There are times when doing a background check without a date of birth can be useful. If you need to check out a neighbor, for example, you might not happen to know his birthdate. For a casual search like this, with no FCRA implications, it is usually possible to search a criminal database by name only — and we provide this option on our criminal search page. Assuming the name is not incredibly common, and you know roughly where the person lives and their approximate age, you can have a pretty good idea of which criminal records are relevant to them.
But this is not good enough for a pre-employment background check. In that case it is important to get records for the exact person in question, and no-one else. So we need to narrow them down by an additional identifier. The two that are most commonly used are date of birth (DOB) and social security number (SSN).
Employers often ask for a reliable way to do a background check without a date of birth. They are afraid to ask candidates for their date of birth because they are concerned that it will open them up to charges of age discrimination. A natural followup question is, “Can you do background checks by SSN, rather than date of birth?” The answer is, not really…but we do have a workaround for the age discrimination issue.
Criminal records are primarily stored by name and date of birth. The social security number is considered secondary. In 2005, only 18% of criminal records in a well-known national criminal database had social security numbers attached to them, and the percentage has probably gone down since then. Counties and states are increasingly concerned about identity theft, and are redacting SSNs from public records. While the background check industry has fought to keep SSN access available for on-site searches at least, and with good reason, in the long run it is a losing battle. Social security numbers are too easy for criminals to use, and people do not want them made public.
The social security number is certainly valuable, and should always be used as part of the criminal search if it is available. It can help weed out false positives, find maiden names or aliases, and show where the subject has lived in the past. But it can’t replace the date of birth.
So, how can an employer safely get a DOB?
Ask the candidate to fill out their background check release form on a separate piece of paper, as required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Then seal it in a security envelope, and explain that it will not be opened unless and until a job offer is made. The job offer should be made conditional upon successfully passing the background check.
Disclaimer: We are not lawyers, please check with your attorney before implementing any employment screening program.