What Is and Isn’t Revealed Through a Background Check?

The information revealed through background checks varies based the extent of the background check. Simply researching public records will provide information on birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce documents, and death certificates. A more thorough background check — especially one conducted through a verified third-party company — will provide a more in depth look into a person’s history.

For employment purposes, most employers or third party investigators will run a Social Security Number scan to verify basic information, such as name, address, and age. A Social Security scan will also turn up all an individual’s previous street addresses and places of residence. Social Security scans are completed through E-Verify, an Internet-based tool developed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. E-verify is used mainly for employment verification purposes, especially for confirming information job applicants present on applications. If false information is given on a job application or in an interview, most of it can be confirmed or denied with a Social Security Number scan.

Employment checks also involve looking into an applicant’s work and education history. According to Nick Fishman, the chief marketing director with EmployeeScreenIQ, there is a 57% discrepancy rate between what an applicant puts on an application and what the company finds in his or her background.

Credit reports are another source often used in background checks. Like a Social Security Number scan, credit reports can confirm previous addresses, in addition to providing evidence regarding an individual’s current financial situation and how fiscally responsible they are. In addition to employers, credit checks are usually conducted by property managers and landlords.

Criminal background checks are the biggest commonality among people who want to conduct background checks, explained Fishman — and with good reason. According to Fishman, EmployeeScreenIQ finds that there is a criminal hit rate of 27% of the background checks they perform. These reports reveal offenses, warrants, and records of arrest or incarceration, and help determine the reliability of the potential employee. Companies examine county and federal records, and a thorough search often involves checking the various counties in which the person in question lived.

Finally, FBI fingerprinting checks are typically done by schools and facilities that care for the elderly and the very young. This type of check reveals nationwide information about arrests in any state. Due to this type of background check usually being costly, it is usually only performed by employers at schools, health care facilities, or with job positions that deal with high job security and confidentiality.

However, keep in mind that certain pieces of information do not show up in a background check once a certain amount of time has passed. For example, bankruptcies stay on a person’s record for seven to ten years — depending on the type of bankruptcy filed — after which it is removed from public record. Defaulted loans and tax liens can stay on a record for seven years, after which the information will no longer be available. After seven years, collections reports are also removed from the public record.

Arrests can remain on a record regardless of whether a charge is dismissed, however, individuals have the option of motioning for the arrests to be expunged. Expunging is the process of completely removing the file from public record, thereby keeping it from showing up on criminal background checks.

The information revealed will vary based on the company used, so it’s important to pick a company that has been proven to be reliable and thorough in their background checks. Picking a company that uses reliable sources will give you the best results. When it doubt, see if the company is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

“‘Background check’ is a catch-all term for any work done to find out about a person’s past,” said Fishman. “But there’s a tremendous difference from one background check to another.” By doing research to discover the sources being used and the ways in which the company conducts their searches, you can ensure that you are getting the most information possible.