Information Gathering vs. Identity Verification: Confirming a Candidate Is Who They Say They Are

February 16, 2024
Checkr Editor

Editor’s Note: This article is authored by the Checkr Compliance team.

Running background checks and verifying candidate information during the hiring or eligibility process is complex. It can be challenging to understand the different types of searches and verifications you can order and what the results will report. You may wonder, “If I order an SSN Trace, do I still need to verify my candidate’s identity?” The short answer is yes. If verifying a candidate's identity is necessary, you should consider implementing identity verification as an additional step in your processes, because despite common misconceptions, an SSN Trace doesn't confirm a candidate’s identity.

SSN Trace helps drive other searches

Generally, the purpose of an SSN Trace is to search for potential names or aliases and addresses associated with a Social Security number. This information—potential aliases and address history—is used by the background check company to inform other searches (that’s why an SSN Trace is sometimes called a “pointer search”), depending on what type of screenings you order. For example, if you want to search for records in places your candidate may have lived, the addresses identified in the SSN Trace will be used to “point” to a county courthouse to search for potential records. 

The SSN Trace doesn't verify whether the SSN belongs to the candidate and won't indicate whether identity theft has occurred. For example, if your candidate is using someone else’s name and SSN for the background check, the SSN Trace won't flag that the information doesn't actually belong to the candidate. 

Searching alias names can be a powerful tool 

An SSN Trace can identify potential aliases (or different names) associated with an SSN. If you want the background check to search for records that your candidate might have under different names, make sure your background checks include searching with aliases. Enabling alias searching means that potential aliases identified by the SSN Trace will be used to search for potential additional records. If you don’t enable alias searching, even if other names are identified by the SSN Trace, the background check may not search for records under the other names.

This is important because most records are searched for using names, not SSNs. For example, many criminal court records don't have SSNs attached to them and sometimes even if they do, courts are unwilling to share that information. If you don't enable aliases as part of your background checks, then the searches may not return records associated with other names your candidate has used.

Remind candidates to provide correct information

It’s always a good idea to remind your candidates to double check that the information they provide for the background check is correct and there aren’t any inadvertent errors. Background check companies use the information as it is provided to them to perform the background check. Typos, like mistyping an SSN or date of birth, for example, could delay the results or increase the time it takes to complete the background check.

Complying with Form I-9 will verify the identity of W-2 candidates

If you are hiring W-2 candidates for employment in the United States, you must complete a Form I-9 verification for each employee. Form I-9 is a federal form used to verify the identity and employment authorization for these W-2 candidates. This is required by the federal government and usually occurs during the onboarding process, after you've hired the candidate. 

This requirement only applies to “employees,” and doesn't include other types of candidates, like volunteers or independent contractors. 

On the Form I-9, the employee must attest that they are authorized to work in the United States and present you with documents as evidence of identity and employment authorization, such as a driver’s license (which can establish identity), a birth certificate (which can establish employment authorization), or a passport (which can establish both identity and authorization).

If you need to verify the identity of 1099 employees, volunteers, or other types of workers, you can examine similar types of documents, such as a driver’s license or passport.

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While an SSN Trace is a key part of a background check to inform other searches, it doesn't confirm the candidate’s identity. Consider how you might implement identity verification as part of your hiring or eligibility process to help ensure you meet your trust and safety goals.

Checkr offers multiple screening options to meet the needs of any size business. Our customizable packages include an SSN Trace to help enable comprehensive background checks, while our I-9 verification service helps streamline onboarding. Get started


The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

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