When criminal records come back to haunt you: Expungements and third-party background reports

About one in three Americans have some sort of criminal record, ranging from simple arrests to actual convictions. As any job-seeker or apartment-hunter knows, more and more employers and landlords are using background checks. Nearly 90% of employers and 80% of landlords run some sort of background check on potential employees or tenants.

If you are eligible, clearing a criminal record with an expungement is the best option to avoid difficulties with employers or housing providers. Unfortunately, receiving an expungement may not mean that your criminal record will never show up on a background report again. An individual who has received a South Carolina expungement may be surprised to learn that their expunged case is still popping up on third-party background reports. To understand why, and what to do about this, keep reading!

What is the difference between a background report and a SLED report? South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, is the state agency in South Carolina responsible for maintaining criminal record information across the state. A SLED report only shows South Carolina criminal records. When a person’s South Carolina criminal records are expunged, it means those records are no longer going to be reported on your SLED report.

On the other hand, a third-party background check is performed by a credit reporting agency and shows all criminal records from all states and may also include information about your debts and your use of credit, including missed payments or accounts that have gone into default. These reports may also list items such as evictions or bankruptcies.

Why are expunged charges showing up on my background report? Third party background check companies may not receive notice that a record has been expunged. Background check companies buy criminal record data from a number of data collectors, and the information they purchase may not be up to date or reflect the expungement you received. This data could have been collected a year before you received an expungement and may not include the most up to date information.

Who do I contact if the background report is incorrect? You have the right to dispute information that is incorrect, including when a charge has been expunged but still shows up on a background check, by directly contacted the background check company that reported the inaccurate information. Under the law, these companies must correct or delete information that is incorrect, unverified, or incomplete within 30 days after they receive notice. You can also make a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may be able to coordinate a resolution with the background check company on your behalf.

Is there anything I can do to keep this from happening? There are countless different background check companies reporting background information, and often fixing it with one company will not fix it with all the others. One thing you can do is register your expungement with the Expungement Clearinghouse. Anyone who has had their record expunged, sealed or otherwise cleared can request that the clearinghouse update the background check companies that participate in the Expungement Clearinghouse project, which will effectively remove the record from more than 500 sources of private sector background checks. Being proactive is your best option for making sure expunged charges don’t show up unexpectedly down the road. If you know which company an employer or industry uses for their background checks, you may want to provide that company a copy of your expungement paperwork before the employer runs the background report.

There is nothing more frustrating than realizing a record you thought was expunged is still showing up on a background check. Registering your expungement with the Expungement Clearinghouse and reporting violations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are two steps you can take towards resolving this issue. You may also want to contact a local attorney to see if there are other remedies available to you given your specific situation. There are federal laws that might protect you. If you have received an expungement, your best chances of not being surprised by it down the road are to take these steps to ensure your expungement is doing what you need it to do.

To find out more about which charges may be eligible for an expungement, read our SC Expungement Reference Guide.