Are Background Checks Accurate?

By Michael Klazema on 5/22/2019

How accurate are background checks? If you run a criminal history screening on a job applicant and it comes back clean, can you rely on that result? Is there still a chance that the individual has a criminal record?

To answer the last of those questions, yes: there is always a chance that someone whose background check comes back clean does have a criminal record. However, this answer is not necessarily an indictment of the accuracy of background checks. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that no one database can provide a full picture of a person’s background. No criminal history database or source claims to be totally comprehensive, either.

For instance, if you run a county criminal history check in the county where your business is located, that check will only be accurate up to the county lines. It won’t help you find out about any crimes that the individual may have committed in another part of the state. Similarly, if you run a state criminal history check in Michigan, you can’t expect it to uncover crimes committed in California.

These geographical limitations often prompt employers to look for “nationwide” criminal history background check databases. However, there is no such thing as a central, national database of criminal history information. There are multi-jurisdictional databases that compile information from multiple counties and states throughout the country.

At, our US OneSEARCH background check scours such a database. We strive to keep our database as updated as possible to ensure accuracy with our checks. At the same time, we are reliant on county, state, and federal agencies, which report their data to us. If a crime has taken place since the last time a specific agency reported to us, it won’t be documented in our database search.

So, how can you conduct accurate background checks? The best way to protect yourself against the inherent limitations of most data sources is to not rely on a single data source. Instead, design a background check policy for your business that draws data from multiple sources.

One strategy we recommend at is to start the background check process with an address history check. That way, you can determine where your candidate has lived recently and order county or state checks, or both, in those areas.

This method isn’t foolproof. It’s always possible that someone could have committed a crime while on vacation, for instance. However, statistically, most crimes are committed close to where a person lives and works. Using an address history check as the guiding light for your background check process is one way to ensure accuracy.

For help devising a background check solution that makes sense for your business, contact today.

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