information on a consumer’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics or mode of living is obtained through any means. Civ. Code Section 1786.2 (c). This broad definition covers almost any and all reports that private corporations gather and compile on individuals.
- ICRAA does not govern or regulate government agencies. If a government agency, such as the FBI or a state or local agency maintains a record on a consumer, this is not governed by the ICRAA.
- ICRAA limits the permissible reasons that a report can be provided to a person or to a company. These reasons are: 1. A court order or a subpoena for the report; 2. In response to written instructions from the consumer to provide the report; 3. Where the person requesting the report certifies that he is using it for employment or insurance purposes or for leasing or renting out property; and, 4. Where the person requesting the report intends to use it for government licensing or in connection with a judicial support order, i.e. child support.
- ICRAA requires that, if the report is prepared for insurance, employment or apartment rental/lease purposes, the person requesting the report must clearly disclose to the consumer that the consumer has the right to obtain a copy of any report that is pulled on him or her. Normally, this is handled when the consumer fills out the application for insurance, employment or tenancy. On most applications for insurance, employment or tenancy, there is box to be checked if the consumer wants to receive a copy of any report pulled in connection with the application. YOU MUST CHECK THIS BOX TO ENSURE THAT YOU WILL SEE THE REPORT OR REPORTS THAT ARE OBTAINED CONCERNING YOU! If you try to get the information later, you can retrieve it, but it will not be as easy and there is less of a guarantee that you can see the actual report which was provided to the employer/landlord/insurance company to which you made your application.
- ICRAA limits most of the information on an investigative report to information from within the previous seven years, except for bankruptcies, which can stay on a report for 10 years.
- ICRAA provides that consumers can inspect their own files, upon written request, maintained at any company which stores or maintains such records.
- ICRAA provides that the agencies which maintain these reports and records must have procedures to reasonably ensure that the records are accurate, and must have procedures in place to correct or delete information which has been shown to be inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable.
- ICRAA provides good remedies to the consumer. A consumer who suffers a violation of ICRAA can seek, in a lawsuit, actual damages or $10,000, whichever is greater, along with his or her attorney’s fees. This permits an attorney (such as BRENNAN, WIENER & ASSOCIATES) to sign up such cases on a contingency or semi-contingency basis. ICRAA also provides for punitive damages where the violation was willful or grossly negligent.
What you, as a consumer, need to know to exercise and use your rights and remedies under ICRAA
These are a few frequently asked questions about the ICRAA and how you, as a consumer, can best put it to your advantage.
Q: How do I find out what is being said about me in an investigative consumer report?
A: The very best way is to make sure that you always find, and always check, the box on any application you fill out which permits you to receive a copy of any report obtained in connection with your application. This of course refers to employment, insurance and tenancy applications; for other types of applications, your rights may not be as clear. Under the law, the person or company to whom you make your application must furnish you a copy of any report obtained within five days of when it receives the report.
Q: What if I have failed to check the box for the report, or what if I just want to see what my report looks like?
A: This is the tougher question because there are literally thousands of reports, and thousands of small agencies which compile and provide the reports, out there. It has become quite the “garden industry,” with people who formerly had jobs in entirely different fields suddenly taking an interest in sensitive consumer information and selling or re-selling it at a profit. Some of these so-called “agencies” which furnish the reports are really people working out of their homes. Unlike credit reporting, where there are the “big 3” (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax), there is no “big 3” in the investigative consumer reporting industry.
There are, however, big players. Lexis/Nexis apparently is the biggest, and has the most databases, and many times the smaller agencies which are selling reports are in fact simply downloading them from a Lexis/Nexis database.
Unlike the major credit bureaus, the Lexis/Nexis website, www.lexisnexis.com, does not have any box for consumers to dispute inaccurate information. In fact, its website offers really nothing to a victim of a false investigative report. However, if you don’t mind being placed on hold for, say, a month while some low-level employee figures out what to do with your call, here is the contact information for Lexis-Nexis:
LexisNexis® Matthew Bender®
Albany, NY 12204
Tel: 518-487-3000, or 800-424-4200
RTIS (Reed Technology and Information Services Inc.)
2331 Mill Road
Alexandria, VA 22314
Marquis One Tower
245 Peachtree Center Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30303
For other purveyors of investigative consumer information, the best way to monitor who is preparing reports on you is simply to review the “Inquiries” section on your credit report. Each bureau maintains a record of any person or company that has pulled your credit report for the previous two years. If resellers or companies which compile investigative consumer reports pull a credit report on you, which they do just about every time they compile a report, this “pull” will show up as a hard inquiry on the “Inquiries” section of your credit report, along with the name and address of the company which pulled the information. You can then write to them or contact them to obtain a copy of the report.
Q: How Do I Dispute False Information In My Investigative Report?
A: This procedure is very much like the procedure for disputes with the credit bureaus. You write a letter to the agency, which you send certified mail, to the agency which prepared the report. My office recommends that you copy off the pages where you have found the errors, and circle them, leaving no question in anyone’s mind what you want to have corrected. You attached copies of documents that may be needed to prove that the entry (or entries) is inaccurate. Obviously you keep a complete copy of everything you send to the agency. The agency has 30 days to correct or delete any information determined to be false, inaccurate or unverifiable. The “unverifiable” standard is obviously extremely important, because the agency must perform a reasonable reinvestigation of the information, and if the agency cannot verify it, it must delete it.
I hope this short article proves useful to you. Thank you for taking the time to read it.