Do free background checks exist?
Advertisements for free background checks jump off almost any web page covering the subject but do free checks really exist? In most cases what the ads are really talking about is a free people search. These searches trawl online databases and throw up any information on matching names. The problem is that you’ve got no way of knowing if the information is accurate or even up to date and if the information is about the individual in question or another person of the same name.
Free background checks may seem like a cheap and convenient option for pre-employment or tenancy screening but you need to understand the process and the quality of information you’ll be getting before embarking on this option.
Online databases and registries are only as good as the company that keeps them, and if the information in the database is not updated regularly then your chances of getting free and accurate background checks are pretty low.
On top of this, a free online search only covers free online databases, and since not all states agree on what public records are in the first place, and even fewer have managed to get all of their information online, the information a free background check can turn up is pretty limited.
What can online criminal checks reveal?
Usually you’ll only be able to verify names and addresses and possibly get a 10-year address history. In the case of company records you can also search for judgments, liens or lawsuits. Online criminal record checks can only search online records and since many states do not have their records online, and those that do only have limited records available, a search of this kind can miss important chunks of information. Additionally, most of these checks have a fee attached and will not be carried out as part of a free search.
However, it is also possible to do most of these searches yourself. Many of the sites advertising free background checks offer tutorials and computer programs to help you conduct a background check yourself – we also offer some tips on our page on ‘Check a background for free checks’.
Regardless of whether you pay for the service or not, background searches should only take place with the consent of the individual being checked.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act applies to online searches as well as traditional reports and any company offering free background checks should make this clear, and seek permission from the individual involved before conducting the search.