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Do You Need a Full Name to Run a Criminal Background Check?

By Michael Klazema on 7/10/2019

How much information do you need to run an effective criminal background check? This question tends to get asked by everyone from employers to individuals seeking to learn more about their neighbors. The simplest answer is that the more information you have about a person, the better your odds are of finding accurate information about his or her background.

At minimum, you need a person’s first name and last name to run a background check. Even if you are just planning to do an informal web search or social media check, you won’t make any progress unless you have a first and last name. The problem with checks that use only this information is that most name combinations are relatively common. If you are searching for a “Brian Murphy,” the one person you are trying to vet is far from the only Brian Murphy in the world. Additional information will reduce your chances of getting false positives on a background check or pages of irrelevant results from a Google search.

At backgroundchecks.com, when we run background checks for employers, we ask that they provide us with certain information about the applicants that they are vetting. For instance, if you seek to learn more about a job candidate using our US OneSEARCH service, we will ask you to complete the individual’s first name, middle name, last name, suffix (if applicable), date and year of birth, Social Security Number, and email address as well as the state in which the candidate will work if he or she is hired.

These extra details help us to narrow down our search to make sure that we are finding criminal records for the right person. For instance, if your candidate is 32-year-old Brian William Murphy III, who will be working in Arkansas if hired, it is highly unlikely that a New York conviction for drug possession attributed to a 54-year-old Brian McCardle Murphy is relevant to your screening process.

Social Security Numbers are extremely helpful in preparing accurate background check reports. While criminal records are filed by name and not Social Security Number, name history and address history are tied to an SSN. A felon can beat a name-based criminal background check just by adopting an alias or moving to a new city or state, banking on an employer only running county criminal checks. SSN checks provide a list of names and addresses associated with a person, which can enable employers to be more thorough and more accurate with their background checks.

Ultimately, there is little reason to run a criminal background check if you don’t at least know a person’s full name. In an employment environment, you would ask for that information and obtain consent to run a background check before proceeding. In more personal situations—such as when you’re running a background check on a neighbor or coworker to learn more about them—the legal obligations are a little less defined. This blog post provides a bit more information about how to navigate these types of checks.


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