FOX19 Investigates: How companies check your criminal record

Steven Williams was shocked when a mixup caused a background check to claim he was guilty of felonies.
Steven Williams was shocked when a mixup caused a background check to claim he was guilty of felonies.

MONTGOMERY, OH (FOX19) - It's been a tough year for Steven Williams. First, his father passed away. So in February, while living in Arizona, he decided to start looking for a job back home in Cincinnati to be near his mom. In April, he thought he'd found a good one. After the interview and after his potential employer gave him their benefits package, he had a feeling he was their top candidate. Then his background check came back.

It claimed he had a felony for failure to comply with a police officer, a misdemeanor for domestic violence, a felony for operating a vehicle while intoxicated --- third offense, a felony for fleeing or eluding a police officer. And it was all in a category that says "verified data."

No wonder then, the West Chester company's HR manager sent him an urgent e-mail saying "…your background check has come back with some concerns." Williams had some concerns, too. He says his criminal record is clear.

"You pretty much look around and you're saying, 'Wow, I'm a convicted felon. But no one told me,'" Williams said.

How did this happen?

A FOX19 source says only Williams' name and birth date were used because Social Security numbers are not listed in many jurisdictions' court records. Apparently with a common name like Steven Williams it's easier than you'd think to have someone else with the very same birth date who's lived in similar places across the country. The company that performed the background check on Williams is called Sterling InfoSystems. FOX19 has learned that by directly contacting each clerk of court, Sterling cleared-up its report on Williams.

But Williams lost that job in West Chester. He doesn't have any hard feelings against the company. But he does feel frustrated that the problem was thrown in his lap.

"The burden of proof is on you to clear-up your name," he said.

Williams has found temporary work. But it's less money that the West Chester job would've paid and he's getting no benefits. As of tonight, he continues to try to land interviews for other jobs that would provide him and his family with a safety net.

The HR manager at the company in West Chester did not respond to an e-mail from FOX19 asking if he still uses Sterling as his company's background check vendor. However, in a letter to Williams, the HR manager said the bad background check was not a factor in the company's decision to promote an internal candidate rather than hire Williams.

Many companies in the business of performing employment background checks offer a free report for consumers every twelve months. But unlike credit bureaus, these companies may not have any information on you until someone you interview with asks them to investigate you. However, you can give it a try. Click here for a list of these types of companies and the instructions on requesting the information each may have on you. You'll need to scroll down to "Employment History Reports."