Online Background Checks 101

With all of the personal information and public records online, background checks have become common. Prior to the internet, background checks were usually performed by investigators or corporate and government employees and often required access to proprietary databases or visits to government records departments.

A background check usually involves collecting various public record and personal information on a person. Records that are often looked into for a background check include: civil and criminal court records; business and financial records, property records and employment records. Background checks are often done as part of the pre-employment screening process by companies on job candidates, especially if the position requires security clearance. These reports can be done by government agencies or private companies.

Large business tend to outsource their background checks to third party investigation agencies, while smaller companies tend to do their own background check research on job candidates. Federal, state, county and municipal government records are all potential sources for use in background research. Public records availability can vary drastically between government departments and levels.

Typical Research Used In Background Checks

1. Current & past employment references
2. Personal reference interviews
3. Employment history
4. Validating a person’s identity
5. Confirming current and past address information
6. Credit scoring and bankruptcy history
7. Researching criminal and civil court records
8. Citizenship and immigration records
9. Driving records
10. Drug test results
11. Education records
12. Military records
13. Social security number verification

The legal limits of background check research in the USA is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

When a consumer report is a factor in a decision not to hire a job candidate, the candidate must be presented with a “pre-adverse action disclosure,” a list of the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s summary of rights along with a “notification of adverse action letter.” People are legally entitled to be told the source of any personal information that was used against them, including the credit reporting agency used in the screening process. Job candidates must give their persmission before an employer can order a credit report on them.

Most background checks include the most common public records like court records, DMV records, and education records. People searches like sex offender databases, professional verifications, personal and professional reference checks, credit scores and Patriot Act database searches are typical sources of information.

A growing number of online people search and person finder sites purchase public records from government agencies and sell it, mainly for finding a person. Many of these people locator sites provide a history of address locations, phone numbers, vital records as well as property ownership on a person. In some cases a nationwide criminal background report will be included with search results.

Employers should not take a negative employment action against a job candidate or current employee based solely on the search results found on a public people search database. There is a significant amount of inaccurate personal information contained in public people finder searches online. When in doubt about public record accuracy on a person, you should always try to obtain the original source records from the appropriate government agency.

Severe fines and penalties can be brought against employers who do not follow the law in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.