Background checks tell an impactful story— a story that can influence employment, residence, and reputation. The accuracy of each and every background check is very important.
For this reason, reputable screening companies put considerable emphasis on quality assurance and compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)— the federal law protecting consumers from erroneous consumer report information.
But even with iron-clad QA protocols in place, there will always be the occasional error. The mitigation of these errors is a constant pursuit, but the elimination of them is a bit unrealistic.
So, what happens when there is an error, or perhaps a candidate takes issue with and wishes to dispute accurate information on their background check? Well, the FCRA outlines a fairly rigid process that screening companies have to carefully observe.
Here are the basics.
The following information applies to all CRAs including background screening companies and credit bureaus.
Step 1: Document the Formal Dispute
If a candidate wishes to dispute information on their background check, a formal dispute must be initiated and logged. A notice of dispute can be given directly from the consumer or indirectly, such as from a prospective employer or reseller.
It does not matter whether or not there appears to be a good case against the information in question. Consumers have the right to accurate consumer report information and can dispute anything they feel is necessary to dispute.
This reinvestigation must be free of charge.
Step 2: Provide Notice of Dispute Acknowledgment
CRAs must provide a dispute acknowledgment to the consumer within 5 business days of their receipt of the dispute notice. This acknowledgment must contain the following:
- Notification of intent to reinvestigate
- Name and address of the individual
- All relevant information regarding the dispute
Step 3: Reinvestigation
Once the dispute has been formally initiated, the consumer reporting agency has 30 days, beginning on the date on which the agency receives the notice of dispute, to perform a thorough reinvestigation of the information in question. This reinvestigation will often require additional information from the consumer.
During this time, a determination must be made as to whether the information is, in fact, inaccurate/incomplete, or if the claim is frivolous/Irrelevant.
The 30-day investigation period may be extended, but for no more than 15 days. An extension is permitted if the CRA receives additional information from the consumer that is relevant to the reinvestigation.
Step 4: Determination/Notice of Determination
At times, the CRA will determine that the dispute is frivolous or irrelevant. Such a determination is often made on the following bases:
- The accuracy of information was duly verified during the reinvestigation.
- The consumer was unable to provide sufficient information to support their dispute.
If found to be a frivolous or irrelevant dispute, the CRA has 5 business days to notify the consumer of this finding. Notification may be communicated by mail or other means authorized by the consumer.
If a reinvestigation verifies the inaccuracy of information in question, a notice of the results must still be provided to the consumer within 5 business days of the determination. This notice must contain the following:
- A statement of completion.
- Reference to the consumer’s file number and notice of the file’s revision.
- Description of the methods used to determine the accuracy and completeness of information (by consumer request).
- CRA’s contact information such as address and phone number.
- A notice that the consumer has the right to add a statement to their file.
The key takeaway here is that disputes happen. Whether well-founded or not, there will be files that enter the dispute process, though it is rarely an immediate cause for concern when this happens. The dispute process is in place to make sure that the due process of law is carried out for the protection of consumer rights. If the CRA does its part to follow this process as the FCRA outlines, there is usually nothing for an employer to worry about.
That being said, the first step to reducing dispute-related risk is mitigating the number of disputes in the first place. When searching for a reliable background screening partner, be sure to discuss with them their current and past dispute frequencies. Such a thing reflects on their observance of the FCRA and attention to quality assurance.
In many cases, background screening companies accredited by the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) put compliance in higher regard. This is because they are beholden to stricter guidelines and compliance standards than those not accredited. That is something to consider as well.