Reprinted from Lehigh Valley Morning Call October 16, 2010
by Paul Muschick
Angela Price has never been to Illinois.
But a background check given to her new boss showed she was arrested there seven years ago, for attempted forgery, no less. That erroneous information nearly cost her the new job
Price complained and said the background check company, Sterling Infosystems of New York, told her several times it was checking into the matter. After more than a week with no answers, she'd had enough and contacted the Watchdog.
"I tried every route with these people," Price told me. "What I have to say means absolutely nothing."
I left a phone message and sent an e-mail to Sterling Infosystems asking about it. A few hours after my inquiries, Price said she got a call saying her report was clear and she'd got the job.
She's concerned that what happened to her could happen to others. There already are allegations it has.
"You're dealing with people's lives," Price said.
Three federal lawsuits filed this year accuse Sterling Infosystems of making errors on background checks by including false arrests or convictions. The suits, filed in New York, Wisconsin and Ohio, are pending.
Price, of Weisenberg Township, used to work at a pharmaceutical company, where she passed annual Drug Enforcement Agency background checks because she was dealing with drugs such as morphine.
Price said she also passed a background check about six weeks ago when she was hired for a temporary job at Bon-Ton. So she wasn't expecting any problems when she was told a background check would be necessary before she could be hired for a full-time job at the amazon.com warehouse in Upper Macungie Township.
Price said she interviewed with amazon.com's screening company, Integrity Staffing Solutions, in late August and was offered the job on the spot, pending the outcome of the background check.
Three days later, she said, she got a call from Integrity saying she couldn't have the job because her background check noted her as "undesirable."
"I was totally flabbergasted," Price said.
Sterling's report says Price pleaded guilty to attempted forgery in 2004 in Illinois and was sentenced to a year's probation. The report lists the criminal data with her name (lacking her middle name) and date of birth, but no Social Security number.
Joe Rotondo, Sterling's vice president of compliance, told me the company did not make an error on Price's report. See if you can follow his logic. I couldn't.
He said the information included on Price's report was accurate — there was an Angela Price with the same date of birth who was arrested for attempted forgery in Illinois. It was just a different Angela Price. Because the name and birth date matched, he said, there was enough information to list it on Price's background check.
"We don't look at that as an error," Rotondo told me. "It's the process and the process played out."
He said Social Security numbers aren't matched in the initial criminal history check because Social Security numbers aren't included in computerized court dockets, for security reasons. That is true. But there are ways to get around that. I do it all the time.
In only a few moments, using an online database, I found a document with convict Angela Price's partial Social Security number. The first digits don't match the Weisenberg Township Angela Price's first digits.
Price said she doesn't understand Rotondo's logic, either. She's happy her name has been cleared, and said Rotondo told her he will be checking into how her request for assistance was handled.
He told me one employee will be retrained based on Price's complaint that employees didn't seem to care about her dilemma.
"You want to hear someone who cares and has some empathy," Rotondo said.
He wouldn't comment on the pending lawsuits that allege Sterling Infosystems violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by providing incorrect information to potential employers and failing to reinvestigate its findings when they were challenged.
A New York man sued on Sept. 24, alleging he was denied a $150,000-a-year-job after Sterling falsely reported on his background check that he'd been arrested for drunken driving and indecent exposure, and was convicted of a crime in connection with that arrest.
The lawsuit says the man told Sterling about the error, and the company "failed and refused to reinvestigate to confirm or disclaim the accuracy of the report." The lawsuit alleges Sterling said it would reinvestigate only if the man paid for the reinvestigation.
In Wisconsin, a man sued Sterling on Sept. 16 alleging he lost a job after Sterling incorrectly told his potential employer that he'd been convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, and failed to reinvestigate.
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