Was a background check run on you? Has someone gone digging around in your past? These are pressing questions that may require a quick answer. The answers aren’t always as straightforward as one might expect. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at background screenings. We’ll examine when someone might use them and whether you’d know. We’ll also consider what laws and regulations surrounding criminal background checks and disclosures today.

Background checks aren’t uncommon. They frequently occur as a part of pre-employment or pre-rental screenings. Such usages face strict regulations on many levels. However, individuals might also run background checks on you in other scenarios. That might be a potential dating partner looking to protect themselves, for example. A potential business partner deciding whether you’re worth an investment might use one, too.

It is understandable to want to know about someone looking into your personal history. Privacy is a precious thing. Thinking of someone learning about you without your knowledge or permission can be very uncomfortable. How can you tell if someone ran a background check on you?

Disclosure and Consent: Background Checks for Jobs, Housing, and More

The easiest way to know whether someone has run a background check on you is to hear directly from them.

Background checks are most common in the hiring process. Employers want to understand more about those they choose to hire. Pre-employment background checks help provide such peace of mind. There are other important reasons businesses use a background check company, too. Such tools help verify resume information, including education and work history. Employers want to identify potential red flags to protect themselves from negligent hiring claims. Vetting also protects the public, other employees, and customers from a high risk of potential harm.

However, employers must follow specific rules to use background checks on a job applicant. They cannot legally run a background check on you without first informing you. Employers must obey rules about disclosure in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA.

Informed Consent

First, employers must disclose that they intend to use a background check. This disclosure must be separate from all other application forms. The subject must also provide written consent. This affirms that you received the disclosure and gave your permission for a background check. A potential employer can’t use any kind of background check without first following this protocol.

You should never need to wonder whether a company used a background check on you. If no disclosure or consent was provided, then one of two things happened. In the first, there no background check used in hiring you. In the second, the employer broke the law with their employment screening process.

You will need to provide consent for background checks in all similar situations. These situations include applying for housing or opening a credit card or loan. During these application processes, the vetting party must always disclose their intent to use background checks. That’s true whether it is a property manager, loan officer, or credit card company. You will always need to consent to these background checks to move forward.

Other Background Check Situations

Background checks are not exclusive to jobs, housing, loans, or credit card applications. A neighbor might run a background check on you to make sure that they aren’t living next door to a drug dealer. A date might conduct a background screening to see if you have a dangerous criminal background. A potential business partner might check your record to see if you have any bankruptcies or serious civil judgments.

These background checks are more informal than checks involving employment applications. The person researching you might not use anything besides Google to look into your background. However, someone may also pay for a professional background check. They might also use a site that privately collects public record data. In either case, you likely won’t receive any notice or disclosure of such checks.

Public records

It may surprise you to learn that background data is not hidden information. There’s no secure private data hub, only accessible by those with explicit permission. Most background information is part of the public record. This includes criminal records, civil court records, voter registrations, and much more. Your credit background report, however, isn’t public information.

While federal and state laws about how employers use these records exist, those laws don’t apply to everyone. That’s why neighbors, romantic interests, and others can potentially check your background independently. They may explore public records about you without your knowledge or consent.

How can you track whether someone accesses such information about you? In many cases, you can’t. For example, consider someone who Googles you. How could you stop someone from typing your name into a search engine? There’s no way.

You could set up a Google Alert to find new mentions of your name online—but this isn’t the same as knowing when someone Googles you. The same principle applies to many other types of background checks. From criminal history screenings to sex offender registry searches, you’ll only know if the checks are for employment or housing purposes. If the intended use case doesn’t require your consent, you usually won’t know if someone checked your record.

Credit reports are an exception because they are privately held information. You can set up credit monitoring services for alerts about when individuals or businesses check your credit report. This service is useful for several reasons. First, it protects against identity theft. Identity theft could be at play if someone pulls your credit report without your knowledge. Second, credit monitoring keeps you updated about when someone runs this check on you for other purposes.

Running a Background Check on Yourself

The background checks that will have the most impact on your life are the ones that require your consent. These includes checks to get a job, rent an apartment, or secure a loan. Other checks are typically less significant to your day-to-day life, even if you don’t know they’ve occurred. As such, it’s often more important to know what’s in your background report than when someone orders it.

Someone who conducts a background check on themselves can see what employers or landlords may see. If there are any issues in your report, you can address them before they cost you an opportunity.

If an employer runs a background check on you as part of a hiring process and decides to disqualify you based on your background check, you will be able to see a copy of the report. This is a requirement of the FCRA. However, it is best to be proactive. Don’t wait for a report to impact your job chances before you learn about problematic red flags. Checking your own report ahead of time helps you avoid surprises and lost time.


When someone does a background check on you, what shows up?

The answer to this question depends on the type of background check. A criminal record check could find past convictions or dismissed cases. An employment history verification check verifies whether you were truthful about previous employers. A civil history court check will find civil cases involving you, such as lawsuits. A driving record check shows license suspensions, infractions, and other driving records or issues. Other checks can include sex offender registry checks and more. Each type of check reveals different information.

Can you run a background check on someone without them knowing?

You may only run a background check on someone without consent for private purposes. Otherwise, you must obey FCRA rules about using consumer reports. Remember, these rules always apply if you are a:

  • Employer
  • Landlord
  • Property manager
  • Creditor
  • Person using background checks for formal decision-making purposes

However, if you connect with a stranger via a dating app, the rules may differ. You could look into their background without them knowing before agreeing to meet.

Can someone run a background check on you without your knowledge?

Yes, if a private individual orders a check for private purposes. No, if the user has any official purpose in mind. Employers must always disclose. So, too, must banks and landlords. The only time someone can use a background check privately is for non-official purposes.

Who can run a background check on you?

Almost anyone could run a background check on an individual. If we consider a simple Google search to be a form of background checking, then there is hardly any limit at all. It is also true that any private individual could use a data broker to acquire public information about someone else. Employers, landlords, and banks may also use background checks to evaluate your suitability for different reasons.

Can you run a background check on someone you are dating?

Yes, but you should first check to see if your dating platform uses a background check procedure. There is a complicating factor: you need to know someone’s real, full name to vet them. You may also need to know their birthday. Acquiring this information via online dating apps is not always easy. However, the process may be more straightforward for someone you’ve met in person.

How do I know if I passed my background check?

The FCRA requires employers to notify you in writing if you have failed a background check. Similar laws apply to housing and other formal background-checking situations. You have likely passed a background check if you do not receive an adverse action notice that you have failed the check.

How to check your own background report?

Before asking, “Was a background check run on you?” you should know what someone might find if they did. Running a check on yourself is always worthwhile for many reasons. You might choose to do so before starting a job search, applying for housing, or seeking a loan. For instance, perhaps you have been convicted of a crime in the past. Since then, you’ve had that conviction expunged from your record. A personal background check is one way to ensure the record was properly expunged. You may need to contact consumer reporting agencies or the courts for additional help if it still appears. Alternatively, maybe you are applying for a job that involves driving and want to view your own driving record. In any of these cases, a self-search is a smart step to take.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema 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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