Applied for a new apartment- they claim I'm a criminal
March 21, 2014 7:27 PM   Subscribe

They say their background check turned up something awful. I have never been arrested. Now what?

The manager emailed me this delightful paragraph:

also, on the application we ask whether or not you have been convicted of a felony. You checked "no." However, our application screening turned up an alert for a multi state sex offender registration in connection with "INDECENT LIBERTY MINOR
Statute: 14-202.1". Would you please clarify?

I have already emailed back and asked them to please re-check. I have never been arrested in my life. I have a very common name and googling shows at least two sex offenders with my same first and last name (different middle names). My questions are:

1) What can i do, besides asking them to please check more carefully, which I already did?
2) How can this happen? Could this somehow be associated with my SS#, or is this supposed check more like just googling my name? (I submitted the app this morning and heard this back this afternoon)
3) How worried should I be that this will come up in association with my name in the future, and is there anything I can do?

This is in California.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total)
You could go do a criminal records check at your local police station and use that to prove your innocence. (Note: I don't think you should have to do that. But if you think this might come up again or you really like the apartment, you could pay the $100 or whatever for the crim records check and be done.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:36 PM on March 21, 2014

3) It depends upon the shitty data brokers that are being used and whose word is taken as gospel in spite of the fact that they are often shitty, shady operators.

You should also request that the apartment people disclose who they are using for their background check service, in order to file a dispute.
posted by holgate at 7:46 PM on March 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

I've been involved in running background checks before, though not for real estate. This is a very, very common issue. Names like "John Smith" are a headache to research. Sometimes people get sloppy and miss details - middle name not matching, different age, different jurisdiction, different DOB. To you this is very alarming. However, the manager may not even necessarily believe this is you, and may just be asking about this with the expectation that you'll say "nope, not me" and he'll file that away as part of his due diligence. (I know, it's a practice full of holes - but I've seen worse).

Try not to freak out. You've already responded. It's in the manager's best interest to get this right. Give them time to do a bit more digging. If double-checking their work doesn't put an end to this, ask to see what record they are referring to and work from that. (Keep in mind they may be using a 3rd party service to run the searches for them).

Trust me - if you have a very common name, it probably already comes up in connection with several different crimes. People who know what they are doing are able to rule out the match, or at least have the sense to report it as an unverified match. Memail me if you want to talk further.
posted by bunderful at 7:50 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You may have already done this but I would be much more specific than just asking them to check more carefully. I would write back and say
"John Smith is a common name. In fact, there are roughly 49,000* people in the United States named John Smith, including both a John Doe Smith and a John Mark Smith who are registered sex offenders. Your applications screening apparently turned up results relating to another John Smith. I, John Reginald Smith, born January 1, 1990 have never committed a felony. "

*I found this number using this name frequency calculator.
posted by metahawk at 7:51 PM on March 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

This has happened to me twice, in two different states. It sounds like the exact same situation, and I was just as flummoxed as you. What I did was tell the leasing agency that I disagreed with the results of the background check, and both times, I was referred to a phone number to call the background check company and file an appeal. You may have to fill out and fax some forms as well.

It was never very much fun to go through, but the good thing is that both times the matter was cleared up in about three days. There was never any explanation from the background check company, other than that they had double checked their results and determined that I was not a criminal after all. I think a lot of these places either operate on autopilot or try to do as little work as possible.

The most recent apartment-related background check I went through did not trip any alarms, so this is not necessarily something that follows you around for the rest of your life.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, the first thing to do is find out who they're running their check through. They are ripping off the landlord, too, since false positives mean the landlord has to keep looking for tenants and running more background checks.
posted by rhizome at 8:06 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had something like this once but, after a lot of checking and back-and-forth, turns out the apartment complex wasn't even running names through background check... just rejecting people and pocketing the money.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:01 PM on March 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

The one time I'm aware that this happened to me, the landlord was reasonably sharp, and the rap sheet of something like a dozen different things belonging to at least half a dozen different people (none of whom were me) was somewhat self sabotaging.
posted by wotsac at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2014

Whoever did the background check sucks, is probably what happened. If you want to MeMail me, I can help you but not going to post anything about it in the thread.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:17 PM on March 21, 2014

Talk to the manager, and be sure to mention that they have a chance to fix this before you go to the local press.

It's one thing to not hire me because I might not fit the bill, it's another thing entirely to slack ass a background check and then tell me about it.
posted by Sphinx at 9:16 AM on March 22, 2014

This has never happened to me due to the fact my first name is uncommon, but it has happened to my mother consistently for decades (even though her first name is also unusual, which I always thought was weird). You tell them "No, that is THE OTHER person with the same name who a) has bad credit, b) crashed into your car, or (in in your case) c) is a registered sex offender." Also, wtf, they check for this when you apply for a lease?

The chances are, as above, that you don't have the exact same birth date/SS# and you can prove that pretty easily, so don't freak out. But also be aware this junk might be a problem a long time.
posted by syncope at 12:09 PM on March 22, 2014

Mod note: From the OP:
I heard back from the building manager this morning and he stated that I have been "cleared." The background check company apparently confused me with someone who has a similar (but not identical) name and birthday. Thanks for all your advice, which helped me not freak out too much about this!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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