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Knowing what shows up on a social security background check is a particularly effective way to catch a common criminal lie: using a false identity.
A social security check, also known as a social security trace, is usually completed for employment or credit screenings. These types of checks return information that can be helpful in determining someone’s real identity. And although very helpful, a social security trace isn’t usually run on its own, but in conjunction with other types of background checks.
There are many people with criminal histories who will utilize a changed name, or alias when applying for a job. They often do this hoping that the new name won’t provide information about past criminal records on a background check. In fact, this is one of the top reasons to find someone’s middle name if a non-SSN check is being used.
What many of those criminals don’t know is that the social security trace returns information about all names and aliases used or attached to a social security number. When an employer sees information about a different name, they will then have the opportunity to include it when performing a comprehensive background check.
What Is a Social Security Trace (SSN) and What Does it Show Exactly?
A social security trace is a report that runs a social security number to determine what names and addresses are associated with it. The trace is usually done at the beginning of a background check because it can verify an active social security number and provide further information about those who are related to it.1
A social security trace gets information from the United States Postal Service (USPS), Voter Registration Records, and Credit Bureaus. Unfortunately, most of these agencies use data clerks to input the information, which can lead to errors. These errors can show up in many ways, including names or addresses associated with the social security number that aren’t actually accurate.
Here’s what shows up on a social security background check5:
- Name and Date of Birth
The name and date of birth of the social security number’s owner will be returned on a social security trace.
- Aliases or Alternate Names
Any alternate names that have been associated with the social security number will come back. This list will include things like a maiden name or an alias that the person has used in the past.
- Confirmation of Valid Social Security Number
The search will usually return information about whether the social security number is valid and whether it belongs to someone who is currently alive.
- Address Information Associated with the Social Security Number
One of the bonuses behind a social security number trace is that it provides a detailed record of addresses (who lives here) associated with the number. This can assist the employer in determining where to continue the rest of their background check.
Contrary to popular belief, what shows up on a social security background check does not include an identity validation. It also doesn’t return a photo or any other identifying information about the social security number holder.
A social security check won’t include information about someone’s criminal record or credit score, which are items that can only be found through other background check methods. This check is only meant to be a starting point for employers who are in the process of vetting a new employee.
Who Can Run a Social Security Background Check? (Background Screening Process)
An employer or a company in the hiring process, or an individual who needs to check or provide certification to an agency or another party can run a social security background check. These checks are reserved for these two classes because information found on a social security screening is not considered public information.
This means that members of the public won’t be able to complete SSA records searches for personal reasons to see what shows up on a social security background check. For those who are looking to learn more about someone’s name or address history, they can learn how to find out where someone lives.
Is a Social Security Background Check the Same as a Criminal Records Search?
A social security background check is not the same thing as a criminal records search because they both search for and return completely different pieces of information.
When someone runs a criminal records search, police or federal databases are searched to return a criminal history. What shows up on a social security background check doesn’t include anything related to someone’s criminal history. A social security background check runs someone’s social security number against databases and returns names and addresses.
While both of these searches are very different, they are often completed together as a part of a whole background check. The social security background check comes first and provides information that can then be used to complete a criminal history search.
Most criminal record searches require information about the state or location before they can be completed. As of today, there is not a comprehensive tool available to search all criminal records. Information found regarding addresses on a social security trace can provide the complementary data needed to complete a detailed criminal screening. What goes on a criminal record varies by state, but when you provide consent for a background check, the SSN trace is usually included.
Steps for Performing a Social Security Trace (SSN Trace Report)
Both employers and those who are responsible for providing certifications should plan to complete a social security trace. There are several important steps to running a social security trace, the first of which involves speaking with the candidate or person who will be examined by the search.
Step 1. Obtain Consent from the Candidate
As with other background check methods, a social security trace can’t be completed without the candidate’s permission. Informing the applicant that their information will be used in a search will be the first, and most important step. Consent is typically obtained by the employer in writing on the job application but can be gained in other ways as long as it is documented. If a candidate does not want to proceed with consent, the employer will need to determine if employment can still be offered without running a background check. If it cannot, the information and reasoning behind the lack of offer will need to be documented and provided to the employee.
Step 2. Choose a Provider
When running a social security background check, the first step is choosing the best provider. While it may be tempting to complete a trace on your own, it isn’t possible. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does offer a free tool known as the SSVS that will allow an employer to run a check on a social security number. This tool, however, doesn’t return the same information as a paid service would. Additionally, the tool can’t legally be used to check a social security number for a potential new hire. The SSA only offers this public tool to assist with completing W2 forms for tax purposes.3
Information found on a social security trace can be unreliable, but the risk can be limited by choosing an appropriate, reputable company. In order to choose a provider, you can start your search online or through other colleagues. If you decide to search the web, it is important that you pay attention to the sources. Confirm any information learned through reviews on a site that doesn’t belong to the company.
During the search, it is also important to confirm that the background check company has the appropriate accreditation. Background check screening for employment reasons is subject to legal restrictions, such as those set out by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Confirming that the provider is compliant with such acts can help prevent future legal action.
Step 3. Provide All Necessary Documentation
Once you choose your provider, you will need to give them all pertinent information surrounding the search. This usually includes the candidate’s name, date of birth, and social security number. Different providers may have different requirements, so you should confirm the full list of requirements.
Step 4. Review the Information Received
The time it takes for the social security check will vary based on what type of information is found. Checks with little to no information will likely come back quicker than those with an extensive list of history. Once the check comes back, you should review the information for accuracy and areas that will need a further search. Any discrepancies should be documented and reviewed prior to making any hiring decisions
Step 5. Determine What to Do With the Record Information
Once you review the information on the social security background check, you need to decide what to do next. If the check revealed additional names or locations, you may want to consider broadening your background search to include that information. If the check came back invalid or with no information, the background screening professionals may be able to help you determine the reason.
Step 6. Continue Your Background Check with Additional Methods
A social security trace isn’t sufficient enough to complete on its own. This means that all employers should continue on with their background check once the social security trace has been completed, regardless of what type of information has been received. Most employers will proceed to a criminal history record search, employment verification, education verification, and in some cases, a check against the sex offender registry. Each background screening process and method is usually unique to each employer but should always comply with all state and federal laws.
Security Number Verification for a Pre-employment Background Check
An important part of a screening for employment includes social security number verification. While the verification doesn’t necessarily provide all pertinent information, it can help identify names and states to search. Security number verification can also help prevent employers from hiring someone who isn’t being truthful about their identity. The following are just a few reasons why employers add social security number verification to their pre-employment background check:2
It Can Weed Out Criminals
There are people who attempt to hide their past from new employers by either providing a false social security number or a fake name. By completing a security number verification, employers have the opportunity to catch criminal activity early on in their check. If the number that was provided is attached to someone who is deceased, or even to multiple people, that information will come back on the screening. It is important to keep in mind that if this does happen, further investigation is required before making an employment decision. In some cases, human error is to blame rather than the applicant.
It Can Provide Other States or Locations to Search
Because the social security check provides a detailed list of addresses, employers can see if there are any states that wouldn’t have already been included in the search. Most background checks require specific locations or states to search when it comes to criminal history. With a comprehensive list of addresses, any criminal history will be easier to find.
It Provides Other Names to Search
Along with other addresses, a social security number check also provides information about additional names or aliases that are attached. Information about other aliases or even a maiden name can be helpful in broadening a pre-employment background check.
It Sets the Employer Up for a Complete Search
Even if it seems as though a social security background check doesn’t provide a lot of information, it certainly provides quite a bit of value. It ultimately sets the employer up to complete a thorough search that can span across multiple databases and include different states or names. By combining the information found with other searches, an employer can feel confident that they know as much as possible about their new employee.
If negative information is found in the process of the background check, the employer will need to comply with the FCRA’s guidelines and processes involving any adverse action. Documentation is key, and all negative marks against the employee should be added to a folder. If the criminal history is involved, there are set steps that should be taken to confirm that the crime would sufficiently hinder the person’s ability to do their job.4 All reasonable procedures can be found directly in the FCRA’s online pamphlet.
What Are the Downsides to Using a Social Security Background Check?
While the information gained from a social security number background check can be very valuable at the start of the search, it does have drawbacks. Information found on a social security screening isn’t complete and, in some cases, can be considered incorrect. The check retrieves information from three separate places, which only furthers the potential for incorrect entries. To combat this, employers can ensure that they only use the information taken from the social security check to complete more accurate searches in the background check process.
Social security checks (SSN trace report) don’t provide an entire history. In fact, most checks will only return information that goes back about 3-10 years.1 The timeline varies based on the type of information on file. In most cases, address history will go back for about 10 years. This can cause an issue depending upon the history that employment background checks need to search. It should be noted that many items on a traditional background check will show up within the last seven years. For information about background check timelines, explore how far back do background checks go.
Depending on the person, a social security background check might not return any information at all. If someone is fairly young without any credit, it is possible that there won’t be anything to find. If the potential employee is older but doesn’t use their credit, there is also the potential that nothing will be found. Unfortunately, there is no set way to determine whether or not a social security background check will be beneficial or not. For most employers, however, any information found on a potential employee will be worth the time and money spent on running a SSN record search.
Social security traces are done for employment or certification reasons and aren’t available to the public. The information that actually shows up will be dependent upon the person, but in most cases will include names and addresses. These names and addresses can serve as a valuable starting point for employers and a thorough background check. It can help them broaden the search and weed out any dishonest individuals hiding their history.
While many employers may be tempted to complete the trace on their own, the free tools available won’t provide the same information that background screening services do. Paid providers can also cover more protection against any legal action taken based on social security check results.
Social security traces are best used when combined with other background check methods, including a criminal history search. While the information found on a social security check may not seem significant, it is well worth the effort. Because knowing what shows up on a social security background check provides the foundation for eliminating the criminal lie that could land a company in a liability lawsuit from hiring someone unfit.
1Verisys. 31 March 2021. What is a SSN Trace Report and How to Use It. 8 Dec 2021. Web. <https://verisys.com/what-a-ssn-trace-report-is-and-how-to-use-it/>
2Corporate Screening. n.d. 5 Reasons to Conduct a SSN Trace Report. 8 Dec 2021. Web. <https://www.corporatescreening.com/blog/5-reasons-to-conduct-a-ssn-trace-report>
3Picnincu, Andra. 28 July 2020. Small Business Chron. How to Check a Social Security Number. 9 Dec 2021. Web. <https://smallbusiness.chron.com/check-social-security-number-1795.html>
4Holland, Ron. 20 Oct 2017. SHRM. FCRA 101: How to Avoid Risky Background Checks. 9 Dec 2021. Web. <https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/fcra-avoid-risky-background-checks.aspx>
5Klazema, Michael. 10 May 2018. BackgroundChecks.com What is an SSN Background Check? 9 Dec 2021. Web. <https://www.backgroundchecks.com/blog/what-is-an-ssn-background-check>