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Background Checks

Background checks: information on different types of background check services, including criminal background check services and free background check companies

Background Checks

Background checks compile information about a person’s history. Background checks give individuals or institutions the ability to learn about a person’s criminal, financial, and employment history, plus much more. Background checks can help verify an individual’s identity adding a measure of safety and security to a personal or business relationship.

Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

What type of information is included in a background check?

The information included in a background check varies based on type, purpose, and extent. At the very least, background checks can verify basic information like name, address, and age. Depending on the purpose and source of reporting, background checks can include social security number, driving licenses, vehicle registration, credit records, court records, criminal records, education history, employment history, workers’ compensation records, citizenship, immigration & legal working status, bankruptcy records, litigation records, state licensing records, military records, property ownership, incarceration records, sex offender lists, character references, and other personal interviews. Restrictions around the information included in a background check vary by state, by purpose, by industry, and by individual.

What are background checks used for?

Background checks can be used for any reason where an individual desires verification of an individual’s personal, professional or criminal history. Many companies use background checks as an important part of their pre-employment candidate screening processes. Pre-employment screening background checks are more tightly regulated than other background checks, as set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Individuals may also use background checks for personal security purposes.

The FCRA delineates the process for obtaining background checks. In essence, if the check is for employment screening, the allowance of credit, or for a loan, a more stringent set of guidelines governs the process.

Where does the information included in a background check come from?

Because there are so many potential facets of a background check, the answer varies substantially. Information is typically sourced from public records created by government agencies, as well as, county courts, state courts, state Departments of Correction, and state Administrations of Courts. On a national level, the Social Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and National Sex Offender Registries keep public records that are used in background checks. Other sources of publicly available information created and maintained by the state include vital records, immigration records, property records, address histories, real estate records, bankruptcy information, and criminal records.

The list of potential sources broadens substantially for criminal record checks. There are a number of databases, including the FBI Identification Record, the National Instant Criminal Background Check for gun purchases, the Interstate Identification Index System, and more. A background check may also include a Terrorist Watch List check, sex offender and child and elder abuse registry checks, and checks with various financial regulatory agencies.

Background screening services may also employ search services to verify a candidate’s professional and educational history.

How do I report incorrect information in a background check?

Errors occur in background check reports as a result of incorrect or incomplete data in original documents, identity theft, transposition errors, or file corruption.

According to the FCRA, Consumer Reporting Agencies must allow individuals to file a dispute application. It is the responsibility of the Consumer Reporting Agency to investigate the inaccuracy after the dispute application has been filed. You must file an application directly with the Consumer Reporting agency that provided the report. Legal procedures in case of a disputed accuracy can be found here.

What does a Criminal Record History Background Check include?

Criminal Record History Background Checks include felonies, misdemeanors, and sex offenses. These are compiled through searches within county, state, and federal records, as well as national registries.

Where can I get a free background check?

Although some websites claim to offer free background checks, the most in-depth and accurate background checks are usually paid services, with the breadth and depth of the report directly correlated to the price.

PeopleSmart offers a few options:

  • A basic PeopleSmart membership offers free contact reports, which include contact and work information sourced from public records about an individual. With this membership, phone reports, email searches, work information, and vital records are available free of charge. Additional paid options are available for full background reports that would include nation-wide criminal checks, licenses, and property ownership history.
  • In accordance with the law, PeopleSmart should not be used for employment screening or employment-related decisions.

When would someone run a background check on me?

When applying for a job, prospective employers may run an FCRA-compliant background check that requires your consent as part of regulatory recruitment procedures, both to verify your credentials and protect the workplace. Landlords, credit companies, and individuals verifying your identity may also run background checks in order to ensure safe and honest transactions.

What information in a background check could be used against me?

In employment screening, information in background checks that contradict your resume or application may be used against you. Background reports may reveal exaggeration, lies, and dishonesty as well as criminal offenses that individuals may consider a threat to certain environments. When used correctly and in compliance, background checks encourage honesty and integrity among all parties involved.

What are the benefits of background checks?

Background checks reinforce honesty and integrity in the work place. They create safe environments while preventing fraud, crime, and sexual harassment. For companies and landlords, they are integral to due diligence that verify people’s identities and qualifications.

What is a "universal" background check?

The term "universal background check" is specific to the issue of gun control. Supporters of "universal background checks" are in favor of government-mandated, unconditional background checks on all gun purchases, without exception. The "Gun-Show Loophole" is the term applied to private transactions in which purchasing a gun would not require a background check.

Why is there so much controversy around background checks?

Background checks usually involve accessing someone’s personal information, which can be sensitive and private. Besides privacy issues, background checks are also implicated in the issue of gun control as a way of screening prospective buyers. Here at PeopleSmart, we understand that privacy is a complex and highly important issue, so we do our best to protect your privacy while educating you on your rights.

How often is the data in background reports updated?

Every 90 days, but sometimes up to 6 months, depending on the vendor. More reputable vendors, like PeopleSmart, ensure data accuracy and quality with constant updates from reputable sources.

How effective are background checks?

In nearly every critical area of private and professional life, a well-executed background check is the most effective method generally available to ensure the veracity of information provided or to better understand an individual’s background.

Can I perform a background check over the phone?

With the diversity and complexity of the information resulting from a comprehensive background check, the phone is not a feasible medium to accurately convey all the essential information.

What is the fastest way to obtain a background check?

While the speed of a background check varies with regard to its scope and intended purpose, the fastest way is certainly via an online provider like

How long does a background check take?

Background checks can vary in length from instantaneous to several days, depending on the scope of the check. Screening services that include person-to-person communication or necessitate phone calling or court-document retrieval can add time. If the background check is for hiring, tenancy, a loan, or credit, then the process may require more back-and-forth between the candidate and the agency requesting the background check, adding time.

What is a sanctions check?

Sanctions checks apply to individuals in the healthcare field. They identify individuals sanctioned for fraud or who have had other adverse actions taken against them while working in healthcare. A sanctioned individual is often unable to provide care under Federal programs, including Medicare.

What is the average cost for a background check?

The cost can vary broadly depending on the areas the background check covers, ranging anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds for checks that include in-person investigation and/or court-record retrieval. That said, most background checks are between $20–$100, depending on their scope and application.

How do I ensure that the background check provider I am working with is reputable and competent?

With so much sensitive information at stake, it’s important to verify the reputation and credibility of a background check provider. Perhaps the most reliable means of ensuring reputability is accreditation by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). You can search their directory by company name.

As a reminder, only certain select providers are permitted to provide information for purposes of considering and vetting candidates for employment and other similar considerations. The website in which this article appears is specifically NOT FCRA-accredited or authorized as a credit reporting agency permissible for use in verifying employment background checks, tenant consideration and certain other contexts.

How do I run an online criminal background check?

To run an online criminal background check, use a reputable people search engine, like Provided it's for personal use and not for employment, credit worthiness, or a loan application, you will simply enter the relevant information about an individual, choose from a list of options, and get results delivered online, often within seconds.

How long do felonies, misdemeanors, and sexual offenses stay on a background check?

Criminal records generally remain public indefinitely, though individuals can use a legal process called "expungement" to request that a court permanently remove the records. For employment-related background screening, the FCRA forbids employers from considering arrest records or other non-conviction information that is more than seven years old. However, criminal convictions will generally remain on a background report regardless of how long ago they occurred.

How do I prepare for a background check?

If you think you will be subject to a background check, it’s important to be prepared. The method of preparation will vary with regard to the type of check. Generally, you want to ensure you’re well informed as to the policies that regulate the upcoming check by reading a site like this. You may also want to preempt any requests for information or documentation by preparing a file with the necessary paperwork. If the background check is subject to FCRA provisions, like in a pre-employment context, there are a number of policies that obligate the entity conducting the check to ensure the candidate is well informed of their rights and requirements under the law.