March 14th, 2022 | Taylor Liggett, General Manager, Sterling Identity

5 Common Myths About Identity Verification

It’s a widely held belief that identity verification is included as part of a routine background check. In a recent SIA webinar poll of HR professionals, approximately two-thirds of respondents mistakenly believed that a standard background check includes verifying identity.

Why is this such a common misconception? One of the main reasons may be that a number of Social Security Number (SSN) Trace tools and services are now available on the market, and are often mentioned interchangeably with a standard background check. But are identity verification methods and standard background checks actually the same thing? Do you need to use both of them? Let’s debunk five common misconceptions about how and when identity is verified, while also detailing the differences between these commonly-confused services.

Myth #1. SSN Traces Are an Identity Verification Tool

Despite this common myth, an SSN Trace doesn’t actually verify identity. Instead, an SSN Trace is used as a locator tool for discovering where an individual has lived and what additional names they have used. It traces public records connected to a Social Security number, helping locate the most likely places an individual may have committed a crime, and the possible names the record could be associated with. For example, while a candidate may report living at just one address over the past five years, an SSN Trace using the SSN provided by the candidate could reveal that they temporarily resided with a relative in a different city for a short time, revealing yet another location where potential criminal records may be found.

As we’ll cover below, an SSN Trace is not identity verification. By itself, an SSN Trace is insufficient to reveal if a given SSN actually belongs to the candidate claiming it; the trace can’t confirm or verify that the candidate is really the person they claim to be.

Myth #2. A CBSV Proves That a Candidate’s SSN Is Really Theirs

Unfortunately this is untrue: a Consent-Based Social Security Number Verification (CBSV) cannot confirm whether or not a candidate actually owns their provided SSN. True, a CBSV does check the name and Social Security number provided by the candidate against Social Security Administration records. This confirms that the candidate is not using a deceased person’s SSN via the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, and that the SSN and the date of birth (DOB) belong to the name submitted.

However, a CBSV does NOT confirm that the SSN belongs to the candidate — they might instead be fraudulently using the SSN of another living person, since there is no existing process for confirming the person’s identity, unless that is being separately handled prior to the CBSV check. Additionally, a CBSV requires consent to verify and must also be processed manually, making it a more expensive and time-consuming search with increased candidate friction.

Myth #3. I-9 and E-Verify Checks Are Enough to Verify Identity

At the most basic level, identity verification assesses whether or not the candidate is truthfully representing themselves. Unfortunately, for many organizations I-9 and E-Verify checks are the only form of identity verification that takes place. Since an I-9 Form is not typically filled out until much later in the onboarding process, any information gained arrives too late to be valuable to HR teams.

Making matters worse, during the I-9 Form process, it’s unlikely that the viewed identity document is crosschecked against the identity information (PII) from the background check. We’ve also heard about several instances where the person going through the interview process is not the same person who shows up for day one on the job, but this isn’t discovered until much later.

Further, the person checking the identity document and completing the I-9 Form is typically an HR professional who likely isn’t trained to check an identity document for authenticity.

Myth #4. Identity Verification Is Unnecessary

Identity verification prior to employment screening is both common and required in many developed countries, and for good reason. Employers and organizations can better help to protect their workers, customers, and clients by discovering any meaningful criminal history on the part of their candidates during the onboarding process. To do this, HR teams must first gain accurate upfront information about exactly who their candidates are. A standard background check in the US is dependent on candidates providing accurate identifying information at the beginning of the process, such as their Social Security number, name, and date of birth. Errors, whether they are accidental or intentional, can potentially go undetected and lead to incorrect background check results. Recent litigation in the background screening industry shows the importance of collecting accurate candidate data upfront so the background check is conducted using the right candidate information.

As mentioned in another one of my blog posts, the percentage of workers permanently working remotely post-pandemic is expected to double from 16.4% to 34.4%. While this presents new opportunities for finding the best talent for your organization, hiring remotely comes with additional challenges in verifying a candidate’s identity.

That’s why, to successfully verify their identity, candidates must first provide several strong pieces of evidence. For example, Sterling’s partner,, verifies identity and helps organizations determine that the person providing the information is genuine. There are multiple identity verification solutions available, each designed to balance different needs around risk tolerance and convenience.

Telecom and Device Verification:

Similar to multi-factor authentication, in which a text message containing a unique code is sent to a user’s cell phone, this process uses the SIM card found in a candidate’s cell phone to verify the cell phone holder’s identity, location, account tenure, and fraud history.

Document and Facial Verification:

A candidate can take a photo of their government-issued ID, along with a selfie, and submit both for verification. These documents are checked for authenticity and then compared to the selfie to determine a match. Overall, document verification with facial verification is a simple process that can be completed in a matter of minutes.

Biographic Data Verification:

By entering their Social Security number, a candidate’s biographic information, such as name, date of birth, and other identifying information, are verified using a variety of public records and data sources, such as credit bureaus.

Live Video Chat ID Proofing:

For individuals who may require additional assistance or who are unable to provide other proof points, live video chat ID proofing is available. During this process, individuals will complete identity proofing with a trained, trusted referee via video conferencing.

Portable Identity:

What if candidates only needed to complete identity verification once, and then keep that verification on file for future use? Sterling’s partner allows individuals to verify their identity just once and then securely store it in a digital wallet for reuse with other organizations including governments, businesses, and corporations.

While an SSN Trace is an important locator tool, and CBSV can show that a specific name and an SSN are associated, identity verification is a more comprehensive method used to more thoroughly vet a candidate. With multiple paths to successful verification, organizations have several options when it comes to finding the right fit for their organizational needs.

Myth #5. Identity Verification Is the Same Thing as a Background Check

Verifying identity and capturing accurate biographic data helps to create a safe work environment, maintain customer trust, and uphold a strong brand reputation.

Since standard US background checks don’t verify identity, many US companies are now adopting modern digital solutions to quickly verify identity and capture biographic data from government-issued documents. According to Gartner, 80% of organizations predict that they will be using document-centric identity proofing in the next year.


SSN Trace and CBSV are all valuable tools when used for their intended purposes in the background screening process, but they do not verify identity. Incorporating an identity verification step early in your hiring process before Form I-9 — such as Sterling Identity Verification — allows you to conduct a more accurate search with the correct identity information, and protect against rising identity fraud.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.