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October 19, 2009

Retail theft databases - a different kind of consumer reporting agency

What if you are accused of stealing from your employer at a retail store?  Chances are, your alleged theft may hinder your later chances at landing a job.

When thinking of a consumer reporting agency, most people think of the big three credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax and Trans Union - and the credit histories they spit out about consumers.  But there are other types of consumer reports, such as reports regarding employees who allegedly steal. 

For instance, ChoicePoint, who at one time was part of Equifax, manages a collection of information called "Esteem" which is a workplace theft database.  To populate its database with information, ChoicePoint collects reports from over 75,000 retailers regarding employees who allegedly steal from their employers  Companies looking to hire new employees then buy reports regarding potential hires from ChoicePoint's Esteem database. 

ChoicePoint is not the only one in this line of business.  HireRight has compiled an employee-theft database to which 500 member companies contribute evidence of convictions, signed confessions, video surveillance or eyewitness statements regarding employee theft.

Also, the National Retail Mutual Association has collected more than 500,000 incidents of employee theft in its NRMA Retail Theft Database. NRMA obtains its information from client stores who have obtained a signed confession, a signed restitution agreement, a fully paid civil demand, a criminal conviction or other "documentary evidence."

What these companies don't take into account is that, sometimes, people plead guilty to things they did not do, because a conviction, no matter how wrongful, would impose a much worse sentence than the deal the defendant can get by pleading out.  Many innocent defendants plead guilty to get probation where demanding trial also means risking jail time. 

Just like the databases maintained by big three credit bureaus, the retail theft databases put consumers at risk of gross errors that could cost consumers a job and damage their reputations.  Luckily, the retail theft databases are also subject to the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Consumers suspecting that a company may be reporting incorrect information about them to potential employers should request a copy of any and all information about them in the possession of the retail theft database companies named above.  If an error is found, it should be disputed immediately and repeatedly until it is fixed or it becomes obvious that litigation is necessary to correct.  At that point, consumers should contact a consumer attorney such as myself for assistance.


  1. So it is possible to remove the information from these databases once you are in there? I have a theft from Walgreens on my record in 2009 which they advised I sign a form stating I stole things from them "for record keeping" but I would keep my job (a lot of people were being investigated) and then I got fired. I was later not provided a job at another store because I was in esteem. Since there is technically a signed confession on file with Esteem, can a lawyer assist in removing that information from a database?

  2. Because ChoicePoint, who manages the Esteem database, is considered a consumer reporting agency, you have the right to dispute the information in your consumer file with them.

    I have never handled a case quite like yours, so I'm making some assumptions based on how the credit reporting disputes work, but I think you should dispute.

    If Choicepoint's system works like the other CRAs, Choicepoint will have no idea if your dispute is valid or not. They will then forward your dispute to Walgreens for verification. Walgreens has a short window in which to respond. If Walgreens either fails to timely respond or (although unlikely) indicates that your dispute is valid, Choicepoint should remove the theft entry. In my opinion, its worth a shot.

    As for getting an attorney involved, I'm not sure you will get any farther with an attorney. Having had little interaction with Choicepoint, I do not have a contact that I could use to possible have your error corrected. Not that it would be likely even if I did have a contact, since they are likely to believe your confession over your more recent position of innocence.

    Sorry I can't be of more help.

  3. My husband worked at Walgreens in 2004 when he was a cashier, on the ground was a $20.00 dollar bill. Since he kept money in his pocket while on duty he wasn't sure if this $20.00 was his or the stores. He picked up the bill and put it aside for the manager to do a cash count to see whose bill it was. After the till came up correct my husband was told put your money away in your locker and go back to work. My husband did that and put the money in his pocket and walked to the lockers and everything seemed to be fine.
    The next day he was called into the office with loss prevention when the till came up $30.00 short even though my hubby was cleared of the problem. Anyway he was fired, and told to sign a paper stating he took the money even though I know he didn't and wouldn't do that and had to pay more a few months later.
    His former manager said to him as he was leaving that day you better get a job quick before the company puts you on the list. Since this was so long ago 7 years to be exact I am wondering if Walgreens was involved with these databases way back then. How does h find out if he is and at what point if ever does it get removed?
    Thank you

  4. Anonymous - great question. While I doubt Walgreens was publishing to a retail theft database 7 years ago, I really don't know for certain.

    As for how to find out if he's on any type of "list", these companies, like traditional credit bureaus, are required to provide a full and complete copy of their file on you upon request and, unless there's been an adverse action based on the report, for a small fee. Generally, adverse data stays on a person's consumer report for seven years. I will do a little research and see if there's a different time limit for this type of adverse information.

  5. Thank you so much I appreciate it.

  6. I got reported to the LexisNexis database.. I know the time limit is seven years, for them at least. I can't find a job anywhere and was told that only the business that put you on, can take you off. If I dispute, would that mean I would have to go to court?

  7. No. The CRA (Lexis in this case) can remove or whoever first reported it to Lexis. A lawsuit is sometimes needed to get an item removed if the dispute process fails.

  8. do you know any lawyer I can contact to get my name removed from these national retail database?

  9. Chris, thanks for the post. Employers try to know more about their employees or candidates, and those trying to keep their personal information. I suggest not to hide the truth, `cause your employeer will do FCRA compliant check, anyway. So it`s better to use services which keep privacy policy.