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Identity Theft or Job Application?

Q. I spent a good deal of time putting in all of my personal information/job history to apply for a position online. At the very end, they require a full credit and background check, asking for my social security and driver's license numbers which I refused to provide (meaning I was bounced out of their system - no longer a candidate). Am I behind the times here? Is this typical and acceptable?

I would willingly provide this information to an employer who has extended a job offer so they can run a background check which is both fair and reasonable. Why should I surrender my privacy to merely be considered a candidate? Is this standard practice now and I am out of step or is it as invasive as it feels? Given all of the identity theft, I am very cautious with personal information. Do they really need to know everything before they even look at my resume?

A. Being a candidate for a job means being evaluated, assessed and scrutinized in more ways than most can imagine. Hiring organizations will ask for an array of public and private information and can research additional information not provided directly from candidates through many forms of social media and reporting organizations.

If you are in a job search, take the time to find out what you look like in cyberspace. Evaluate your LinkedIn profile, clean up your Facebook page, and review any tweets or blogs where you can be identified. If you have concerns about potential credit checks, get a copy and see what you may have to address.

Companies are trying to avoid becoming too invested in any candidate with red flags and based on the volume of applicants, they now start the screening process in this way. References and any kind of investigations used to begin at the offer stage, but no longer. Avoiding potential hiring issues is as important as capturing the best talent for many companies.

Barry Miller, a Seyfarth Shaw attorney who specializes in providing advice to employers and defending employment-related claims explains, "Employers generally are free to ask for information such as Social Security Numbers and driver's license numbers in the employment screening process. However, a number of issues in the current business environment have led to increasing restrictions on employers that collect sensitive personal information from employees or applicants.

If employers use credit histories in the screening process, they must comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires that employers make certain disclosures to the applicant before a credit check is run and provide additional disclosures if it takes adverse action, such as declining to hire an applicant, based on the information in the credit history. Some governmental agencies have taken the position that the use of credit histories in a way that is not tailored to the requirements of the job may run afoul of state or federal discrimination laws."

You are right to be concerned about what happens to this data and how it is stored. "Employers that collect sensitive personal information in the screening process are also required to take steps to prevent the unauthorized use or disclosure of such information. The federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act requires that employers take reasonable measures to safeguard information derived from the credit reporting process", Attorney Miller explained.

Massachusetts has a stringent data security law that requires all businesses that come to possess personal information regarding Massachusetts residents to adopt a comprehensive information security program designed to protect against data breaches and other improper disclosures of sensitive personal information. These protections may provide applicants with some reassurance that information disclosed in the employment screening process is not likely to be misused.

Having to provide this data may not make you feel comfortable and learning that you will need to at the end of an online application only adds to the frustration. Many of these obstacles can be minimized by trying to access companies in other ways. Try to use your network and do the same kind of online research to find out more about your target employers employment screening process.

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