5 Reasons Why You Should Not Rely on a Free Background Check

By Michael Klazema on 1/6/2015

There's an old mantra that says, "If you're good at something, never do it for free", and you can bet that investigators and background check companies live and die by that rule. In other words, you will never get a high-quality background check for free, and should therefore not rely on any information obtained through a free background check. Here are five reasons why failing to heed this advice could come back to haunt you later.

1. You don't know why the check is free

If you do so much as a single Google search for background checks, you will see that all of the companies that come up charge different fees for different types of investigations. These fees are usually not terribly expensive, but they are there: it is normal for background check companies to charge money for background checks.

So if you find a website offering a free background check, you need to ask yourself why it is free. Is it a fraudulent trap set by someone looking to collect personal information? Is it a website trying to boost traffic by offering a bogus service? Is the link to the 'free' check actually a link to a virus? There could be any number of reasons why the check is free, and almost none of those reasons are good.

2. Finding information costs money

Part of the reason that some people think free background checks might be reputable is the belief that there is a huge registry of background check information somewhere in the sky that can be searched with a few keystrokes. This belief is incorrect. Background check information is scattered across different states and counties; it is hidden away in criminal records, credit reports, employer filing cabinets, university or high school documents, driving histories, civil court files, and other places that you might not even think of. When you order a background check, you have to pay someone to find and compile this information for you, because finding it all is a complicated and lengthy process that no one is going to do for free. Even if it is a simple search through a database.

3. Background checks should be tailored to the person and job

Background checks are not (and should not always be) the same. Different types of jobs necessitate different kinds of background checks. For instance, a driving history check might not be necessary for someone working a desk job, but it's pivotal for someone going out on the road in a company vehicle.

Background checks should also shift depending on a person's address history. For instance, you might run a statewide criminal check on your applicant based on the state where your business is located, but you also want to make sure the applicant didn't commit a crime outside of the state. So you look at their address history and then order county background checks in the places they used to live (or work).

A free background check won't often provide you with these types of tailored searches, which means that you won't ever be able to formulate a comprehensive picture of the person you are hiring.

4. It could lull you into a false sense of security

One of the things job searchers can do is run a background check on themselves before going into any interviews.

Quite simply, when you are applying for jobs, you want to make sure that there isn't any inaccurate information out there about you that could come up on an employment background check. Even if you've never committed a crime, a background check of you could still pull up the record of a felon who shares your name. And even if you think your credit is perfect, it could be in shambles thanks to an identity thief. Both of these things can cost you a job, so you need to know about them and fix them before that happens.

Running a free background check on yourself and having it can come up clean can lull you into a false sense of security. Free checks, as we've established, cannot be relied upon to collect a broad and thorough amount of information. As a result, if you use one on yourself to make sure your background is as clean as you think it is, you could still be in for a nasty surprise after your job interview. Why? Because even if you're not paying for a background check, your prospective employer is, and that means theirs is more reputable and more thorough.

5. You could end up paying a big price

If you are trying to run free background checks, you are maybe going to save $20 or $30. If you make a bad hiring decision based on one of these checks, though, and the information provided by the checks proves to be inaccurate (likely) or incomplete (certain), then you are going to pay much more than $20 or $30 in the fallout.

Say you use a free background check website to look into the background of one of your applicants. He's a 40-year-old man applying to work retail, and based on your screening, he has a clean background. So you hire him. Three months down the road, he gets into an altercation with a customer and puts said customer in the hospital. The police arrest the man and find that he has a few assault charges on his record in a different state. The customer sues your business for liability, and since you didn't do your due diligence to find out about your employee's history, you're at risk of having to to pay damages.


As you can see, relying on a free background check when you don't know where the information is coming from or how thorough it is can cost you a lot. It can cost you a job, put your business in a position where you are fighting a valid liability suit, or cause any number of other issues in your future. So take the time and money to find a reputable background check firm, and order a screening through them. You''ll never regret spending a few dollars to protect yourself with a valid check, but you will regret trying to get away with a free check, and having it come back to bite you later.

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