As I speak at HR events, I’m surprised by how many employers are still using publicdata.com as their source for employment-related background checks. I’m often asked to explain why using this cheap database service is a problem, so I decided to lay it all out here.
I’ve written about the problems with cheap database-driven background checks before, both on our website and this blog (here, here, and here). However, publicdata.com takes the cake. Never mind that their data is extremely limited, even for a database-driven background check – they are in violation of a number of laws.
First, they are in violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA applies to companies that provide information that may be used for employment purposes. Among it’s many provisions are requirements that the users of background checks (which the FCRA calls consumer reports) and the providers of those reports certify to one another that they will comply with the FCRA and other laws. Publicdata.com’s terms and conditions make no such certifications. The FCRA also requires that companies that sell background checks provide their customers with a summary of their responsibilities under the law. Again, publicdata.com ignores this requirement.
When individuals claim that the information being reported about them is incorrect, the FCRA requires that the data provider investigate the claim, provide the dispute to the original source of the information and, if they cannot verify the information, remove the information from their records. (FCRA § 611. Procedure in case of disputed accuracy [15 U.S.C. § 1681i]) Here is publicdata.com’s response to this requirement:
They are also in violation of § 613. Public record information for employment purposes [15 U.S.C. § 1681k], which requires that data providers verify the accuracy of negative public records (i.e., criminal records) before reporting them to employer or provide a copy to the applicant at the same time they provide the info to the employer. Publicdata.com does neither.
Further, the Missouri attorney general filed suit against publicdata.com earlier this year to prevent them from providing protected personal information to identity thieves. According to the Attorney General:
Anyone who provides this information to third parties is obligated under federal law to ensure that the third party’s use of the information is for a legitimate purpose allowed under the law. Publicdata.com only requires users to indicate what use they are obtaining the information for. Nixon said the site does not provide the level of assurance required under the law that this information will be used for that purpose. In fact, the Web site itself acknowledges that criminals use the site.
In fact, the following disclaimer from their website basically admits that they are violating the law and causing their clients to do so, as well:
A little historical perspective may help here. In 1997, when Texas and other states prohibited the publication of drivers license information over the internet by implementing the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, publicdata.com was moved offshore to Anguilla, British West Indies. Anguilla is a favorite for off-shore tax shelters and other operations seeking to avoid the US legal system.
In December 2004, the company appears to have been recreated in Texas as The Source for PublicData, LP, d/b/a publicdata.com. It is unknown whether their actual servers are located in the US or offshore.
The street address on their Texas Secretary of State filings and their website is actually a UPS Store (a rented private mailbox). They prefer to received their payments electronically, but if you are mailing them a payment, they ask that you send it to a PO Box at DFW Airport.
The truth is that employers who think that a 10¢ database search (or a $25 database search, for that matter) is a good background check don’t have all the facts or don’t care. In either case, they should probably put the money they are spending on these cheap searches in an escrow account for their legal fees when they get sued.