05.02.2012

Background check blunders – Powell Law sheds light on potential pitfalls

By Attorney Chris Powell Powell Law

Imagine a young woman pays for a car repair. She finds out the repair shop didn’t do the job or did a very poor job, so she stops payment on the check. Two months later, she is charged with fraud. She appears in court; the charge is dismissed, and the matter is settled. Two years later, she applies for a job in a bank. A background check shows an arrest for check fraud. She doesn’t get the job, and she doesn’t even get an explanation because another equally competent individual was hired.

Information Age

In the past, background checks were only done for high-security employment. Today, background checks are routine for all types of employment and for college admission. With the advent of computers, just about anyone can do a background check, but information found in a search doesn’t always tell the whole story. Background checks show prior convictions, but they also show prior arrests. Powell Law has handled cases in which a person lost a job simply because his arrest showed up on an online search. Employers didn’t bother to discover the resolution of the matter. All they considered was the arrest, even if the charge was later dismissed.

Mistaken Identity

Another problem is mistaken identity. Too often a subscriber inputs a misspelled name or wrong birth date when searching. This can lead to being incorrectly identified from everything to murder down to harassment. A case of mistaken identity can leave a person without a college education or a career.

Initial Reaction

Even if the person is correctly identified, sometimes law enforcement officers charge more than is necessary in order to get a plea. A person may be charged with crimes, but through the efforts of a lawyer and by paying a small restitution, the charges are dropped. The background check will still include all of the initial charges.

Business of Backgrounds

The business of background checks is booming.  Employers spend at least $2 billion a year to look into the past of their perspective employees. All public records are online. Private companies are amassing these records and are willing to sell them to employers. Any system that can damage a reputation, in a time of precious few job opportunities, robs workers of a chance for a new start. All PA courts put criminal records online. Sometimes birth dates, Social Security numbers, children’s names and other sensitive information have not been deleted.

Righting the Records

These are all scary examples of the computer age in which we are living. Powell Law encourages you to do a background check on yourself through Pennsylvania’s United Judicial System Web Portal. You can see every case against you and the outcome. If you see something that should be taken off your record, contact a lawyer. The lawyer needs to file a petition with the county in which you were charged to remove your unconvicted charges permanently from the docket. If you were convicted of minor crimes such as public drunkenness or another summary offense, a lawyer can petition the court on certain matters to expunge those records. Contact a lawyer who is experienced in expungements to discuss, usually free of charge, whether or not your record can be expunged.

Established in 1906, Powell Law specializes in fighting for the rights of working people. The firm is headquartered at 527 Linden St., Scranton, with branch offices in Taylor, Moscow and Stroudsburg.

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