Brian Willingham is the president of Diligentia Group.
As part of what I do every day, I conduct in-depth “leave no stone unturned” background checks that can cost clients thousands of dollars. Of course, not every situation requires me to dig through the depths of the earth to conduct a background check.
There are any number of reasons why someone would want to conduct a background check on someone else - from a new boyfriend to a neighbor. Regardless of the reason for the background check, there are a number of open source/public records that should be part of every search.
These records were chosen for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they are open source, are widely available to the public, and are either free or have minimal cost.
Criminal Record Searches
Criminal records are the single most important part of a background check. More than 20 million criminal cases were filed in the United States in 2009. While not all these criminal cases were for serious crimes, criminal offenses can tell you a lot about the character of a person. Drug offenses, petty thefts, shoplifting or multiple arrests for minor offenses can be very informative. Or worse, you might find that the person is akin to the axe murderer you see in the movies.
A comprehensive criminal background check will include a search for records in several different locations such as state and federal repositories, proprietary databases such as Peoplesmart, and appropriate checks with local sources.
Sex Offender Registry Searches
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there are nearly 750,000 registered sex offenders in the United States today. Sex offenders are required by law to register in the jurisdiction in which they reside, and every state has a sex offender registry that is open to the public.
You can either search the sex offender registry in each individual state or you can use the National Sex Offender public website run by the Department of Justice, which searches all participating states as well as U.S. territories and American Indian tribes.
We’ve lumped the Internet into one category, but there are actually a few distinct areas here:
- Search Engines - Seems obvious that you should search the Internet, but did you know that 94% of users never go beyond the first 10 results? Look beyond the first page! Also, Google might be the 100-pound gorilla, but it’s not the only search engine in town. Try Bing, Blekko and DuckDuckGo as well (you may be surprised at the different results).
- News Media - News articles are a fantastic source of information, and there is no better free and easy-to-use option than Google News Archive. If you want to dig a little deeper, visit your local library and search LexisNexis, Factiva or Proquest, each of which has a vast array of news publications not widely available on the Internet or through Google.
- Social Networks - Social networks are all the rage; there are more than 800 million active users on Facebook and more than 100 million active users on Twitter. There are numerous stories of people doing and sharing things that they shouldn’t and even criminals bragging about their ill-gotten gains. You never know what you might find.