Does a Free Background Check Exist?

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Is there a free background check service? You might wonder if you need to hire someone or want to check your own report. While some providers tout such “free” solutions, the reality is more complicated. There’s more to it than selecting a free or paid service. A key question is the scope of the search offered and what you hope to uncover. This post will explore free background check options, including the pros and cons.

Background Checks: Free vs Paid

A simple Google search will show that some websites claim to offer background information at no cost. In theory, these services work because the data they access comes from public records. Criminal records, court data, and other similar sources are all public information. Some of them can be accessed for free by anyone and for some you have to pay for access, despite the fact that they are public records. Because they aren’t confidential, anyone can access or view them in most cases. Take a closer look at some of the free providers, though, and you’ll sometimes find hidden fees for access to more detailed criminal data.

There is a distinct difference between a free and a paid background check. That’s background screening 101. While criminal history information is public record, compiling reports using that data isn’t free. Contrary to popular belief, there is no centralized database of all criminal records. Comprehensive criminal record background check databases take time and effort to produce—consider the scope of the process.

conviction records usually originate at the county level. In other words, criminal records in the United States can come from more than 3,000 counties. Sometimes, county courthouses report to state repositories. These systems comprise most, but not all, of a state’s criminal records. That information may end up in multi-jurisdictional databases containing records from many sources. Even so, none of these larger databases are comprehensive.

A site offering free instant background checks typically searches a limited number of multi-jurisdictional databases. However, accessing the best databases usually requires a paid search. Remember, compiling, updating, and maintaining those resources costs money.

When Should I Consider a Paid Background Check?

When should you consider a paid background screening instead of free background checks? Always if you are running a search for employment purposes. There are many reasons you should not rely on a free background check service.

Accurate, up-to-date background checks cost money. Finding relevant information in public records is more complex than many realize. The best background check service will always be a paid service. You aren’t just paying for the records but also for the expertise of a company that knows where to look. Experienced providers also know how to share information in an understandable format.

The databases that power a free public criminal record check could have limitations. They are often incomplete, out-of-date, or less frequently updated. They have minimal controls to protect against false positives. Relying on them may mean missing newer convictions or other apparent red flags. Free systems rarely have a professional team standing behind the reports they provide. That leaves you alone on matters of compliance. The best services offer guidance, resources, and answers to your questions.

At, we provide many services to support your screening needs. These services include criminal background checks, registry checks for sex offenders, and more. We have reasonably priced these services for the information that they provide. Also, we’re vigilant about providing information to our customers that is as up-to-date as possible.

Reliability is worth the investment, whether you need a background check on someone else or yourself.

How to Run a Free Background Check Online

If you want to perform research about yourself or someone else, the internet can be helpful. However, it is not always dependable and should not be used for employment screening. For example, individuals who use online dating services may need to know how to run a free background check on their next potential date. While it is not as thorough as a full background check, this step can provide peace of mind. Here are a few channels to consider if you wish to conduct a free background check.

Search Engines

Googling someone won’t cost a cent. If you want a “free background check,” Google might be the best place to start. Searching online provides social media profiles, blogs, and bio websites.

When Googling someone with a common name, the results could be inconclusive. Narrow down your search by using additional information you know. Add the subject’s middle name or initial, hometown, or profession. This method might target your results towards the correct individual.

Typically, search engine research is most effective if you already have some knowledge about the individual. Knowing where they work, how old they are, and how they look will make it easier to tell whether you’ve found your target. However, if you search by name alone, there’s no way to know if you’ve found the correct individual or someone with the same name. That makes free criminal background check products less desirable.

Social Networks

As with using Google, searching social networks for individual profiles is another free option. The open-access nature of social media makes it a standard tool for no-cost vetting.

Over the past 20 years, it’s become much more common for users to share details online about their lives. Along the way, it’s also become more common for employers to use social media to find prospective hires. You can do this, too. You may be able to learn more about a new neighbor, coworker, or potential romantic connection using social media.

Still, social media background checks have some of the same shortcomings as using a search engine. You’re much more likely to encounter false positives. Relying on websites like Facebook or Instagram makes it challenging to know if you have found the right person. That makes them a poor match for background check needs.

For employers, this type of search has serious shortcomings. Users may share personal or private details about themselves on social media. Some of these details—such as sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on—can risk introducing bias into the hiring process. Thus, employers typically may not consider such information. Companies with plans to view social profiles as part of a screening process should tread carefully. Strict controls are necessary to avoid allegations of discriminatory hiring.

The most significant outlier in social media is LinkedIn. Developed as a space for professional networking, most users include their real names and photographs. Many professionals and job seekers are active on LinkedIn. These users maintain profiles that contain detailed resume information. They may even have endorsements from past employers. LinkedIn is a valuable tool for recruiting and research in some employment situations.

Criminal Databases

Most online options for a “free” criminal background check use similar sources. These companies buy a limited number of third-party compilations of criminal background records. And very few of these services are truly free. Many claim to offer an instant and free background check but will present paid upgrades as soon as you enter a name. Others may show you simple details you already know and then ask you to pay for more.

Use an experienced background screening company instead of relying on a free public criminal record check for the best results.

Public Records

Often, you will have better luck searching public records if you go directly to the source. Free-to-search databases are inconsistently updated and not as broad as you might assume. County courts, DMVs, and other sources cover a narrower range of information in one geographic area, but they are more accurate.

In some cases, you may be able to search these records online for free. In other cases, you may need to pay a fee or travel somewhere in person to complete a search.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of information are available in a background check?

The answer depends on the type of background check. Most online background databases that offer free background checks focus on criminal history. These reports include details about convictions. However, the best commercial background check services provide options beyond basic criminal information. Some of the other types of information available include:

  • Driving history checks
  • Resume verifications, including work history, education, and professional licenses
  • Civil court records
  • Reference checks
  • Credit history checks, and more.

Most of these tools aren’t available from websites that offer the so-called “free” searches.

Are free criminal background check services accurate?

A free background check will never be as accurate, thorough, or up-to-date as a paid check that are based on a more extensive set of collected criminal record sources. Many of the processes in a background check service involve time and labor. That work includes accessing public information, sending runners to courthouses, and maintaining databases. The best background check services will require you to pay someone to do that legwork on your behalf.

Can I run a background check on someone without their permission?

In some cases, such as researching someone you met through an online dating service, you do not need to obtain that person’s permission. However, you are legally obligated to notify them of your intent if you vet someone for a job, housing, a loan, or official purpose.

You must obtain a job applicant’s written permission before accessing criminal background records. A “standalone disclosure” of the intent to conduct a background check is also a legal requirement for employers. Failure to follow the guidelines outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act can result in lawsuits. Compliance is a chief concern with free background check solutions.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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