Questions and Answers, disclosure, consent, anonymous background checks

Are Background Checks Anonymous?

In many everyday situations, you may wish to use a background check to learn a bit more about someone. Perhaps a neighbor just moved in next door and you want to find out if he or she has a criminal record. Maybe you just started dating someone and want to make sure your date doesn’t have any red flags in his or her past. Are background checks anonymous? Can you learn more about your new neighbor or significant other without him or her knowing that you are completing a bit of personal due diligence?

Anonymous background checks do exist, but whether a background check can be anonymous depends on the type of check and the situation.

In either of the scenarios discussed above, your “background check” likely would not be a formal check. To complete your check, you might use an online tool such as the backgroundchecks.com partnership service with PeopleFinders, which enables you to pull criminal records and other public record information about “friends, neighbors, colleagues, or yourself.” Alternatively or in addition, you might do some Google searching or social media browsing to see what you can learn about a person.

This kind of research provides the basis for anonymous background checks—you can run them without the consent of whoever you are researching. The checks won’t automatically notify the person you are screening, which means he or she won’t know that the background check is happening.

Here is where some additional details enter the picture. PeopleFinders is not a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), which means that you cannot use the service to perform every background check that your personal or work life may require. If you are vetting a prospective employee, tenant, loan applicant, or similar candidate, you must use a CRA, and you cannot use anonymous background checks.

In a hiring situation, you must follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which also defines what a CRA is. Among other requirements, the FCRA demands that employers notify candidates in writing that a background check is required for the job and obtain written consent from that applicant to conduct the background check. These disclosure and consent documents must be presented to applicants separately from other application materials so that candidates aren’t confused about what their consent entails.

Such checks cannot be anonymous because job candidates must authorize them. The same is true for tenant and loan application screenings.

In the end, the answer to, “Are background checks anonymous?” is that they can be, but only in less formal checking situations. If you are running a background check just to learn a little bit more about a person, you can likely conduct that check anonymously (and without his or her knowledge or permission). Checks that are exclusively related to your personal life—including checks on boyfriends, girlfriends, or neighbors—fall into this category.

However, if you are running a background check during which something tangible is at stake—such as a loan, a housing application, or a job—you must abide by the FCRA and obtain consent before proceeding with that background check. This point applies even to less formal hiring situations, such as vetting a babysitter to watch your kids.

At backgroundchecks.com, we are pleased to offer both a wide range of formal background check services and less formal vetting options through our PeopleFinders partnership. If you aren’t sure which type of check to use or which guidelines may apply, feel free to contact us to ask.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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