HOW TO CONDUCT A BASIC BACKGROUND CHECK
|By: Joe Hoover, Anni Adkins and Dr. Lew Deitch
In the not-too-distant past, people were raised and spent their lives in
small towns or localized city neighborhoods, often living among the same
neighbors for all or most of their lives. Everyone knew his or her neighbors,
and that personal intimacy lasted a lifetime. Today'
s world however, is highly mobile. Few people live in the same locale for very
long, and so many of our interpersonal relationships grow out of cyberspace
where a person can become anyone they wish to be. In such a transient society,
trust is no longer a matter of faith, but often must be verified, especially in
matters of the workplace, business relationships and property rental.
Background investigations are performed for business or personal reasons, and
the depth and breadth of information available can often make the difference
between success and failure in a variety of relationships. The reality of 21st
century interpersonal relationships requires informed decisions to enable the
protection of companies, employees, families, property or investments.
Business background checks are most often performed when hiring employees,
managing rental property, conducting business with other companies, investing in
a business venture or attempting to collect on a business debt. Personal
background checks are essential when an individual is going to be given access
to one's home or property as a result of performing a service or being hired as
The unprecedented access to technology enables people to either steal or
manufacture identities with great ease. Therefore it is essential to utilize
background checks, gleaning as much information as possible to confirm an
individual's identity before becoming involved with them. The old expression it
is better to err on the side of caution¯ has more meaning today than ever in the
The steps shown below provide the procedural basis for conducting background
checks, whether for business or personal use. However, keep in mind that when
conducting a business background check, most often there is a signed application
permission form that enables access to certain specific records that otherwise
cannot be accessed.
STEP 1 - GATHER INFORMATION - POSITIVE ID
The first goal of any background check is to obtain a positive identification of
the subject in question. The important preliminary information needed includes
full name, date of birth, social security number and a current or past address.
Date of birth is a very important identifier and necessary to search criminal
records. Current and past addresses are also good identifiers, because to
conduct a thorough criminal records search, you must ascertain subject's state
When dealing with female subjects, remember to learn if the individual is
married or single, and ask for all last names used, both past and present. This
can be an important factor when checking general and criminal record files.
Public records are generally indexed by name alone, or by name and date of
Proprietary database records are often indexed by social security number.
Other useful information needed to begin an investigation can include names of
s license number and phone numbers. A few pertinent questions to be asked if
initially interviewing the subject include, “Where are you from? “Where did you
go to school? “When is your birthday?
It is not beyond reason to ask for a photocopy of the subject'
s license to accompany an application.
In an interview, the technique of “erroneous conclusion¯ can be employed to
elicit important information. An example of this would be to say, “I' ll bet you
are from California. The subject might simply answer by saying, “You're right,
“No, I was born and raised in Utah."¯
STEP 2- CONFIRM - ADDRESS HISTORY SEARCH
Once having gathered as much information on a subject as possible, confirmation
of the information is critical. An Address History Search will reveal past
addresses and others living at, or who have lived at, the same address. This can
also reveal aliases used, plus “also known as‚ (AKA) information or
variations of names used. If none of the data returned match the information
provided by or about your subject, this should raise the proverbial red flag.
Much information can be gleaned from simple data such as lists of relatives,
roommates and associates. Further red flags should be raised if the address
search reveals present or past residents of the same age but with different last
names -- not including the subject'
s. Likewise, if the same last name appears, but with different first names,
further investigation is clearly required.
Information possibly returned from an Address History Report includes:
- Address History with Phone Numbers
- Age or Date of Birth
- Alias or Maiden Names
- Possible Neighbors
- Possible Relatives and Roommates living at the same address
- Dates of Residence
Once you have determined that the subject is who they say they are, the other
mandatory parts of a thorough background check are the General Records Search
and the Criminal Records Search.
STEP 3 - GENERAL RECORDS SEARCHES
Public records and information providers can offer a great variety of data;
however, it is important to ascertain the accuracy and timeliness of the records
Search Vital Records such as births, marriages, divorces, and deaths, all of
which are public record. Vital statistics are often available online: however
these records are often restricted by the state that supplies them to the
parties involved (ex. Spouse, child).
Financial Searches can indicate financial standing and responsibility. A
Property Search will reveal real estate ownership and a Vehicles Search will
return automobiles owned by the subject.
Court Records contain data pertaining to Federal & Civil Judgments, Federal &
State Bankruptcies, Tax Liens and Evictions. These records can be examined at
the county or federal courthouse where the incident was adjudicated, or
researched and retrieved by an information provider.
The Secretary of State maintains corporate, partnership and professional
licensing information. These records are open for examination and usually
A Driver History Records search is an important addition to a records search, as
it will reflect traffic citations and DUI'
s, both of which can indicate poor driving habits. These records are restricted
by some states, requiring a signed release and a permissible purpose for access.
STEP 4 -- CRIMINAL RECORDS SEARCHES
A thorough criminal background check includes searches of Local and County
Criminal Records, State Criminal Courts, National Department of Corrections and
Sex Offenders databases, and the OFAC Patriot Act Search. Records can be
obtained at the various courthouses or online by information providers. Read:
How To Search Criminal Records.
Local and County Checks - Results from local or county jurisdiction criminal
records searches will include only the crimes committed within those immediate
jurisdictions. If checking only the counties where the subject says he or she
lived over the past 3-5 years, the search is relying on the individual to be
truthful about their past residences. This search may miss offenses committed in
other jurisdictions. Therefore the address history report is essential prior to
conducting a criminal records search.
Statewide Criminal Courts - These records are obtained through a state agency
and include only the crimes committed within that state. Search costs and
response times vary widely from state to state. Most state checks include
arrests, but in some instances only those arrests leading to convictions are
Data for Sale - Information providers and brokers buy their criminal data from
the states. Many states have strong privacy laws; some do not sell any criminal
data obtained for a personal or business background check. Some states sell a
portion of their data, but not the full conviction or arrest files. The data is
not uniform between states; therefore it is important to know the level of
accuracy of the data being purchased by understanding what the state in question
Municipal Criminal Records
County Criminal Records
Statewide Criminal Courts - (58% of the USA)
Statewide Criminal Check for Felonies, Misdemeanors & Sex Offenses
State Department of Corrections - (47 of 50 states)
National Arrest & Court Warrants
National Department of Corrections
OFAC Patriot Act Search
FBI Most Wanted
FBI Most Wanted Terrorists
Interpol Most Wanted
Sex Offender Records
When using an information provider determine what data is being accessed. Some
background checks are national in scope while others are actually "multi-state.¯
The costs, response times and quality of these checks vary widely from company
to company. Background checks are generally name-based and often only access
convictions, not arrests.
Consider having a check done on oneself if concerned about incorrect information
or what potential employers might find.
Article provided by: Investigative Professionals LLC, ©2012 Information