Why You Should Background-Search Yourself, and How
To potential employers, creditors, landlords, and strangers, your records are your reputation.
Many people make background-checking themselves a part of responsible identity maintenance, like regularly checking the three credit reports and staying on top of social media mentions. Beyond curiosity, there are practical reasons for us to look at what information is out there—and it's also OK just to be curious.
You might be curious about your so-called public records profile; that is, the picture of you that emerges when all your records are gathered and viewed in one place. You might be wondering how a past arrest looks to prospective employers, or if it shows up at all. Or, like millions of Americans, you might have been the victim of one or more massive data breaches over the years and want to ensure that your paper trail hasn't become corrupted.
The Identity Theft Resource Center's annual report showed that the number of data breeches rose 68% last year.
A three-pronged approach of monitoring our public records, reviewing our credit reports, and editing our online persona can go a long way toward guarding our reputations. Today we can easily do all of it without getting off the couch.Search Anyone Free
Find and Fix Errors Before Someone Else Sees Them
Errors in our public documents and reports are woefully common, and they can take a while to correct. Finding the errors and fixing them before someone else sees them is a good reason to run a background check on yourself.
First, determine where the invalid information originated from, because the public records search tool merely brought up all records attached to your name and did not create the error itself. Next, look up the website or phone number for that department or company, and ask them to correct the error. Lastly, follow up to make sure they fixed the error.
Public Records Search
Because of the nationwide digitization of records and the ease at which these records can be searched by powerful software algorithms such as those harnessed by PeopleWhiz, a public records search is often the first step in a background check. The scope of the search is all official U.S. records sourced from federal, state, and private commercial databases, such as:
- Mugshot records
- Court filings
- Traffic violations
- Marriages and divorces
- Foreclosures and liens
- Address history
How much of your data is out there?
According to our company's traffic analyst, people looking up themselves is actually one of the most popular uses of PeopleWhiz. Whether these people are merely curious or are on the lookout for specific information is hard to say. Some are no doubt concerned about how they look to prospective employers.
Not to sound paranoid, but each piece of public information out there about us is a potential vulnerability. According to Risk Based Security, in just a six-month period in 2020, there were 3,800 publicly disclosed data breaches exposing a shocking 4.1 billion compromised records, as reported in Forbes.
You can imagine the mess that these breaches and subsequent reconstructions make of databases and archives. Those of us who think that our government and commercial public records are tidy and accurate because they are computerized might need to think again.
Routinely reviewing your free credit reports—your truly free credit reports—is a free and easy way to monitor your financial reputation as it appears on paper.
Now, as soon as you read "free credit report," a catchy commercial jingle might have started playing in your head. Forget about it. Hundreds of middleman companies have set up shop between you and the actually free credit reports you are entitled to get every year just for asking. They usually include free in the name; let that be your warning sign. Their sales pitch implies that by subscribing to their credit monitoring or "protection" service you will get your credit reports included in the price. But by federal law you already get them at no cost at AnnualCreditReport.com.
That is the only website you need to know. Don't pay some third party to pass your free reports along to you with its own costly service attached.
Read about how credit reports are compiled, how scores are calculated, and more at the U.S. government page Credit Reports and Scores. The page also contains a link to the site for your truly free annual reports, so bookmark it.
The four-month strategy for staying on top of you credit reports.
In casual conversation we talk about our credit report, singular, but everyone actually has three reports, all equally important. The three credit reporting agencies in America are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each is required by federal law to provide you with your report at no cost once a year, just for asking.
As of this writing, it seems that the change from yearly access to weekly is still in effect. The change started in 2020 to help Americans stay on top of their financial health during the pandemic.
Good advice that arose when we could only get a free report from each agency once a year is to request them over the course of the year, not all at once. This way you can monitor your credit profile every four months. You would request one agency's report in January, another agency's report in May, and the last agency's report in September. By reviewing one credit report every four months instead of all three at once, you get a more ongoing look throughout the year.
Credit report errors are common: 1 out of 5 consumers had an error on at least one of their credit reports and got it removed after disputing it, according to a 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission.
Who Runs Background Checks on Us?
When you run a background check on yourself, you put yourself in the shoes of a prospective employer, a landlord, a creditor, and even just a nosey neighbor who likes to search public records. You want to see what they see.
Criminal background checks are conducted routinely by police and government attorneys. If you apply for a job with the local or federal government, you are subject to a criminal background check.
Increasingly, private companies run background checks when considering job candidates. Employers, though, must abide by certain restrictions. For instance, an employer must get written consent from a job applicant before requesting a background check on him or her from another company. Employers run background checks on prospective employees and volunteers for many reasons, such as:
- Public safety
- Legal requirements
- Protecting vulnerable populations
- Customer assurance
- Avoiding a business loss
Don't Forget the Social Media "You"
More and more employers look into social media profiles when considering job candidates. When background-searching yourself and guarding your online reputation as it is reflected in your public records and credit history, also consider the face that you show the world on social media.
A recent CareerBuilder survey found that:
- 70% of employers use social media profiles to screen candidates.
- 54% have decided against hiring someone based on his or her profile.
- 57% are less likely to hire someone who cannot be found online.
- Half the companies surveyed said that they check the social media profiles of their current employees.
Periodically review your social media profile with fresh eyes. Many people come across posts they don't remember writing and photos they forgot they shared. Make the careful editing of your profiles part of your own background check routine.
- Running a background search on yourself is part of responsible reputation maintenance.
- Find and fix errors before anyone else sees them.
- In addition to your public records and credit profile, don't forget to edit your social media persona.