Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dealing with the State's own error

It is early February 2006 around 830AM and I am subbing PE. My cell phone rings. I don't normally answer, it but the number is a 360 and I am curious. Turns out it is the Snohomish School District letting me know of a problem they found when they ran a background check on me for employment. Turns out I have a recent criminal history, at least according to the Washington State Patrol.

Calls to clear up this error were not getting me anywhere. A few weeks passed and I needed to do something. I wrote this letter.


March 3, 2006 To Whom It May Concern:

I recently became aware of a problem with my social security number on the Washington State Patrol WATCH. It appears that a woman named Mariam has been arrested and booked at least twice in Yakima County and my social security number was used, possibly just in error. However, error or not, this is proving to be a problem for me.

Over the past few months I have returned to teaching; this winter as a substitute, and this spring I am applying for permanent teaching positions. The Snohomish School District ran my SSN and found the problem and was nice enough to let me know about it. As I continue to apply for jobs I have to let each district or private school know about the problem.

I made some phone calls when I first found out about the problem. The Yakima County Sheriff's office was very friendly and apologetic. I am going to send them a copy of this letter to request that if this person is arrested again that they do not simply transfer the previous information and prolong my problem. From speaking to Yakima County I expect this to happen as they seemed to understand.

However, my contact with the WSP was not as useful. I was informed that since this is part of the record, even in error, that it is simply the way it is. That is not okay. The WSP is providing incorrect information to future employers, information that if not looked into could prevent me from gainful employment in my chosen field. If the service the WSP is providing was done by a private company, I am certain that they would be expected to make certain that all the information was current, correct, and accurate, and that if it was not and caused me problems that I would have recourse against them. The WSP is apparently not held to the same standard and will continue to knowingly provide incorrect information. There is a disclaimer on the screen when the report is run, but that hardly is a solution. The database is either accurate or it is useless.

I am requesting that the WSP WATCH system update its records to correctly reflect my SSN, or to at the least flag it to let future employers know that there might be errors in the system. It would be simpler to just correct the problem and make certain that the database accurately reflects what it is supposed to. Also, I have to do all of the work. The WSP needs to have a mechanism in place to make certain its database is accurate or it simply should not have one.

It is entirely possible and likely that this problem is simply an error and not ID theft. However, I feel the need to make certain creditors are aware of the possible problem with my SSN. Again, it is up to me to do the work.

A copy of this letter will be sent to the Yakima County Sheriff, Yakima Police, Washington State Patrol, the Governor's Office, my creditors, school districts, the WSU Career Center for entry into my placement file, and to whomever else it needs to go to. All of the time and expense in correcting this error is mine. In the event a bench warrant is ever issued against this person and the records are wrong I will keep a copy of this letter with my vehicle registration to prevent any misunderstandings.

Mistakes happen. However, the WSP system is amplifying the mistake by choosing to allow it to remain inaccurate.



Not long after this letter I started to get some action; a call from a WSP executive (who told me the governor's office called the WSP) advising me that there in fact were ways to correct this, a call from Yakima County Sheriff's office letting me know they were fixing it, and both written and email correspondence from various to let me know that it was being taken care of and should have been in the first place.

I did in fact CC this letter to a variety of sources. The three credit bureaus worked with me to get this on file and in the process I cleaned up and made certain my credit report is now accurate, including getting two accounts closed I thought were long closed to make certain my ex and I did not have anything lingering together on the credit reports. It would not have been fair to her to have this bite her because two old accounts were still open and my credit report has this problem.

Had it not been corrected the next step was to go to the media. I imagine it would have made a great story; the background checks are either accurate or utterly useless, and a teacher returning to the profession getting hosed by administrative errors would have been a great headline. Fortunately, it did not come to that.


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