Rejected: Twin’s case of mistaken identity highlights impact of background check errors

Trayvon Andres Alexander has been fighting to clear his name for more than three years.

Despite letters from the State of Minnesota confirming he has no criminal record, the 24-year-old from St. Paul continues to be rejected by potential employers after they run a background check.

And he knows why.

Alexander has a fraternal twin brother with a remarkably similar name — Travon Andrew Alexander.

“Every time I passed an interview, they would look for my background,” Trayvon said. “And every time my background comes back, his criminal history records pop up.”

Travon Andrew Alexander has a felony conviction for “criminal sex conduct” related to a rape committed in 2016.

5 INVESTIGATES found Trayvon Alexander’s story is also indicative of systemic problems in the background screening industry, according to experts and federal investigators.

‘Not doing their job’

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an advisory opinion in 2021 warning against “name only matching” — a practice that the agency says is “particularly likely to lead to inaccuracies in consumer reports.”

Sophie Sahaf, a policy advisor with the CFPB, says the similarity in Trayvon Alexander’s name and that of his twin brother do not let background check companies off the hook.

“That a company’s sloppy data practices is preventing somebody from getting gainful employment is just simply a travesty,” Sahaf said. “They’re not doing their job, and they are also putting themselves in the crosshairs of the law.”

It’s unknown which companies screened Alexander’s background. 

Federal agencies have taken action against several companies over the last decade.

In 2020, California-based AppFolio paid $4.25 million to settle a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission accusing the company of failing to follow “reasonable procedures to ensure the accuracy of its reports.”

The company declined to comment on the FTC’s allegations, but in a statement to 5 INVESTIGATES, a spokesperson said, “AppFolio continuously adapts our screening processes and procedures to keep pace with changing industry guidance, legal requirements and consumer expectations.”

‘Wild West’

The Professional Background Screening Association, an industry group representing background check companies, declined interview requests from 5 INVESTIGATES.

In a statement, PBSA’s executive director Melissa Sorenson blamed a “significant lack of consistency amongst public records.”

“Inaccuracies in background checks are exceedingly rare, but when they occur, there are clear, simple steps consumers can take to correct the record,” Sorenson said.

But the industry has been compared to the “wild west” when it comes to ensuring the accuracy of background checks.

“The way this process is organized is very flawed,” said Marina Duane, who researched the industry while working with the nonprofit Urban Institute.

In 2017, she co-authored a report that focused on the impact of criminal background checks on employment.

 “People who would otherwise be perfect candidates for the job might get denied because they were matched with somebody wrong,” Duane said.

Challenges correcting the record

Trayvon Alexander turned to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to try to finally distinguish his name and record from his twin brother’s.

Every year since 2020, the BCA has issued a letter to Trayvon confirming that a “fingerprint comparison” determined that he is not the subject of “any criminal record.”

But when Trayvon applied for a job at Wal-Mart in Roseville last year, he was still rejected.

“They said they would have hired me, but what showed up on my background was not good for the company, so they turned me down,” Trayvon said. “They all said the same thing to me: ‘Well, try to get your background fixed, and we can move forward.'”

Wal-Mart did not respond to requests for comment.

A 5 INVESTIGATES review of the Minnesota Court Information System revealed that a search of Trayvon’s name (his first and middle names spelled correctly) still produces his brother’s felony conviction out of Ramsey County.

Some early records in that case mistakenly include Trayvon’s name rather than his brother, Travon.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office confirms it is now looking into solutions to resolving the issues after being contacted by 5 INVESTIGATES.

“While the Court would need to approve any relief that we can provide, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office will do everything in its power to help Mr. Alexander correct and expunge his record,” a spokesperson said. “This is an injustice to him and we hope others will join us in helping him.”

Trayvon Alexander says he still loves his twin brother, Travon, but now has little contact with him.

“We’re brothers, but just two different people,” Trayvon said. “I just want this to be fixed.”