Is There a Totally Free Background Check?
Whether you need to hire someone for a job or look at your own history, you might be interested in finding a free background check service. While some providers tout “totally free background checks,” the reality of these services is more complicated than choosing a free or paid option. In this post, we will explore free background checks, including their pros and cons.
Background Checks: Free vs Paid
Is there really such a thing as a free background check service?
Technically, the answer is yes. A simple Google search will show that there are websites that tout quick background check findings at no cost. In theory, background check details are accessible because most of the information that these checks are designed to find—from criminal records to court records to sex offender registry information—are public records. These records are not considered confidential, and in most cases, anyone can access or view them. Other types of information are public record, too, such as marriage and divorce records.
There is a distinct difference between a free background check and a paid one. While criminal history information is public record, for instance, that does not mean that there is no cost to finding it, whether monetary or in terms of labor and time commitment. Contrary to popular belief, there is no central database of criminal records that you can easily explore via online background check search, and there is no criminal record version of Google.
Arrest records and conviction records are typically filed at the county level, which means that crime records in the United States originate from more than 3,000 counties. Sometimes, county courthouses report into state repositories, which pull together criminal records databases for whole states. That information may be compiled in multi-jurisdictional databases that span records from across the nation. However, none of these larger databases are comprehensive.
Typically, a site offering free background checks online is offering you a search of a multi-jurisdictional database. However, the best databases usually require a paid search, as it costs money to compile, update, and maintain those databases.
Paid searches can also involve direct criminal records checks at county courthouses—a process that sometimes demands court fees or even in-person, on-the-ground court runners. A background check company charges a fee to cover the costs of these extra steps and expenses, as well as for the labor and time that they involve.
When Should I Consider a Paid Background Check?
When should you consider choosing a paid background screening rather than trying to run a free background check? Always.
Accurate, up-to-date background checks cost money. While these checks access records that are publicly accessible, the size and complexity of the systems that file and hold these records mean that finding accurate and relevant public record information is more difficult than most individuals 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 how to find them and relay them to you in an easily digestible way.
Online background information databases are often incomplete, out-of-date, or otherwise unreliable. They have minimal controls to protect against false positives. Relying on them may mean overlooking newer convictions or red flags, or finding criminal records that have been sealed or expunged. Finally, these systems rarely include a professional team that can stand behind the reports that they provide.
The best background check services are full-fledged businesses that can provide guidance, share resources about background screening considerations such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, answer any questions that you might have, and offer valuable customer service channels.
At backgroundchecks.com, we provide a variety of paid background check services ranging from criminal background checks to civil court records searches to Social Security Number validations that can verify a person’s identity, check their address history, and find known aliases or past names. We have reasonably priced these services for the information that they provide, and we are vigilant about completing the work necessary to provide accurate and reliable information to our customers.
Whether you are running a background check on someone else or yourself, reliability is worth the investment.
How to Run a Free Background Check Online
If you want to perform research about yourself or someone else, the internet can be a useful tool, but it is not always dependable. Individuals who use online dating services will often complete some research about a potential connection before agreeing to a date or meeting. While it is not as thorough as a full background check, this step can provide some peace of mind. Here are a few channels to consider if you wish to conduct a free background check.
Simply Googling someone won’t cost a cent, and you can net a reasonable amount of information about them. If you are looking for a “free background check,” Google might be the best place to start. Social media profiles, blogs, YouTube videos or podcasts, newspaper articles, and bios on personal or employer websites are just a few of the resources that you can find about an individual by typing their name into Google.
If results are inconclusive—often a problem if you are Googling someone with a common name—you might try adding their middle name or middle initial, hometown, profession, employer or business name, or any other supplementary piece of information that might help Google determine who you are looking for in your search.
Typically, search engine research is most effective if you already have some knowledge about the individual. Knowing where they work, how old they are, how they look, and other key details will make it easier to know whether you’ve found the right individual online. If you are searching by name with minimal other knowledge or information about the individual, you have no way of knowing whether you are finding information about them or someone who shares their name.
As with using Google, accessing social networks and searching for individuals on them are cost-free options. The free-access nature of social media makes it a common tool for running a free background check.
Over the past 20 years, it’s become much more common for users to share intimate details online about themselves and their lives. Along the way, it’s also become more common for employers to use social media as a tool for finding out about employees and prospective hires. You may be able to learn more about a new neighbor, coworker, or potential romantic connection this way as well.
Social media background checks have some of the same shortcomings that search engine checks do, particularly the fact that it’s very easy to get a false positive by relying on Facebook or Instagram for a background search.
The other shortcoming is that users sometimes share very personal or private details about themselves. Some of these details—such as sexual orientation, gender identification, and political affiliations—aren’t supposed to be accessible to employers for risk of creating a bias in hiring. Employers planning to look at social profiles as part of a pre-employment screening should tread carefully to avoid putting themselves in a position to make an unfair or even discriminatory hiring decision.
The biggest exception to social media checks is LinkedIn, which was developed with the intention of creating a professional online database. Many professionals and job seekers are active on LinkedIn, maintaining profiles that contain up-to-date resume information, endorsements from past employers, and other details. LinkedIn can be a valuable recruiting tool in some employment situations.
Most free online background check databases are criminal background check databases. Very few of these databases are free: many tout instant free background check results but will bill you or upsell you as soon as you enter a name and start your search. The free background check databases that do return results are rarely reliable. You should not trust them, especially in hiring situations and other formal capacities such as housing applications or loan applications.
For best results, hire an experienced background screening company to handle your criminal background check needs.
Often, you will have better luck searching public records from criminal history to civil court filings to driving 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 direct data 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, which may include arrest records or details about convictions. However, the best background check services will offer options that go beyond criminal background information.
Other types of checks are driving history checks, verifications of resume information (including work history, education, and professional licenses), civil court records searches, reference checks, and credit history checks. Most of these background screenings are not available from websites that offer the option to run a free background search.
Are free background check services accurate?
A free background check will never be as accurate, thorough, or up-to-date as a paid check. Many of the processes in a background check service involve time and labor—such as pulling public records, sending court runners to county courthouses, and maintaining proprietary databases. The best background check will require you to pay someone to put in that time and labor on your behalf.
Can I run a background check on someone without their permission?
In certain cases, such as if you are researching someone you have met through an online dating service, you do not need to obtain that person’s permission to move forward with a background check. However, if you are vetting someone for a job, housing, a loan, or other formal or official purposes, you are legally obligated to notify them and obtain their permission before moving forward with the check. Failure to get written permission in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act can result in lawsuits.
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.