Top Pitfalls of Public Records Research You Should Avoid

By Wholesale Screening Solutions |

As a CRA, your customers count on you to provide them with accurate, timely, cost-effective background screening reports. You, in turn, rely on your public records research partners to provide you with data that is accurate, complete, timely, and cost-effective.

Before you or your staff report information obtained from your research partners to your customers, there are some pitfalls you should be aware of.

1. Failing to understand how courts differ in terms of data access and reporting

In an ideal world, researchers could access the exact information you need from each of the nation’s 10,000+ courthouses. This would make turnaround times far faster and easier to predict. The reality is, each court operates uniquely in terms of what information they make available and how. This reality creates disparities in turnaround times from county to county and even court to court within a county, as researchers may physically go to the courthouse to hand search the dockets, obtain information from an on-site portal, or wait for a clerk to pull the necessary information. Combine this with the fact that courts differ in terms of the exact information they make available. If your public records research partner fails to understand these distinctions, you risk creating misunderstandings with your customers who may be expecting one thing, but getting something else.

Avoid this pitfall by maintaining transparency and clear communication between your research provider and your customers to manage expectations for both turnaround time and data availability. Learn more about how to talk to your customers about turnaround time.

2. Failing to recognize how the removal of PII will impact the reportability of criminal records

In today’s digital age, where identity theft protection is a key concern, lawmakers and courts are struggling to find the balance between protecting the employer and the public by continuing to make identity confirming PII be available in public records and protecting the individual by safeguarding that same identifying information. Until recently, most PII was left in public records because it was believed to be protected by a doctrine known as “practical obscurity.” However, a more recent trend involves jurisdictions removing identifiers from the public index in an effort to protect the applicant’s privacy or identity, often without due regard for the adverse-affect this has on the accuracy and completeness of criminal background checks.

Failing to understand how the removal of PII can impact the accuracy and completeness of your public records research requests is a pitfall that can be greatly reduced by a careful and thoughtful selection of your public records research partners.

To sidestep the frustration and misunderstandings of this pitfall, make sure you communicate clearly with your customers about how the removal of PII might impact their results. Learn more about the unintended results of removing PII here.

3. Overlooking your public records research partners’ ability to scale with you.

Does your public records research provider have the chops to deliver quality results and predictable turnaround times, regardless of how your demand volume might fluctuate? Their ability to do so requires that they have strong people, process and vendor management. Without a deep and diverse network of researchers who are closely managed and measured, thoroughly tested, your ability to scale your business and meet your customer requirements is at risk.

Avoid this pitfall by testing your provider’s supplier network. Learn how.

4. Ignoring the issue of inadvertent over- and under-reporting of criminal records histories

A significant change within the background screening industry is also one of its biggest potential pitfalls: To report or not to report? In the not so distant past, a CRA would generally request that a researcher provide everything available from the information source. Today, for both compliance, accuracy and efficiency the new standard in the industry is to request from the provider less than the maximum depth and breadth of information available from the information source. Where the pitfalls lie are misunderstanding how your public records research partners make these often difficult and nuanced decisions and in how you present the pros and cons of over- vs. under-reporting to your customers. Are the risks understood? Are they clear on what will and will not be reported?

Avoid this pitfall by requiring transparency from your public records research partners and ensuring your customer’s expectations are met and that they are aware of the pros and cons of under- and over-reporting.

5. Neglecting to ensure your partners have documented processes and procedures

Recently, a well-publicized legal case resulted in a background screening company facing a multi-million dollar fine for failing to adequately ensure the accuracy of the information it provided to employers. Cases like this one are becoming more common and highlight the fact that the accuracy and completeness of the information you provide to your customers directly impacts your organizations reputation and bottom line. As a CRA, your de facto process is that of your public records research partners’.

Avoid this pitfall by ensuring your research provider is sophisticated enough to clearly and consistently document their processes and procedures, particularly those related to the accuracy and completeness of the information they provide to you.

Now, more than ever, choosing the right public records research partner is critical. Their practices are a direct reflection of your own and the risks are simply too great to make “low price” your only qualifier.

Wholesale Screening Solutions
About Wholesale Screening Solutions
Wholesale Screening Solutions is the go-to source of vital data for employment screening, tenant screening, and risk mitigation service providers nationwide. Combining innovative technology and deep human insight, Wholesale Screening delivers unique value to enable better, more efficient decision making and greater compliance.