Have you ever thought about what happens to a person’s records after a name change? Whether it’s a change due to marriage, religious reasons, or other personal matters, the legal documents associated with that person’s former name often go unaltered. Most criminal records are indexed by the name the person was using at the time of arrest and remain so, even if that person changes their name later on. “We have found situations where a felon has changed their name after being released from prison, presumably in order to avoid being flagged in a background check,” says Todd Higey, one of Employment Screening Service’s (ESS) in-house corporate counsel.
In the case of background screening, what are employers to do if the candidate does not disclose all former names or aliases used? Searching “also known as” (AKA) names for a candidate is the best way to form a complete picture. Using specific databases and sophisticated criminal research methods, employers can take steps to uncover these additional AKA names.
“A Social Security Trace is a search of a wide variety of commercial sources that can return current and former addresses associated with a specific individual’s Social Security Number. It can identify AKAs that are associated with that individual as well. It’s an extremely useful tool to uncover names that a candidate may not have previously disclosed,” explained Margie Simmons, Director of Compliance for ESS. “It’s important to search all names found in all areas of employment and residency to have a thorough criminal search.”
Ordering a Social Security Trace can reveal your candidates’ former names, such as maiden names, nicknames, and/or variations of the legal names they have used. This history can also identify previously unknown jurisdictions where criminal record history may be found. The utilization of the Social Security Trace assists employers in identifying what criminal searches should be performed, where, and under what name(s). With a signed consumer consent, the employer can then order a thorough search for any criminal records associated with the known and discovered alias(es).
“Timelines also impact the name associated with the court record,” said Simmons. “If an individual was charged with a crime before a legal name change, the records could remain indexed under their previous name. A person’s legal name at the time of arrest may remain on the record, even if a name change took place during the court proceedings.” For example, a candidate lists only her married name on her job application; but her conviction for driving while intoxicated remains in her original, maiden name. Since most criminal records are indexed by name, and not Social Security Number, a search for convictions under the married name will likely not produce the DWI.
Being aware of AKAs is critical to conducting a comprehensive background check. Asking for AKAs upfront or using tools to discover additional, undisclosed name changes is an important step in avoiding unnecessary risks.