The rap artist Shaggy had a hit song a few years ago called “It Wasn’t Me” about a man who’s girlfriend caught him cheating with another woman. (Cheating so bad in fact, that I dare not link the music video to this posting. I’m still blushing.) His friend’s advice was deny, deny, deny. “It wasn’t me!”

Job applicants sometimes make this claim, as well.

The Philadelphia Daily News ran a column today entitled Tainted record, the result of ID theft, foils work quest for father of 5. The column focuses sympathetically on Charles Canty, who claims that he has had a difficult time finding a job because of an identity thief who has apparently committed several crimes under his name. He claims that background checks continue to report the cases, all of which have been dismissed, and that employers are not hiring him based upon those records. (Jump to the end if you can’t wait to get the full story on his situation.)

As a background screening firm, we often get calls from job applicants who are upset that they’ve been eliminated from consideration because of something on their background check. (See my previous post: An Angry Consumer is on Line One) Because we don’t rely on criminal records databases and we select our local court research provider relationships based on quality rather than price, we know that the information we provide to our client matches the information in the court’s files.

But what happens when the court’s records are wrong or incomplete or there are two people out there with the same name and date of birth and one of them is a criminal? Maybe it really wasn’t him!

Identity theft in criminal records is uncommon but we certainly see more of it than we did ten years ago. On rare occasion, we come across people who share the same name and date of birth, as well. Often, there are enough inconsistencies between the court’s records and other information we have verified about the applicant during the rest of the background check process to flag us to the stolen or mistaken identity.

A couple years ago, we conducted a background investigation on a candidate for a professional position. His employment history was solid for over a decade and there were no gaps in employment. All indications were that he had lived in the same city for the last fifteen years.

However, our search of a multi-jurisdictional criminal records database (other firms call them “national databases but we know that greatly overstates their reliability) reflected records for a defendant with this individual’s very unique name and date of birth. We verified the records with the courts – the problem was that the defendant had served jail time in counties hundreds of miles away from where our client’s applicant had lived and worked for the last fifteen years.

Something was obviously amiss, so we ordered copies of the court documents and mug shots from the two sheriff departments (one in South Texas and the other in South Carolina). When we received the documents and photos, we learned that the defendant was a five foot, five inch tall white male. We also learned that he had provided two different social security numbers when he was arrested – further checking determined that one belonged to a woman and the other had never been issued. Additionally, the drivers license number he used in his Texas arrest belonged to yet another person!


These are the mug shots we received from the sheriff’s offices.

A quick call to my client confirmed that their candidate was a black man over six feet tall. Obviously, the guy in these photos doesn’t match that description!

This confirmed that either his identity had been stolen or that he was the victim of an unfortunate coincidence of having the same name and date of birth as a criminal offender.

While the client received a clean and accurate background check, we contacted the applicant directly to inform him of the situation, which is sure to come up again.

Now, to Mr. Canty, the subject of the Philadelphia Daily News column. The sound of sad violins playing in the background were a little too loud, so we did a little quick research just to check.

According to the Pennsylvania courts, Mr. Canty still has an active case in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas with counts including attempted burglary and trespass (case CP-51-CR-0015243-2009). Perhaps this case will also be dismissed due to identity theft but the fact that it wasn’t mentioned in the column makes me wonder if it was inconvenient to the theme of this column (“downtrodden man as victim”).

Also according to court records, in 2007 Mr. Canty pled nolo contendere (no contest) in case MC-51-CR-0043783-2007 to possession of a controlled substance and served twelve months probation. Perhaps the identity thief was also responsible for this case and served the probation but if that were the case, why wouldn’t it have been mentioned in the column? There’s no mention of any claim of actual convictions for crimes committed by others – that would have certainly made the degree of injustice even more outrageous.

He also has a 2004 conviction for retail theft in case MC-51-SU-0002945-2004, which was apparently before the identity theft occurred.

If any of these cases do belong to Mr. Canty, they are a far cry from the vague reference the columnist makes to the “‘stupid stuff’ he did in his faraway youth.” (I still wear ties I bought in 2004!) They are, however, most likely the reason he has been unable to land a job for Comcast working at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, a position that would put him in contact with the public and place him on a college campus.

The takeaway for employers in all of this is that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law governing employment-related background checks, lays outs a specific process to ensure that job applicants are treated fairly when anything in their background check may result in an adverse employment decision:

1. Before making the adverse employment decision, the employer must provide the applicant with a copy of their background check and a statement of their rights under the law, which includes the right to dispute any incorrect information directly with the background screening firm. There’s not a specific requirement in the FCRA that the name and contact information of the background screening firm be provided to the applicant at this time, however it just makes sense to do so.

2. After the applicant has received this information and reasonably had an opportunity to respond, the employer can evaluate the background check information and make the appropriate employment decision. If the applicant decides to dispute any of the information in the background check with the background screening firm, there is no requirement that the employer hold the job open for the applicant while the screening firm reinvestigates the disputed information. In the case of a dispute, however, it is a good idea for the employer and the background screening firm to stay in communication as to the actions each is taking to ensure that negative decision is not made based upon faulty information.

3. If an adverse employment decision is made in whole or part based upon the background check, the employer must provide the applicant notice of the action and other information, including how to contact the background screening firm.

Working with a good background screening firm and following this process will ensure that when an applicant says “It wasn’t me,” everyone’s interests are protected.