Free still has a price
Have you ever tried to run a free background check? Maybe you Googled something like “free criminal records”,” free public records,” or “free background check.” The results that you get will vary and you may end up on a site that ostensibly looks like it is giving you free records. This is partially true but eventually comes with a price.
The challenge with the idea of free background checks is that while there are many public records sites available at no cost, they might not be appropriate for employment screening purposes. These sources can provide criminal records, civil records, marriage and divorce records, property ownership, and even fishing licenses or voter registration. However, getting the information is only part of the process. If you plan on using public record information for employment purposes, you need to know what you are looking at. You still will need to adhere to the FCRA, local and state requirements even when conducting a background check on an applicant yourself.
Many web sites will masquerade as public record sites. They will allow you to do a cursory search and return several options for you to follow up on. For instance, if you enter the name, approximate age and location of an individual, the website will return several potential matches. Then they will encourage you to order a detailed report for a fee.
The reality is this is a typical ruse that private companies used to lure you in to buying a background check. The background check will most likely not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act an often has a disclaimer that you must agree to not use it for employment screening purposes. These databases aggregate data from multiple states, counties, cities, courts and other public record sources. There are thousands of county courts, district courts, circuit courts, municipal courts, village courts and mayors’ courts across the country. Many of these will provide data directly to database aggregators who then resell it.
The database company will then reformat the data into a nice-looking report and that can be misleading. This data is often not verified and may only have arrest information that is outdated, without a disposition of the finding or proper identifiers of the person being searched. It is critical when conducting an employment background check to make sure that you are getting information on the correct person. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that when using a third party CRA (consumer reporting agency) that you ensure maximum possible accuracy when utilizing data such as this for employment screening purposes.
There is really no such thing as a free background check, at least for employment purposes. Violating the FCRA or any of the state and local laws surrounding employment screening can result in costly penalties and even discrimination lawsuits. It is important to use a qualified CRA to conduct your background checks. Many CRA’s will use a nationwide database check as an additional source to add to the scope of the background check. This may uncover potential jurisdictions that might have been missed otherwise. That data, however, is still vetted by a qualified investigator which is our process at Nationwide Screening Services.