Is There Really a Totally Free Background Check?
The short answer is no. While you may find some websites offering "free" background checks, they lack the depth and reliability to provide a meaningful screening. To gain access to comprehensive records, paid professional services are a must.
In this detailed guide, we‘ll uncover everything you need to know about background checks, including:
- The evolution and growth of screening services
- Exactly what background checks contain
- Limitations of free checks
- Paid vs. free services comparison
- Top paid background check providers
- Legal and ethical considerations
So if you‘re looking to conduct a comprehensive background screening on a potential employee, tenant, date, or anyone else, read on for an in-depth look at the world of background checks.
The Evolution and Growth of Background Checks
Background checks have become a massive industry, fueled by growing demand for personalized information in the digital age. Consider these statistics:
- The global background screening market was valued at $4.35 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 10% from 2020-2027 (Mordor Intelligence)
- In a 2019 survey by HireRight, 98% of employers indicated that they conduct background checks on some or all candidates.
- 73% of landlords report screening tenants with background checks in a 2019 TransUnion survey.
This explosive growth has been enabled by leaps in digital technology. The rise of the internet and big data analytics has given background screening firms access to an unprecedented wealth of information from sources like:
- Public records databases with billions of searchable records
- Proprietary criminal record repositories
- Hundreds of court and county jurisdictions
- Regulated databases with financial, motor vehicle, healthcare, and drug testing records
- Social media platforms full of personal details
For individuals today, your digital footprint likely provides complete insight into your history and behavior. This data empowers employers, landlords, and others to make fully informed choices through comprehensive screening.
Exactly What Do Background Checks Reveal About You?
A background check report contains a sweeping profile of your past based on records spanning:
Criminal History: Criminal records from county courts, statewide repositories, federal courts, sex offender registries, and proprietary criminal databases are checked to uncover misdemeanors, felonies, and other infractions.
Identity Verification: Your SSN, address history, aliases, and other personal details are verified for accuracy.
Employment History: Your employment records are checked for position, title, dates of employment, and reasons for departure. Some services contact employers directly for verification.
Credit and Finances: Credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion provide your payment history, debts, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and other financial details.
Motor Vehicle Records: Checks include your driving history, traffic violations, license validity, and accident reports.
Drug Testing: Screens for substance abuse based on hair, urine, blood, and saliva results.
Education Verification: Your claimed degrees, certifications, licenses, and training are confirmed.
Social Media Search: A scan of your activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms.
Civil Court Records: Lawsuits, bankruptcies, judgments, liens, evictions, and other court cases are checked across jurisdictions.
A comprehensive background screening will contain an extensive report across all these categories. The depth of information available is astounding, making thorough checks crucial for avoiding risk.
The Limitations of Free Background Checks
While completely free background checks may be appealing, they come with serious limitations that undermine their usefulness.
Free online background checks rely entirely on basic public domain data and internet searches. They do not provide paid access to regulated databases and reports including:
- Criminal records
- Credit reports
- Driving records
- Drug test results
- Education/employment verification
- Civil court records
Without access to these vital records, free background check disadvantages include:
- Information is often inaccurate or incomplete.
- May miss criminal records existing outside of sex offender lists.
- No verification of employment history claims.
- No financial data from credit checks.
- Cannot confirm educational qualifications.
- No motor vehicle or drug screening records.
- Reliant on public records that may be outdated.
Essentially, free checks provide only a superficial snapshot with severe gaps in coverage. For employers and landlords, this lack of depth makes free services useless for necessary due diligence. Even for casual personal use, the limited scope hampers the reliability of free websites.
Paid vs Free Background Check Services
In contrast to free options, paid professional background screening services deliver vastly superior accuracy and depth in reports.
Although pricier, paid services provide:
- Comprehensive reports integrating records from regulated databases, courts, governments, proprietary sources, and more.
- Direct access to criminal history records for all jurisdictions nationwide.
- Instant online reports as well as manual verification by court runners.
- Verified education, employment, licensing, credentials, and professional qualifications.
- Financial history from credit reports, bankruptcies, liens, loans, and other records.
- Driving violations, accidents, DUIs, license validity, and traffic offenses.
- Current and historical addresses cross-checked across sources.
- FCRA compliance for employment screening.
- Clear pricing with no surprise fees.
- Guarantees on accuracy with ability to contest information.
- Responsive customer service for screeners and those screened.
This level of scrutiny is mandatory for making fully informed decisions about candidates, tenants, dates, caregivers, partners, and others with whom you entrust your finances, property, safety, and confidential information.
Here is a comparison table highlighting the key differences in scope between paid and free services:
|Background Check Feature
|Criminal Records Search
|All jurisdictions and sources
|Limited to sex offender lists
|Credit Reports and Financial History
|Employment History Verification
|Licensing and Education Verification
|Motor Vehicle Records
|Drug Screening Databases
|Yes, including pre-employment tests
|Civil Court Records
|County, state, federal
|Proprietary Database Access
|High, with reliability guarantees
|Low, frequently outdated or incomplete
|Overall Depth of Coverage
Top Professional Background Check Services
If you require meaningful screening, professional paid services deliver optimal results. Leading providers include:
Intelius provides instant access to criminal records, court/arrest data, addresses, relatives/associates, bankruptcies, professional licenses, and more. Their wide scope of coverage sets them apart. Reports start at just $0.95, with volume discounts available.
Trusted by employers, landlords, and daters, TruthFinder is known for excellent customer service and thoroughness. Their checks pull from over 10,000 public and proprietary data sources. Choose from criminal-only checks or their full background search. Plans start at $28.05 per month.
GoodHire offers a full suite of pre-employment and tenant screening services tailored to employers and landlords. Their FCRA-compliant checks include criminal, employment, and education verifications. Packages start at $35 per applicant screened.
Spokeo harnesses a massive wealth of public records, social media networks, marketing lists, and other data in over 12 billion records. They offer affordable monthly plans to access their powerful search engine starting at $19.95 per month.
Known for an intuitive website and affordable pricing, Instant Checkmate provides thorough screening services trusted by all check types consumers. Reports integrate criminal records, court cases, sex offender status, bankruptcies, and address histories. Plans start at $34.78 per month.
While pricier than free screening, professional services provide the scrutiny needed to avoid unnecessary risks when vetting candidates, tenants, dates, and anyone requiring verification.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
While robust background checks provide vital insights, there are legal requirements and ethical implications to consider:
Permissions: Employers and landlords must obtain written consent from applicants before conducting background checks. Individuals have a right to review their own reports.
Privacy: Only information directly relevant and related to someone‘s work/tenant eligibility should be accessed. Checks should not delve too deeply into private matters unrelated to assessing fitness.
Accuracy: Background screening firms must guarantee the accuracy of information provided. Subjects of checks have a right to contest any incorrect or incomplete data in reports.
Fairness: Arrest records without a conviction, dismissed cases, expunged/sealed records, old violations, and medical records should be excluded from reports. Checks must assess people fairly without inherent biases.
Relevance: Only a reasonable time period should be searched based on role – e.g. 7-10 years for employment, 3 years for tenancy. Irrelevant old records should be avoided.
By following proper protocols and regulations like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), background checks can strike the right balance between safety and privacy.
Conduct Your Own Thorough Background Check
While paid services provide ideal depth of coverage, you can conduct preliminary screening yourself using free public records and resources:
- Search online court and county records for civil, criminal, and traffic cases.
- Look up property ownership, deeds, mortgages, and tax information.
- Search news archives for articles related to the individual.
- Verify credentials using online license/certification databases.
- Search social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest for personal details.
- Google the person‘s name, username, email, and phone number for associated information.
- Use Spokeo, PeekYou, and PeopleFinder‘s free trial versions to access basic records.
- Check sex offender registries, inmate locators, and police department sites.
While time-consuming, thorough personal vetting is possible at no cost by scouring these public information sources.
The Bottom Line
When seeking complete, current, and accurate background checks for risk mitigation, truly free options simply don‘t cut it.
Robust paid services drawing from regulated databases, official records, and proprietary sources deliver the depth employers, landlords, and individuals need to make informed choices and minimize liabilities. They are worth the reasonable investment for peace of mind.
I hope this guide provides a helpful overview of the capabilities of free vs paid background checks. Let me know if you have any other questions!