Surnames and Criminal Records: How It All Works

  • Surnames are a family name or last name that make up a portion of the personal name
  • When it comes to criminal records, surnames are commonly used to immediately identify the individual that the criminal record check is being performed on
  • A person’s criminal record is stored by their first and last name and not stored by Social Security Number
  • If you are only searching by one name, you aren’t seeing criminal records by other names which is why searching surnames is so important
  • Because these criminal records are stored by name, any search conducted without the inclusion of previous surnames or aliases will miss any potential criminal records that were generated under those previous names – no way around it

When it comes to hiring a new employee, there are many pieces of the employment process that HR needs to get right. Posting an informative job description, negotiating the terms of a job offer, onboarding, overviewing the handbook, etc. While many of these steps may seem like a check in the box for a seasoned human resource professional, there are many details within each of these steps that need to be executed perfectly to ensure that the candidate has a great experience with your organization.

One of these steps is the screening process. While seen as an administrative “check in the box” to many in HR, there are many nuances throughout the screening process that could turn out to be regulatory landmines – waiting to be stepped on. One such landmine is the issue of surnames and how they influence your criminal record checks.

What Are Surnames?

Surnames are a family name or last name that make up the portion of a personal name and indicate a person’s family. In the case of Jane Doe, her surname would be Doe. Surnames are incredibly common and can be found for nearly every person in existence today. Surprisingly, however, there are individuals with no legal surname (but this is extremely rare).

When it comes to criminal records, surnames are commonly used to immediately identify the individual that the criminal record check is being performed on. If Jane Doe is being hired for a position at your organization, you would obviously want to make sure that the criminal record report you’ve been given has indeed been performed on Jane Doe. But what if you get your report back and not only see Jane Doe, but also Jane Smith? What’s this about?

Why Surnames Affect Criminal Records

If you request a criminal record check for Jane Doe and the report includes information for Jane Smith as well, you should be encouraged to know that your screening vendor is giving you quality data at an industry best practice level. Why? Because they were able to determine that Jane’s surname had changed at some point and included all criminal records associated with Jane’s previous surname as well.

But why is this important? Why couldn’t they just combine those records under Jane Doe? Jane’s criminal records were associated with her SSN regardless of her surname, right?

Actually, no.

Criminal records are not stored by SSN – they’re stored by name. This is an important point to remember and if you take anything away from this blog post, know that criminal records are always stored by first and last name, not SSN.

Compliant Background Screening Practices
The Companion Guide

The topic of Background Checks is a tricky labyrinth to navigate these days. Let us help with the directions.

If you think about the implications of this, you can see why it was so important in our example that the screening vendor included results for Jane Doe and Jane Smith. It’s very common for surnames to change for various reasons – marriage, divorce, hyphenation, or maybe they just disliked their name. There are many reasons that someone would change their name. And if they do, you need to ensure that you’re still checking their previous names or aliases when running a criminal background check. Because these criminal records are stored by name, any search conducted without the inclusion of previous surnames or aliases will miss any potential criminal records that were generated under those previous names – no way around it.

Most screening vendors out there are aware of this and have tools to ensure that all previous names are included in the search. Here at Validity, we actually trace the SSN of the subject of the report to determine all previous addresses and names used for that SSN before conducting the background check to ensure that we’re accounting for all names used within the scope of the background check – typically 7 years.

Key Takeaways

Check with your employment screening vendor to ensure that they’re including alternate surnames when searching criminal records for your candidates. Any criminal record that was generated under a previous/alternate name will be missed otherwise. It’s also critical for you to know that your screening vendor is effectively doubling their search efforts by checking these additional names for you and typically will assess an additional fee for the extra work needed to perform that check.

 

Closing Thoughts

We’d love to know what you think, or answer any questions you may have. Please leave a comment below to tell us your thoughts. If you have any questions, please email me at clientservices@validityscreening.com. And for more great blogs and content please subscribe to our blogs here.