Airbnb can ban you for having a criminal record. This Pennsylvania councilwoman found out the hard way
Bethany Hallam had her account reinstated, but her case wasn’t the first time Airbnb’s background checks have come under scrutiny, and it likely won’t be the last.
Bethany Hallam, a self-described “big Pittsburgh sports fan,” has used Airbnb Inc. for years because it’s often a cheaper alternative to traditional hotels when traveling to Steelers and Pirates games with a group.
That’s why the councilwoman at-large in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, was stunned when, after booking a stay for a birthday trip to Miami for a Steelers game with her boyfriend and best friend on Sept. 12, she received an email from Airbnb ABNB, -3.72% informing her that she’d been banned from hosting or booking reservations on the platform. Her reservation was canceled.
As both a person in recovery from a substance-use disorder and an advocate for criminal-justice reform Hallam has been open about her past criminal record involving misdemeanor and summary convictions but it came up during a recent background check, Airbnb told her. She tweeted about her experience Monday evening, which went viral. Airbnb reversed the decision Tuesday.
“100 million people in this country have criminal charges on their records,” Hallam told MarketWatch. “Every person that I did hear from was in the same situation as me, where they were years-old convictions and they have paid their debt to society — either they were incarcerated, or they paid a fine, or they did probation or community service — all of the debts to society were paid. And yet Airbnb still banned them.”
A spokesperson for Airbnb said Hallam’s ban was never intended to be for a lifetime. The email she received from Airbnb, which she shared with MarketWatch, is ambiguous and does not say how long she would be unable to use the platform, just that she couldn’t book or host — nor does it explain what specific conviction or convictions might have led to the ban.
“For the safety of our community, Airbnb runs background checks in the U.S. and may take action to remove people with certain convictions, or who have multiple prior convictions,” Ben Breit, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement to MarketWatch. “We understand that there may be a number of reasons why someone may have a criminal conviction on their record, so we developed an evidence-based appeals process that takes into account the type of crime and evidence of rehabilitation when considering reinstatement.”
“We’ve now reinstated Councilperson Hallam’s account based on this process,” Breit said. “We appreciate her patience, and we hope to support her during her future travels.”
Still, Hallam wasn’t quite satisfied, she told MarketWatch. Airbnb has been screening and banning customers for years. She wanted to know why her record, which includes convictions for drug possession and driving under the influence, became an issue now, when she had used the platform as recently as July. She also wanted to know how Airbnb’s use of background checks affects the many other Americans with criminal records who want to use the platform.
“I have not had a conviction since I started using Airbnb,” Hallam said. “The entire time I’ve been on their platform, I’ve had the same criminal record. Nothing has changed.”
She wanted to know what the company’s policy was and to be assured “that other people who were similarly banned for unjust reasons will be reinstated.”
Airbnb says that it checks terrorist designations and “certain databases” of criminal records and sex offender registries for U.S.-based customers, as well as international versions of background or registered sex offender checks for people living outside the U.S., depending on availability and what’s permitted by applicable laws.
The company on its website says that people aren’t banned for “lesser” offenses, such as marijuana possession or disorderly conduct, but might receive a lifetime ban for murder, terrorism, rape, or child molestation. Other crimes can result in a removal, a period of ineligibility, or review depending on when they occurred, like a felony burglary or case of property damage, the website says.
On its website, Airbnb says that it submits basic information about users who live in the U.S. to “our approved background check providers.” In Hallam’s case, information about her record came from a “consumer report generated using the Inflection SafeDecision API product offered by Inflection Risk Solutions, LLC,” according to the email she received from Airbnb. That company did not immediately respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment.
It’s not hard to find anecdotes – like this one from 2018 – from people who say they were unfairly barred from using Airbnb due to Inflection’s API misrepresenting their previous convictions. Last year, one man who was permanently banned from Airbnb over one such background check ended up filing a class-action suit against Inflection for incorrectly classifying a years-old misdemeanor charge as a violent felony. Inflection settled those charges this past summer.
An API, which stands for application programming interface, is a piece of code that software developers can use to plug in information from an outside source. In its own materials, Inflection says that the API it provides to customers can pull up a history of a person’s previous offenses using nothing more than a person’s name, and the state that they’re living in. The materials don’t describe where this information comes from beyond noting that the company has access to “thousands of trusted government sources.”
From those sources, Inflection’s “Trust and Safety” API — which was named in the class-action case as being the source of these bans — will classify a person’s offense into one of 10 categories such as “property,” “financial,” or “traffic,” according to Inflection’s own documentation.
According to this same documentation, Inflection offers customers like Airbnb access to the date when a person’s “offense” was committed, and details about how severe the offense was, or the degree of a particular crime. Inflection notes that this information “[is] not consistent across jurisdictions or sources,” nor is it standardized in any particular way.
Inflection’s documents also explain that the company will “algorithmically determine” the so-called “offense level” of a particular offense alongside the aforementioned details. “FELONY,” is for felony offenses, “MISDEMEANOR,” is for misdemeanors, “INFRACTION,” is for minor infractions and traffic violations, and “UNKNOWN” is how Inflection lumps together offenses that it “cannot determine,” or whose levels it “[does] not understand.”
The aforementioned class-action attempt specifically calls out this “offense level” algorithm, which listed a past conviction as a “felony,” when in fact it had been reclassified as a misdemeanor by local courts. Since that settlement, Inflection scrapped the “violent” label for a person’s offenses, as well.
This past April, Inflection was acquired by a competing background-check behemoth, Checkr Inc., which offers background checks for gig workers at companies including Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, -5.47% and Instacart, for an estimated $400 million. Checkr has raised nearly $600 million in venture capital from big-name investors including Accel Parnets, Y Combinator and Khosla Ventures, according to FactSet, which reports that the company was valued at $4.6 billion late last year, before acquiring Inflection.
Checkr’s portfolio of background check companies has been subject to its own scrutiny; one of these companies, RapidCourt — which was recently dissolved into a new Checkr subsidiary called Tessera Data — had been subject to multiple class-action lawsuits over allegations that its criminal reports included outdated or outright incorrect details about people’s past convictions. Checkr itself has battled about 80 class-action suits as of this writing, most dealing with its own record of providing prospective employers outdated information about prospective employees.
Checkr did not respond immediately to emails seeking comment.
Almost one-third of America’s working-age population has a criminal record, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, and The Wall Street Journal reported in 2014 that the FBI had 77.7 million people on file in its master criminal database. Nearly half of Black men and almost 40% of white men are arrested by the time they turn 23, the Brennan Center says.
The barriers those records pose are numerous: people with past criminal histories might struggle to get a job, housing, or loan. Hallam said that when she was a renter, she had difficulty getting a place to stay without a cosigner. And as background checks become more routine, so do the potential obstacles for those involved or once involved in America’s criminal justice system, which disproportionately punishes Black people.
Because of that lopsided treatment, some lawmakers have pushed to automatically seal or expunge certain criminal records, or ban landlords from disqualifying people solely based on their criminal history.
Hallam, who said she has “a lot of privilege” as a white woman who grew up with a great support system, said she realizes “that I have certain advantages in life that lots of other folks in this country, and also in my community, don’t have,” even though she has still faced myriad challenges.
“I have seen how people treat folks who have been in the criminal legal system, and it breaks my heart every day,” she said.
Many college-bound students work very hard to achieve good grades, write compelling essays, participate in extracurricular activities, and even devote their time to helping in their communities. These are all excellent ways to boost your chances of being accepted to a university or getting a scholarship. However, one area that tends to be completely overlooked is digital presence.
If you are a millennial, chances are that you have a consistent online presence on multiple websites. While you may think of social media as nothing more than harmless fun, the truth is, it can impact your chances of winning scholarships.
Scholarship Judges Care About What You Post on Social Media
You Post on Social Media
A study by Kaplan Test Prep found that 35% of college admissions officers check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social networking sites to learn more about potential candidates . Furthermore, 42% of admissions officers who check said they had discovered information online that had negatively affected an applicant’s prospects.
What is Negative Social Media Content?Negative social media content includes posts that are vulgar, emphasize illegal drug use, sexual acts, violence, and anything else that would horrify your grandma.
So if your social media pages are filled with unflattering content and nothing substantial, it could cost you a college admission, scholarship, and even future career opportunities. The good news is that you can also use your internet presence to your advantage.
Here are a few suggestions on how to clean up your digital presence and use your social media profiles to highlight your accomplishments.
How to Use Social Media to Your Advantage
Step 1: Clean Up Your Digital ProfileYour social media accounts say a lot about you. Go through your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media profiles and delete any posts or photos that are inappropriate. If you don’t want to sift through everything, delete the account and start over. Do not open a dummy or fake account. You will be perceived as sneaky and dishonest if they are traced back to you. You can also adjust your privacy setting as high as possible so that casual browsers won’t have access to your posts. It is also wise to Google yourself and check what turns up. You should remove any material that belongs to you and is questionable.
Step 2: Be Mindful of What You PostYou want to be careful about the images you share, and the posts you’re tagged in. If someone catches you on camera or video making out, in your bikini, or playing beer pong, ask that the images be deleted before they are posted online and out of your control. Moreover, your profile name should be appropriate. Don’t call yourself SexKitten69 or GanjaLover420, just use your first and last name.
Be respectful in what items you like and share. You may find a racist cartoon hilarious, but sharing it on social media can make you look like an intolerant bigot. Keep your opinions conservative. Avoid heated political, religious, racial, sexual, or other intolerant online arguments. While it’s okay to debate with your friends, far left or right-wing musings can cost you big.
Step 3: Populate Your Profile with Positive ContentYou want your online presence to show you in a positive light. Highlight your accomplishments and achievements. There are a few ways you can do this. Try to emphasize your excitement about the program you’ve chosen, or post pictures on Facebook of you accepting a volunteer award. Tweet about your sports team winning a championship game, or showcase time with your family. You can write public blog posts and notes about an empowering or touching incident that happened recently. Emphasize time with your family and positive academic or social activities from school.
Social media and an online presence can be extremely powerful tool in your quest for scholarships, but only if done right. You want to present yourself in the best way possible to scholarship judges. That includes content that you post or share on social media. Use this valuable tool to modifying anything unfavorable that may hinder your credentials.
Are you shy and uncomfortable with meeting new people? Follow these simple steps and make college friends that will last a lifetime!
Employee background check errors harm thousands of workers By Patrick Thibodeau, Senior News Writer/Makenzie Holland, News Writer
Employee Background Check errors harm thousands of workers:
See the full article here: https://www.techtarget.com/searchhrsoftware/feature/Employee-background-check-errors-harm-thousands-of-workers
A criminal background check only needs minutes to ruin a life. That's how long it takes for prospective employers, in some instances, to get a background check report on a job candidate. But mistakes that incorrectly identify an applicant as a thief or sex offender happen more often than many expect. The effect can be emotionally and financially devastating, and HR managers make it worse by often dropping their job candidate before a correction is issued.
Common mistakes include mismatched names and addresses. One background check lawsuit alleged that the first name of Ashley was misidentified as Alysha. In another case, two people with the same first and last name were mixed up despite their distinct middle names: Magdalena and Elena. In another lawsuit, an applicant with a middle name of Scot (one T) was confused with someone whose middle name was Scott (two T's). A background check firm told one job applicant that his Social Security number was in the government's "Death Master File."
But the lawsuit against a First Advantage Corp. subsidiary alleged that it incorrectly mixed Donald up with someone with a criminal record. Donald has no criminal convictions; the "corrected report came weeks after plaintiff had already lost his Lowe's job offer," the suit stated. The case is in settlement discussions, according to court records.
More than 90% of employers use background check data as part of the hiring process, according to the CFPB. The background check industry is also expanding what it offers, with one growth area known as "continuous" background checks for existing employers, according to IPO filings. Background checks are also expanding in scope to include social media.
Another man who filed a lawsuit, Eric, obtained a job as a driver with a trucking firm that operates as an Amazon subcontractor. He was offered a job as delivery associate "pending a successful background check." The background check reported no criminal record, according to his lawsuit filed in a U.S. District Court in California. But the background check firm reported that he was a registered sex offender, the lawsuit alleged.
Eric was "shocked and angry"; he was "now unemployed and with a family to support" and could not "believe that he had to explain to his wife and family that he could not start work because his background report showed that he was a sex offender," the lawsuit stated
Michael, an Arizona man, was accepted for a job at health insurer Humana in June, before the background check, which was taking a long time to complete, was provided to the insurance company.
When the report was issued, Michael's background check included a "patently inaccurate" criminal conviction for theft of services, the lawsuit said. The background check firm misidentified him as someone else, leading Humana to put him on a "no work status," according to the lawsuit
Excerpts taken from:
Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses
©2012 National Consumer Law Center http://www.nclc.org/issues/broken-records.html
Samuel M. Jackson, Illinois: Mismatched Report, Company: InfoTrack
Mr. Jackson was allegedly denied employment after a prospective employer ran an InfoTrack background check.
InfoTrack reported a rape conviction from 1987— when Mr. Jackson was four years old.
The rape conviction actually belonged to a 58-year-old male named Samuel L. Jackson from Virginia who was convicted of rape in November 18, 1987.