This misconception is common among job seekers. Some employers also harbor it. The assumption is that if someone has never been convicted, any criminal background check on them will be clean.
However, background check results sometimes reveal criminal records – even for someone who has never been convicted. There are two possible explanations for this. First of all, a background check can sometimes yield someone else’s criminal records – often someone with a name similar to the applicant. This is similar to the scenario in which innocent people sometimes find themselves on the “No Fly List”, simply because their names resemble that of a terrorist.
The second possible explanation is identity theft. An applicant may have been a victim of identity theft and not even know it. Someone may have stolen their identity and used it to commit crimes.
The bottom line is that a background check can reveal criminal records for someone who has actually never committed a crime. This is why employers are often cautioned to give applicants an opportunity to clarify the information in the background checks. Applicants are often urged to commission background checks on themselves, so that they can see what information comes up.