Beware of Mistaken Identity

It appears that a case of mistaken identity has resulted in one elderly American veteran losing his freedom to the communist regime in North Korea.

As Fox News reports, Merrill E. Newman, 85, was traveling with a group on a tour bus through North Korea, and was taken away after boarding an Oct. 26 flight out of the country, his family says.”

But according to Fox News, the North Koreans may have thought they were detaining a highly decorated U.S. Korean War veteran who happens to have a very similar name and is roughly the same age.

Merrill H. Newman, 84, was awarded the Silver Star for holding off a heavy Chinese attack during the war. Both men fought in the Korean War, have almost identical names and are around the same age.

This same scenario has been unfolding in employment circles. The results are much less severe, but the consequences are very real and disturbing nonetheless.

Most companies today use pre employment background checks to determine if an applicant is suitable for employment. A pre employment background check consists of a combination of searches that are designed to reveal different kinds of information on a person’s background.

The most common among these is the criminal history search and there are different sources of information for criminal records.

The most reliable information source is the criminal record itself, which can be obtained from the originating court. Obtaining a criminal court record is typically slower and more expensive than the alternative, which is a database search.

However, criminal database searches are notoriously inaccurate or incomplete, which can place a company at risk for compliance violations, lawsuits and fines if the company makes a hiring decision based on bad information.

For example, employment screening company Intellicorp just settled a potential class action lawsuit for $18 million. They were accused of supplying their clients with unverified database records, which resulted in many people being denied employment opportunities when the criminal record belonged to someone else.

Criminal records are filed by name and date of birth, and with 315 million people living in America, common sense tells us that it’s entirely possible for people with the same or similar names and birth dates to be confused for one another – especially if one person has a criminal record and the other does not.

So how can a company avoid cases of mistaken identity and obtain the most accurate information to support a good hiring decision?

1. NEVER base a hiring decision on information stored in a nationwide or statewide criminal database. These searches should ONLY be used as a pre-screening tool. Any records revealed should ALWAYS be independently verified by ordering the criminal record from the originating court.

2. ALWAYS include in your background screening package a county criminal record search in the applicant’s prior counties of residence. This is the most accurate source of criminal history information.

3. Ask your background screening company if they review database records against other data sources and identifiers before releasing results. This is an additional layer of review designed to enhance accuracy – but still should not be justification for a hiring decision without originating court verification.

4. If your applicant disputes the results of their background check, ask the employment screening company for assistance resolving the matter. Even though the law allows 30 days to resolve a dispute, most background screening companies can do so within a few days.

Pre employment screening is a necessary but imperfect process. Working with an experienced screening company that adheres to prescribed legal compliance and can advise you on how to structure your screening program to maximize accuracy will enable you to make safe hires with confidence and avoid mistaken identity.

With regard to Merrill E. Newman, the 85 year-old American citizen being unlawfully detained in communist North Korea, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and we are praying for his release.

To learn more about Mr. Newman and express your support for his release, please visit this Facebook page:

file-238488431Topics: County Criminal Records, Background Screening, Criminal Databases, Employment Screening Compliance, Nationwide Criminal Search, Statewide Criminal Search

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