The Rising Threat from Bad Data

By Baselinemag Print this article Print

The routine background check that sent Steven Calderon to jail by mistake may have been an isolated incident. But the inaccurate, rarely verified data that caused the error sure isn't. There's a lot of bad data out there, and the brokers that sell it say

Steven Calderon had a clean record, a clean conscience and no reason to think that his new employer's routine background check would cause any problem at all. Then the sheriff showed up at the office and took him to jail on warrants for child molestation and rape.

A nightmare? Sure, but Calderon figured it was a mistake that could be cleared up pretty quickly. He'd reported the theft of his Social Security number and birth certificate in 1993, so it was obvious that the bad guy was whoever had stolen Calderon's identity.

A week later he was still in jail, a victim of bad information from data broker ChoicePoint—and of the blind belief held by his employer, the police and everyone else involved that he was more likely to be lying than the data was.

ChoicePoint says its data is troublesome in only a tiny fraction of the millions of background checks it performs every year.

But commercially available data is rife with errors, whether critical or no, and ChoicePoint had no formal process to check for mistakes other than to wait for clients to complain.

Added to the danger of mistakes is the risk that the identity thieves can simply buy the information they need from ChoicePoint and other companies, which admit to having been scammed by fraudsters in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Baseline's Deborah Gage and John McCormick were very careful to verify the data they gathered in their report on the market for and risks posed by bad data, including how it can happen, the risk it poses to the companies that use it, and the cost of making sure it never happens to your company. Check it out:

Story Guide:

Blur: The Importance of Accuracy

  • Not Just Security, But Accuracy
  • 'Serious' Errors are Common
  • Data Customers Pay the Costs
  • Collecting Data Without Garbage Filters
  • Records 'Full of Inaccuracies'
  • Crap In, Crap Out
  • Fix It Yourself
  • No Way to Check
  • ChoicePoint Data at a Glance

    This article was originally published on 2005-06-14
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