Is someone digging around in your past? Background checks are extremely common for employment and housing screenings among other queries. However, people might run background checks on you in other scenarios as well, whether it’s a romantic partner doing “trust but verify” research or a potential business partner making sure you are worthy of their time.
Obviously, you’d like to be aware if someone is poking around in your history. Privacy is a precious thing, and it can be uncomfortable to recognize someone could be learning all about you without your knowledge. So 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 if someone is running a background check on you is to hear it from them directly. Background checks are most common for employment purposes. Employers want to know who they are hiring, and pre-employment background checks provide peace of mind. By using a background check to verify resume information and check for red flags, employers protect themselves, their customers, and their other employees—not to mention the public—from potential oversights. However, while most employers run background checks, they can’t do so without going through very specific steps for disclosure and consent.
When running background checks, employers are beholden to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA. The FCRA has multiple guidelines on this front. To start, the employer must provide a disclosure form notifying the subject of the background check. This disclosure must be separate from all other application forms and materials except the background check consent form. The subject must sign this consent, verifying he or she received the disclosure and has given the employer permission to move forward with the background check. No employer can legally run a background check on you without following this protocol. In other words, you should never be left wondering whether a hiring manager ran a background check on you or not. If there was no disclosure or consent, the answer is no.
You will need to provide consent for background checks in all similar situations, such as when you apply for housing or for a loan or credit card. At some point in these application processes, the property manager, loan officer, or credit card company must disclose their intentions to investigate your background. You will need to give consent for these background checks to move forward.
Other Background Check Situations
Background checks are not exclusively for jobs, housing, loans, or credit card applications. A neighbor might run a background check on you to make sure they aren’t living next to a drug dealer. A significant other might conduct a background screening to see if you have a criminal history. A potential business partner might examine your past to see if you have any bankruptcies or have ever been involved in a serious civil case.
In most cases, these background checks are significantly less formal than the ones involving employment or loan applications. The person vetting you might not use any resources beyond a few Google searches to look into your background (though they may also pay for a professional background check). In either case, you can’t expect a disclosure or consent request for these types of background checks. Some people are surprised by this revelation, believing background data is hidden or secured in a private hub that can only be accessed by certain individuals or groups. In actuality, most background data is public record. Criminal records, civil court records, and credit records are all examples of info in the public record. While there are laws, limits, and regulations about how these records can be used, the same restrictions don’t always apply to accessing the information. It is for this reason that neighbors, romantic interests, or potential business partners can check your background—and find information about you—without your knowledge or consent.
How can you track when these background checks are happening? In many cases, you can’t. If someone uses Google to find out things about you, there’s no way to prevent or track that behavior. You can set up a Google Alert to find new mentions of your name online, but you can’t know when those searches are happening. The same goes for many other types of background checks, from criminal history screenings to sex offender registry searches. If the intended use of the information is not regulated to the point where consent is required, you usually can’t know when people are looking into your past.
Credit reports are an exception. You can set up credit monitoring to track when people, agencies, or businesses check your credit. This service is useful for several reasons. First, it protects against identity theft. If someone is pulling your credit report without your knowledge, there is a good chance identity theft or fraud is involved. Second, credit monitoring can keep you updated about when people are running this type of background check on you. Since tracking other types of checks is difficult unless you’ve received a disclosure, it can be comforting to know there is a type of background check you can track successfully.
Running a Background Check on Yourself
Ultimately, the background checks that are going to have the most impact upon your life—the ones that will determine whether you get a job, land an apartment, or get approved for a loan—are the ones that will require your consent up front. While you might not always know they are happening, other types of checks are typically less high-stakes. As such, it’s usually more important to know what’s coming up on your background check report than it is to know when someone is accessing it. Conducting a background check on yourself is a good way to see what employers, landlords, and potential partners are seeing. If there are any inaccuracies, you can sort them out before they cost you an opportunity.