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What Is a Public Background Check?
A public background check is a way of investigating a person's past by way of a central repository of publicly available information and databases. Generally speaking, background checks are performed using databases maintained by private companies as well as state and federal government sources. Among the things included in a background check are a person's real name, all known aliases, date of birth, arrest records, criminal history, bankruptcies, civil records, and social media presence
While some may speak of background checks and public records as if they're interchangeable, there is a distinction between the two. A background check is usually referring to criminal records like arrests, fingerprints, and additional information regarding criminal charges. Public records generally provide transcripts regarding civil information like traffic tickets, lawsuits, and birth or death records.
Why are background checks important?
The ability to search for criminal records is primarily important so that you can keep yourself and your family safe. In particular, databases that enable criminal and sex offender searches are important so that you can know who is living in your area. This information is also useful if you're looking for new housing, and arrest records may become a major factor in your decision. It's important to note that you can also perform a volunteer background check on yourself. You may find nothing noteworthy, but a volunteer background check can give you a heads up on what other people will see about you. It's also a good idea to check so that you can correct or update any information that may be inaccurate or outdated.
Where does the information come from?
You don't need a special license to conduct a criminal records search or access a criminal record. This is public information that can be gathered using a person's real name, any aliases, date of birth, address and email address, zip code, and other non-protected additional information. Information is obtained from databases at the local and state level and potentially across the entire United States. Information may be pulled from court records, news sources like the CBC, and public resources. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, you are able to easily find if someone you know has received criminal charges or been involved in a criminal case.
It's important to note that some background checks, particularly free ones online, may not always have 100% correct information. This is why it can be a good idea to perform a background check on yourself to correct any inaccuracies or update out of date information.
What is included in a criminal history records check?
A criminal record search will include all criminal history including arrests and convictions from major felonies to minor misdemeanors. This also includes the sex offender registry. It will include arrest records and incarceration records as well as court orders and arrest warrants. All relevant information must be provided to any requestor so they can be more informed of those around them. These checks are typically conducted at the local level, although requestors may also perform a national criminal background check.
Can I Run a Background Check on Myself?
Absolutely! Any applicant can search for their own background check through data that is public information in the United States. This includes criminal histories, felony, and misdemeanor convictions, sex offender registry data, and educational history. The State Department recommends performing your background check if you plan to live abroad to study or work. Likewise, home-based interviewees must remain vigilant and periodically check up on their details as well.
How Does Running a Self Background Check Work?
Running your background check might seem silly to some people: you may not have a criminal record, have taken a trip to the courthouse, or even seen a less than a flattering credit report. That doesn’t mean that your future employer will see the same thing. Court records are a finicky animal and aren’t always filed correctly online. Because of this, criminal checks can sometimes feature inaccuracies. Thus, a recent conviction of an individual with the same birth date, middle name, or even recent address and phone numbers could inadvertently become attached to your sterling record and draw up a red flag during your next interview. Likewise, identity theft is becoming a greater threat to Americans every year, most commonly translating into credit and finance issues. But identity theft can also leave you vulnerable to unknown criminal records that play no role in your daily life until your next employment screening comes around. To stay on top of your record, it's helpful to run a background check report every so often, just as you would stay on top of your credit score and credit history. Ensure that anyone who runs your name will receive accurate background check results.
Running a background check through a third-party service has never been easier. In the past, applicants had to wait multiple business days for a proper arrest record. Today the bulk of public records can be accessed from the comfort of your home, using a simple email address, and in seconds downloading a PDF that includes criminal convictions including drug screening results, sex offender registration, county court documents, fraud documentation, and felony data. These are just some of the available checks you can pull up to ensure that your personal information remains safe and in the condition that you expect.
Maintaining a sense of your history through documentation is also important for people with less than stellar criminal histories, or with fair credit. A criminal background check will call up court records, lawsuits, and conviction information, but it likely won’t tell the whole story. For example, if you were wrongfully arrested, that record will exist and be summoned when someone looks into your past, but may not include the decision to ultimately drop charges against you. Likewise, conviction data will not include a circumstantial account of your history–only that it happened. When finding a job, consider more than just the education verification on your LinkedIn page.
Learning about weaknesses in your personal history can improve your ability to secure an apartment with a new landlord, improve your chances as a job applicant, or even borrow money. Most prospective employers don’t leave room for an explanation of negative personal information, and companies looking to fill vacancies overwhelmingly chose to turn down candidates with felony charges in their past.
Therefore, if you can identify and address these issues on your terms in the interview process you will be able to manage these negative aspects of your personal information–just like you might curate the off-color posts on your social media profile.
Per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, please note our services can not be used by prospective employers for job applicant and employment screening, or for landlord-tenant searches, Our background check systems comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Understanding the intricacies of your personal history and maintaining the best image possible for yourself will help you immensely in daily life. If your life includes routine credit checks, it's a good idea to add background checks into the mix. The first step in polishing this image is to take control of the additional information that surrounds your data, rather than leaving it up to interpretation.