1. Doesn't the Fair Credit Reporting Act deal with credit reports only?
No. That is a common misconception. The Fair Credit Reporting Act covers "consumer reports," which include many different types of reports unrelated to credit. For example, the FCRA regulates the use of background reports used for employment, landlord/tenant relationships, insurance, and other business reports. If there is inaccurate information on your credit report, your employment background report, your tenant screening report, or any other report covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then you have rights that we can help to protect.
2. My prospective employer ran a background check on me and then called me to tell me that it was rescinding my job offer because of the background report. Is there anything I can do?
Yes. While the Fair Credit Reporting Act does not require an employer to employ you, it does require that the employer provide you with a copy of your background report and a copy of your rights under the FCRA before it makes the decision to rescind the offer. If it does not do so, then it violates the FCRA. One of the purposes of this section of the FCRA is to allow you to see a copy of your background report so that you can address any errors before a decision is made. Oftentimes, employers make decisions based on information in a background report without providing you with a copy of the report. Your employer emails or calls you and informs you that something came up on your background report. This is when legal violations often arise.
3. My prospective employer called me to rescind the job offer, but it did not give me a copy of the background report that it used. I think the information in the background report is likely correct, but is there anything I can do?
Yes. The employer must comply with the FCRA when it uses a background report to deny you employment. Even if the information in the background report is correct, the employer still must provide you with a copy of the background report and your rights under the FCRA. After all, if you have not seen the background report, you have no way of knowing if the information is accurate, or if you're being associated with criminal record information that does not belong to you. If an employer does not provide you with a copy of the background report BEFORE deciding not to hire you - even if the information is correct - then it violates the FCRA.
4. My employer ran a background report by checking my record at the local courthouse, and then denied me a job based on that background report. It didn't give me a copy of the background report. Did the employer violate the FCRA?
In this situation, the employer did not violate the FCRA. An employer must comply with the FCRA's requirements only when it uses a private third party (a consumer reporting agency) to produce the background report. If the employer used a government agency to run the background report, then it did not need to comply with the FCRA and provide you with a copy of your background report.
5. My prospective employer Googled my background and then denied me a job because of the information it found on the internet. Did the employer violate the FCRA?
No. Simply Googling one's background information does not give an employee rights under the FCRA.
6. What kinds of errors could there be in credit or background reports?
Background and credit reports can be inaccurate in any number of ways. For this reason, it is critically important that you carefully review any reports to ensure that the information correctly reflects your credit, employment, business, or other personal information. Common types of errors include:
- Reporting information that belongs to someone else (often called a "mixed file" or a "merged file").
- Inaccurately reporting a criminal record's status (e.g., failing to state that an offense, such as a felony, was reduced or dismissed).
- Reporting a criminal record that was dismissed pursuant to a first offender program or was otherwise dismissed.
- Inaccurately reporting eviction proceedings or other home rental information.
- Misreporting civil judgment information, including reversing the parties of a lawsuit.
- Failing to report updates or status changes for public record information (e.g., judgment satisfactions, orders vacating judgments, and criminal record expungements).
- Duplicating of a single record into multiple records. For example, reporting a single criminal conviction as multiple convictions, or reporting a civil judgment docketed in a new jurisdiction as a new judgment.
- Failing to report that a debt was discharged in bankruptcy.
- Reporting old debts as new or re-aged.
- Reporting a debt as charged off when it was settled or paid in full.
- Reporting timely payments as late.
- Misstating the balance due on debts.
- Listing you as a debtor on an account in which you were only the authorized user.
- Supplying credit information on an account where identity theft was previously reported.
7. It looks like someone else's information is appearing in my background or credit report. Help!
One of the most common types of background report and credit report errors occurs when information about one person is placed in the background report of a different person. This is called a "Mixed File" or a "Merged File."
Mixed file errors typically occur when a background or credit reporting company (typically called a CRA) fails to use sufficiently rigorous procedures to match information to a person's personal identifying information (full name, date of birth, social security number, address information, etc.). Mixed file errors can include:
- Mixing the files of people with the same or similar last names.
- Mixing the files of people with Jr. and Sr. surnames.
- Confusing the files of people with similar social security numbers.
- Mixing up first and middle names.
The FCRA requires background and credit report companies to use reasonable procedures to ensure maximum possible accuracy of the information in the reports. When a mixed file error occurs, the consumer reporting agency has usually failed this obligation.
8. How far back can adverse information be reported?
When Congress enacted the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it wanted to ensure that consumers are not haunted by some types of negative information in their background reports for indefinite periods of time. If that were the case, people could never hope to improve their credit score or escape the shadow of other negative background and credit information.
For this reason, the FCRA restricts how long certain types of adverse information can be included in consumer reports.
Time Limitations for Reporting Adverse Information
With few exceptions, the time limitation periods are as follows:
- 7 Years: Most adverse information that is older than seven years cannot be reported, including arrests and charges for which you were not convicted.
- 10 Years: Bankruptcy cases older than 10 years cannot be reported.
- Indefinite: Criminal convictions can always be reported, no matter how old. However, non-conviction criminal record information (e.g., arrest records, criminal complaints, warrants, etc.) can be reported for seven years.