Background Checks: What You Need to Know About Databases

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Asfa Rasheed

Background checks are part of everyday life in the 21st century. Businesses run them on new hires. Parents run them for nannies. Children run them on caregivers for the aging parents. In our world of digital information, the ability to run a background check on anytime for any reason is getting easier and easier.

But ease doesn’t translate to quality. “Instant” background checks rely on databases to return results quickly. These databases have significant limitations. Before you run an “instant” background check, it’s important to know the following about the databases these services use:

Limitation #1: There is No Comprehensive National Database

We’ve all seen the crime dramas where a name is plugged into a database and out pops their entire criminal history. The database being used is one maintained by the National Crime Information Center and is otherwise known as the FBI files. Access to this database is highly limited; unless you’re a government contractor, an actual branch of government, law enforcement, or a federally insured bank, you’re not getting into these files, and neither is the background check service you hired.

Limitation #2: The Databases Being Used are Limited

Since there’s no such thing as a single, central repository of information, many services attempt to get close by creating their own. They buy digital information from cities, counties, and states around the country and use that info to regularly update their files. Actually, some databases only include info that can be requested for free, which reduces the available info even further. That brings us to the next limitation.

Limitation #3: Not Everything is Digital

It’s shocking, but not every county in the US has digital criminal records. In some locations, digitally searchable information is available in real-time. Texas, for example, if you go here, it allows anyone to search comprehensive, real-time criminal records. Minnesota, Florida, and Virginia do the same. But in Wyoming, Louisiana, and Maine, criminal records can only be searched in person at the local county courthouse. So, if you’re running an online background check on an individual who lived in Wyoming and Virginia, the report you get back will only tell half the story. Additionally, if you’re running international employment background checks, you can be certain that no instant database search will have the info you need.

Limitation #4: Not All Criminal Records are Created Equal

Much of the free information databases receive comes from the Department of Corrections, which means they only include felony convictions and prison sentences. But there’s a lot more to someone’s criminal history than felonies. If an individual has been arrested a number of times for drug possession, this will not show up at all in these limited databases.

The Bottom Line

“Instant” is simply not the most important word to describe background checks. Reliable and comprehensive are much more critical. It’s best to work with an experienced background check provider who will turn over all the rocks and look behind every corner, not just run names through an incomplete database, to find the info you need.

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