Why do background checks (at least in the US) require so many disclosures?

I recently filled out an authorization form for a background check to be performed. It’s common for a background check request to require that the checkee fill out a form listing former names, former addresses, and a list of previous criminal convictions, if any. I have seen a background check form that also asked for a list of previous employers, with names of supervisors and their telephone numbers, dates of employment, job titles, all schools attended, the dates they were attended, and a list of qualifications that were obtained at each school, if any.

Isn’t this information supposed to be stuff that would be found by a background check? Why do I need to disclose it in advance?

E.g. employer does a background check on John Smith of 554 West Lake Drive, CoolTown, finds out he used to be known as Bill Robinson who lived at 566 Main Street #456, Podunk, worked for Conglom-O as a StraightDope Consultant between Jan 2002 and April 2009, reporting to Victor Baker, Manager of Website Relations, has a BA in Basket Weaving from Podunk State (graduated 2003), attended MegaGradSchool working toward an MS in Hyperbolic Topology but quit in 2005, and has a conviction for DUI in Memphis from 5/1/2006, a conviction for Aggravated Mopery from Anchorage on 6/2/2009, and is on probation for Second Degree Uncharitable Behavior With Intent To Act Like A Smartass with the Rockbridge County Circuit Court from 1/1/2010 to 12/31/2015.

Are the disclosures intended just as an honesty check (You didn’t disclose that you also attended East Lake Polytechnic studying Dynamic Systems Horticulture with a minor in Pre-Victorian Hydrochronology! See, your background check result clearly shows you attended! Also, your supervisor at CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet was Ann Martinez-Jones, not Anne Martin! No job for you, stinky liar! Background check FAIL), or do the disclosures actually form part of the background check result itself?

What typically happens if you disclose something that doesn’t show up on the background check? E.g. what happens if you write down on the form that you were convicted of Improper Kilt Wearing in Edinburgh, Scotland but the background check company reports no convictions? Do employers, etc. usually go by what you say or what the background check company says?

They ask for the information because it isn’t like there’s a computer database where someone can type in your name and pull up a full employment history, education history, residence history, etc. There needs to be some kind of baseline to start asking questions. It would be a colossal waste of an investigator’s time to try to figure out on their own if you are the Robert Columbia who lived in Austin, Texas from 2001-2009, or the Robert Columbia who was at the University of Massachusetts from 2002-2005, or the Robert Columbia who was backpacking around the world in 2004. Why not just have you write it down and save everyone a lost of wasted time and money?

Depending on the type of background check you are undergoing, there will be different levels of scrutiny on the discrepancies that arises. If you say you got arrested but it doesn’t appear in any criminal database, in any background check worth a damn, someone is going to ask you what happened, and then seek corroborating evidence of your story.

For example, maybe you say you were arrested for illegal kilt wearing, but turns out police suspected you were involved in a plot to spread anthrax but that was the only thing they could nail you on, and someone had a fat finger and typed your name in incorrectly.

OTOH, if you fail to report a brush with the law or other significant event which is then discovered, well, it’s pretty obvious you have some explaining to do.

Exactly - it gives them a head start, and heps show any holes and inconsistencies. Depenidng on ow thorough they are, they may or may not check with one or more of the contacts provided.

What it also does is show holes - “where were you employed between Oct. 2007 and Jan 2009?” the implication being “…that you don’t seem to want to tell us about?”

A person can either give a complete history, omit details and create a hole, or lie.

Even if they found out you attended a school you didn’t list, that’s not what they’re looking for . They’re looking to see if you actually graduated or dropped out three credits short , they’re looking to see if you listed a job or school in a misleading way to shorten gaps (for example 1999-2001 when it was 12/99-1/01), they’re looking to see if your memory of those convictions is accurate - I know someone who disclosed that her license had been suspended for a DUI, but hte background check revealed it was actually suspended for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer. And they don’t want to reject you simply because every one at your old job knew you as either " Bob Washington" or “Bob Washington-Columbia” and it didn’t click when someone came around asking about Robert Columbia , which happens more often than you would think.

Pretty simple: You supply the background which is then checked for accuracy.

It’s a real pain if this is your first time, especially if you’ve moved and have had multiple employers and forgot their addresses, phone numbers, emails, etc. So keep this info for your next job.

Because you could lie, pretending to be the guy who was backpacking in 2004 instead of the guy who was at UMass from 2002-2005, because you (the guy who went to UMass) has a disqualifying criminal record, doesn’t have the right degree, isn’t the droid they are looking for, etc.

I can’t imagine how 20 or 30 year old data can be checked for accuracy, nor why anyone would care. 90% of the companies I worked for don’t exist anymore, or are sure to not have employment records farther back than 5 years. If I could even remember the names of the employers, I couldn’t remember their addresses and it’s for sure I don’t remember any supervisors’ names.

Heck, even the college I went to doesn’t exist any more. How could my degree be checked when I can’t find them myself (not that it matters)?

It seems like security checks like this are a waste of everyone’s time and just an excuse to accuse someone of lying if the prospective employer is looking for something.

A while back, my father contacted me and told me that he was going through a background check that required disclosure of details regarding all of the candidate’s children and thus he needed some specific details about my recent life, including specific dates and locations. In the end I decided not to protest and gave him everything he asked for, though I could probably have claimed privacy, but then dad might have lost the job and gotten mad. I’m not sure what happens if you have to go through this and you don’t actually know what your kids are doing because you aren’t on speaking terms anymore.

Background check form:

Candidate’s children:

Child 1
Name: He used to be called John Columbia, but he told me he hated my guts and was going to change it. If he did, he didn’t tell me.
Address: Hell if I know. My sister said she spoke to him in 2005 and he said he was in Western Kentucky, but wouldn’t elaborate.
Daytime Phone Number: If you ever find one for him, please send it to me.
Highest degree : He got a BS in 2000, but I don’t know if he’s done anything since.
Current job: How the hell would I know that? Uhh, Filial Disloyalty Coordinator?
Has criminal record? : How the hell would I know that?

And depending on how thorough the background check is, the investigators will seek to confirm those details. If the background check is being done for a job at Home Depot, chances are they won’t follow up on what’s put on the form. If the background check is being done by the FBI, it is a certainty that they will seek to talk to dozens of people who vouch for every school, job, and residence that’s put on the form.

For example, even if you put down that you went to UMass, they will not only check with the registrar, but also the references for each place you lived during those years, in addition to the general personal references you would provide. The idea that a dozen plus people will be able to recite the same fabricated story that you put on the application is very improbable.

Holy crap! Who does background checks that include children???

What, they deny you a job because your kid’s a loser? What twisted bozo dreamed that up?

Or was this a federal security clearance?

Generally what I’ve seen in hiring was not background checks, but simply ensuring the person actually did and could do the work we needed him for, was not fired for embezzlement, etc. We contact his previous employer, and if that was less than about 3 years, the employer before that, etc. If he typically jumped ship every 2 years or less, why hire the person?

I assume for money jobs they might do a credit check to be sure he was not the sort who might need some of the money he was handling.

Have things gotten tighter in the last decade, or was the Canadian market generally less strict? Of course, IIRC in Canada you cannot ask about arrests, just convictions. I think you cannot ask about juvenile convictions. Generally, I think it was about 5 or 10 years after your sentence was done, you could ask for a pardon, pretty much routine, and then could honestly answer “NO” to “Have you been convicted?” (They changed the law to remove that option for some crimes like child molestation.) Plus, serious crimes are federal, so there’s no patchwork of records, one simple record system for all of Canada.

Canada (actually, the provinces, but the law is the same in all) does not allow background checks of applicants for employment unless (a) a conditional offer of employment has been extended (conditional upon passing the background check, that is); and (b) the check has some relevance to the position. Thus, a trucker applying for a driving position can be asked for his or her driving abstract, but an accounting clerk (who sits in an office all day) cannot be asked for any kind of driving abstract. Conversely, the accounting clerk applicant may be asked for a credit check (moral hazard), but it is unlikely that the trucker would.

On Canadian job applications, the only permissible question as regards criminality is, “Have you been convicted of a crime for which you have not been pardoned?”

When I practiced employment law, I had to advise many American clients who were branching out into Canada, that they could not use the same hiring procedures in Canada as they used in the US. Most of their procedures were, in Canada, illegal.