Data brokers disciplined over consumer protections

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's tough enough landing a job these days.

So imagine if that background check provided to your potential employer wrongly identified you as a possible sex offender. That's what the Federal Trade Commission says happened in a case it's settling with InfoTrack Information Services of Deerfield, Ill. The company provides employment background screening services.

The commission said Wednesday that InfoTrack gave inaccurate information suggesting that job applicants potentially were registered sex offenders.

In many instances, the FTC said, InfoTrack would search the National Sex Offender Registry with a first and last name, say for example "John Smith." But often, there wasn't a birth date — so in its report to the employer, InfoTrack would turn over all John Smiths in the database as "possible matches."

The civil penalty against InfoTrack and its owner, Steve Kaplan, calls for a $1 million payment. But everything except $60,000 is suspended for inability to pay.

A call to the company seeking comment Wednesday was not immediately returned.

The FTC also announced that Instant Checkmate of San Diego has agreed to settle charges it failed to verify the identity of people purchasing background reports that were marketed to landlords and employers.

Instant Checkmate runs a website that lets users search public records on people, including addresses and arrest records, along with birth, marriage and divorce records. Because Instant Checkmate billed itself as providing background reports to landlords and employers, the FTC said the company qualified as a consumer reporting agency. That means it is required to take reasonable steps to ensure that those using the reports have a legitimate business need, the commission said.

The company has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $525,000.

In a statement, Instant Checkmate said it is a "responsible company" that has helped millions of consumers "check" out their "mates" — and described its public records search services as helping to form and strengthen personal relationships. "The few ads that concerned the FTC ran briefly over two years ago and are not representative of Instant Checkmate's advertising," it said.