ST. LOUIS - People who share their names with celebrities often get some unexpected perks: easy dinner reservations, fan letters and some enthusiastic, confused delivery drivers.
But Arion Ford, 25, shares his name with someone more notorious than famous.
Arieon Demico Ford, 25, shot a child’s grandfather at a St. Charles Chuck E. Cheese in 2015. In fact, Arieon Ford has a long criminal history, from theft to drug possession, which complicates things for Arion.
“It’s not me!” said Arion, whose middle name is Marquese. “I'm a college student, I'm trying to be better than myself, trying to get ahead in life.”
That’s difficult enough when the casual observer mixes up the two Fords. But employers have been doing it too.
Arion said employers offer him jobs and then retract the offers when they receive a background check that includes Arieon’s crimes.
“He said, 'Yeah, you're a felon basically. We just can't hire you,’” said Arion, about one employer. Arion has no felonies on his criminal record.
“I've never stolen a piece of gum out of the grocery store,” added Arion. “I'm angered by it.”
The police have also been fooled by the similar names, putting Arion in the difficult position of explaining the mix-up to any officer who runs his name.
“I have been pulled over before and they thought I was the other Arieon. They thought I had these charges against me and there were warrants out for my arrest,” he said.
The St. Louis County prosecutor’s records connected the two Fords as if they were the same person. Arion went to court in January, asking the county to correct the confusion. The response was not satisfactory.
“What the judge said to me was 'I'm sorry. We'll do the best we can.’ I don't want you to do your best, I want you to do your job and get this off my record. I'm not a criminal. How hard is it to take it off?” he said.
Apparently, it was hard enough that he needed a stopgap solution. A St. Louis County investigator issued him a signed letter to offer to any police officer or employer who thinks Arion is Arieon.
Attorney Thomas San Filippo handles these mistaken identity cases often, although he notes that Arion has a bigger problem than most. The solutions can be drastic.
“The more extreme measures are changing your name, which I've had clients do,” said San Filippo.
When 5 On Your Side’s PJ Randhawa called the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office, things started moving a little quicker for Arion, no name change required. Just after a call to inquire about the case, the county prosecutor’s office responded to say that they’ve finally separated the two Fords in their data.
Unfortunately, Arion’s challenges continue. Background checking agencies across the country still associate Arion with Arieon’s criminal record. 5 On Your Side contacted one of those agencies, First Advantage. It’s the agency used by a recent employer who turned Arion down for a job.
Just a day after receiving the call, First Advantage told 5 On Your Side that they have updated Arion’s information in their system.
The Federal Trade Commission regulates data brokers like First Advantage. The Commission ensures that background check companies and credit bureaus are obeying the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires the brokers to keep their information accurate and share it only with the right people.
“In 2014, the FTC settled a lawsuit with InfoTrack Information Services where the Commission claimed that the brokers were releasing information that was not as accurate as possible. The FTC accused InfoTrack of suggesting that innocent people may be registered sex offenders.”
The FCRA requires that employers who use background checks in hiring first get permission from the job candidate to request a background check.
If the employer finds anything in the background check that raises concerns, the employer must give a free copy of the report to the job candidate. It is then the candidate’s responsibility to contact the background check agency to fix any errors, like Arieon’s crimes appearing on Arion’s report.
Then, if the employer decides not to hire the candidate because of something on the report, they must notify the candidate and provide information on the source of the background check and how to dispute any errors.
Nicole Jones with the FTC said that the Commission can start law enforcement actions if an employer or data broker violates the FCRA, which can lead to civil fines.
“Consumers may sue as well,” she said.
However, this process doesn’t apply to criminal records or negative information found in a web search or on social media. If misleading information from sources other than data brokers is a factor in an employer declining a candidate, there isn’t a process for notifying the candidate about where the information came from or how to fix it.
If a candidate thinks that misleading information was unfairly used to discriminate against them, other laws may apply, said Jones. She advised candidates refer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its publications to find out if they may have a case