January 30th, 2024 | Meg Wilson

6 Common Misconceptions About Digital Identity Verification 

It’s a widely held belief among HR professionals that identity verification is included as part of a routine background check.  

Why is this such a common misconception in the HR world? One of the main reasons may be that a number of background screening tools and services among US employers — such as Social Security Number (SSN) Trace and Consent-Based Social Security Number Verification (CBSV) — are often mentioned interchangeably with a standard background check. But are identity verification services and standard background checks actually the same thing? Do you need to use both of them?  

Let’s debunk six common misconceptions about how and when candidate identity is verified, while also detailing the differences between these commonly confused services. 

Myth #1. A Social Security Number (SSN) Trace Is an ID Verification Tool 

Despite this common myth, an SSN Trace doesn’t actually verify candidate identity. Instead, an SSN Trace is used as a locator tool for discovering where an individual may have lived and what additional names they may 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 with which the record could be associated.  

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 might be found. 

To summarize, an SSN Trace is not an identity verification service. 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. Digital Identity Verification Is Included in a Background Check 

According to a recent HR.com and Sterling Identity Research Report, 3 out of 4 HR professionals mistakenly believe (or are unsure) that identity is part of a background check. Since standard background checks don’t verify identity, many US companies are now adopting digital identity verification services and solutions to quickly verify identity and capture biographic data from government-issued ID documents.  

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

Sterling helps organizations make their mission and values a reality. A candidate’s first interaction with us is often their final step before being hired. From interview to hire, we pride ourselves on enabling organizations to put people first, fostering workplace environments built on mutual respect and safety. 

According to a Sterling HR Reimagined Report, “digital identity verification services” is the most popular area globally where HR professionals plan to add new services in the coming years to make their background screening program more thorough. 

Myth #3. Form I-9/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 the employer is onboarding a new employee, identity verification arrives too late to help mitigate employee fraud. 

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 HR professional checking the ID verification and completing the I-9 Form may not be trained to check an identity document for authenticity – leading to potential candidate fraud that creates significant threats such as unsafe workplaces and liabilities.  

Myth #4. A Consent-Based Social Security Number Verification (CBSV) Proves that a Candidate’s SSN Is Really Theirs 

Unfortunately, this is another myth: a CBSV cannot confirm whether or not a candidate actually owns their provided SSN. To clarify, CBSV checks 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 in fact 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 that could cause increased candidate friction. 

Myth #5. Digital Identity Verification Is Unnecessary 

Digital identity verification prior to employment screening is both common and required in many developed countries, and for good reasons. 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, helping to ensure that the background check is conducted using the right candidate information. 

In addition, the percentage of the total workers working remotely or hybrid models is expected to represent approximately 48% of the total global workforce in 2023-2024. While this presents new opportunities for finding the best talent for your organization, identity verification services provide increased confidence when hiring remotely.  

That’s why, to successfully verify their identity, candidates must first provide several strong pieces of evidence. Sterling operates at a global scale, but with significant depth of regional expertise. For example, Sterling’s trusted partners, ID.me and Yoti, verifies identity and helps organizations determine that the person providing the information is genuine for candidates around the globe. There are multiple digital identity verification methods available worldwide – such as ID Document Verification, Biometric Facial Recognition and Liveness Detection – 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 mobile device, 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. 
  • ID Document Verification: A candidate takes a photo of their government-issued ID, and these documents are checked using a proprietary database of rules and AI to verify ID document authenticity. 
  • Facial Recognition with Biometric Matching: Advanced machine learning technology matches a government identity document to the candidate’s selfie image. Overall, document ID verification with facial verification is a simple process that can be completed in a matter of seconds. 
  • Biographic Data Verification: By entering their Social Security number, a candidate’s biographic information, such as name, DOB, and other identifying information are verified using a variety of public records and data sources such as credit bureaus. 
  • Live Video Chat Agent: For individuals who may require additional assistance or who are unable to provide other proof points, live video chat agents are available. During this process, individuals can verify their identity with ID.me Video Chat Agents or Trusted Referees who are trained identity specialists to verify your identity. To verify with an agent, you’ll need to consent to the call being recorded and show the agent your original identification documents. 

Myth #6. Adding Identity Verification Will Cause Hiring Delays 

Adding digital identity verification before a background check does not cause hiring delays. In fact, leveraging identity verification upfront provides a seamless candidate experience by reducing friction during the hiring process. Here’s how: 

  • Pre-verified candidate data from the identity verification automatically feeds into the background check, reducing delays due to misinformation.  
  • Minimizing the amount of manual data collection accelerates the hiring process, deterring candidate drop-off and allowing verification to be completed remotely.   
  • Digital identity verification is fast and easy — the majority of candidates spend 90 seconds or less verifying their identity.  
  • Candidates only need to complete identity verification once, since this service leverages a reusable digital identity wallet that securely stores their verified identity for reuse with other organizations including governments, businesses, and corporations. 

Since today’s changing world requires new, adaptable ways of screening, while the velocity of hiring still remains a top priority among employers, Sterling is reducing complexity with our simplified experiences.  Our unique, upfront identity verification offering is an essential first step that strengthens background screening results. 


SSN Trace and CBSV are all valuable tools when used for their intended purposes in the background screening process but note that they do not in themselves verify identity. Incorporating an identity verification step early in your hiring process before Form I-9/E-Verify — such as Sterling Identity Verification — allows you to conduct a more seamless and accurate search with the correct identity information. This in turn allows you to protect against rising identity fraud in a global workforce accounting for a rising percentage of fully remote or hybrid workers. 

Sterling offers a robust, end-to-end employment screening portfolio – including upfront identity verification, background screening, and post hire services – to help companies protect their employees, customers, and community. Learn more about Sterling’s Digital Identity Verification service here.   

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.