Background Screening: Debunking 10 of the Biggest Myths

There are many myths and much confusion surrounding the rules and regulations governing background checks when hiring. Here’s our top ten list of background screening myths which we repeatedly hear from our clients. We hope it helps dispel any confusion you might have to help you navigate successfully through the hiring process without too much hassle.

Myth 1.
Only large corporations do background checks

Apart from small partnerships, where both parties usually know each other well before embarking on a business adventure, businesses of all sizes can and do perform background screening checks on job applicants.
In fact a recent survey by the Professional Background Screeners Association (PBSA) found that more than 40% of the companies using background screening services had less than 100 employees.
Large corporations usually process thousands of applications for each vacancy advertised. Such a high volume of resumes requiring reference checks and background screening is often too much for an in-house human resources team to cope with alone so outsourcing the leg work to background screening services is commonplace.

Myth 2.
Not for Profit organizations don’t do background checks

Charities, religious groups and other non-profit organizations must be very careful who they hire, even as volunteers, because those people often work closely with vulnerable people in the community. 
Without proper background screening to weed out criminals and sex offenders, the people being helped by such organisations can become victims of abuse, so there is indeed a pressing need for NGOs to employ extra vigilance and perform background checks which go far beyond the standard screening undertaken by regular businesses.

Myth 3.
Most people wouldn’t dare lie on their application form so why bother with background checks?

It turns out that more than half of the applicants for any given job lie on their resume. Of course we expect to see work experience iterated in glowing terms on most CVs but it turns out that a staggering 58% of recruitment managers have found blatant lies on resumes, according to a Harris Poll. 
The proportion of people lying when applying for jobs could in fact be much higher, as these figures were only obtained by actually performing background checks. What of all those that were not screened?

Myth 4.
Background checks are all the same

A basic background check tells you very little about a prospective employee. The most you might be able to ascertain from a quick online check is their eligibility to work in your particular country. Beyond that you’ll have to dig deeper and farther afield if you want to investigate the criminal or credit history of an applicant. 
Criminal records can be difficult to trace, especially in the US, where the country’s various de-centralized state and federal legislation means you have to do state-specific background checks. You also have to be aware of and follow the privacy laws of individual states.

Myth 5. 
All background check service providers are the same so it doesn’t matter which one I chose to work with

There are thousands of consumer reporting agencies providing background screening services in the US but only about 200 of them are certified with the Professional Background Screeners Association. These agencies usually specialise in specific industries or have expertise within a particular state. Their ability to help you screen applicants depends on the qualifications and certification held by individual employees within each screening agency. 
Consumer reporting agencies in both the UK and the US rely on three major credit reporting services: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
The company you choose to help you with your background screening and credit checks will depend on the industry your company is operating in as well as the breadth and depth of screening your require for your employees.

Myth 6.
The same criminal background reporting laws apply across the country

This is somewhat true for checking credit scores for fraudulent activity in the UK but the extent to which a person or agency can perform a credit check on an individual depends on their authority to access that information. If you are not certified to do credit checks then you will only have access to public records. 
The period of time crimes are kept on record also varies depending on the nature of the crime and where it was committed. 
However, the US Fair Credit Reporting Act which sets country-wide standards for search scope and guidelines can be superseded by state laws, which may categorize the types of offence differently. 
You’ll have to decide whether you need a screening agency with local, national or international expertise depending on your background screening and hiring requirements.

Myth 7.
Hiring a background screening company is expensive

Background screening is the same as car insurance. The initial outlay is a fraction of what it would cost if damage is done by hiring the wrong kind of employee. You can carry out a comprehensive background check for less than $50, which is miniscule compared to the thousands of dollars in potential losses you could incur with a bad hire.

Myth 8.
Background checks take too long. We don’t have time to do them for all our applicants

As a rule, a screening agency can perform individual background checks between 24 and 36 hours. Receiving reports back from municipalities can take a little longer, and so can more thorough searches, but the time and expense of a few days’ wait is much more preferable than the time wasting and costs involved with a hire that goes haywire.

Myth 9.
Background screening companies handle everything when it comes to hiring

Employers using third-party background screening services still have to follow certain procedures before and after having background checks performed. 
Especially important is obtaining an applicant’s permission to carry out background checks by providing them with the following (in the US): 

  • Summary of Rights under the FCRA
  • Consumer Report Disclosures
  • Authorization Form

Not following these procedures could land you and your company in hot water and leave the door open for applicants to sue. A reputable background screening agency should advise you on best practices as part of their service.

Myth 10.
The US Ban the Box laws prevent employers from properly screening candidates for criminal backgrounds

The widespread publicity given to America’s introduction of Ban the Box laws has created a great deal of confusion. The new law is there to prevent discrimination. It basically means that you shouldn’t ask candidates direct questions which could lead to them being disqualified without first conducting a background check. 
You can still conduct background screening checks as usual but the process has become slightly more complicated so it’s handy to have a service provider help you navigate this new territory.


No matter the size of your company or organization, conducting background checks should be an integral part of your hiring process. The specific services and costs involved depend greatly on your company’s niche and the risks involved with hiring individuals that could potentially damage your business and its reputation. 
At InteliMasters we can advise HR heads on the most cost effective course of action to ensure you follow regulations associated with your industry. Find out more about our full range of services here.

Intelimasters is a background screening agency, not a law firm. This article is for informational purposes only. Nothing in it should be considered as legal advice. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific business and/or individual needs.


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