New Background Check Mobile Web Application May Jeopardize FCRA Compliance Obligations

Many hands holding mobile phonesBeenVerified” is a new mobile Web application that allows users to conduct background checks on any individual by merely entering the name or email address of the individual. Users get three free background checks monthly and unlimited checks for a monthly fee of only $8. BeenVerified has been a smashing success, with more than one million checks run to date.

HR professionals, recruiters, managers, and co-workers may find BeenVerified hard to resist. According to the application, users can check an individual’s “Criminal History, Property Records, Current Contact Info, Relatives, Neighbors, and more,” merely by entering an individual’s name. By entering an email address, the user can find out about the individual’s social networking activities and view “their online photos, websites, blog posts, and entire online presence.” All of the data is compiled into a concise report.

Despite its ease of use and apparent low cost, the BeenVerified app may expose employers to liability under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and analogous state laws. These laws prohibit background checks for employment purposes without providing notice and obtaining the subject’s prior, written authorization. The FCRA permits recovery of compensatory damages, including statutory damages for willful violations, and a fee award.

Although BeenVerified states that information obtained “should not be used for employment, tenant screening, or any FCRA related purposes,” the potential for abuse exists. HR professionals, recruiters, managers, and co-workers now have the ability to review financial, criminal, and other personal information about subordinates, co-workers, and applicants without any safeguards to protect against violations of federal and state background check laws. As a result, employers should consider implementing a policy that prohibits employees from using the application to obtain information about any other employee unless the user has complied with the FCRA’s notice and authorization requirements.

This entry was written by Philip L. Gordon and Jennifer L. Mora.

Photo credit: HelleM 

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.