Background Check Information

Legal rights to public records

3 Problems With Background Checks

Something that's not discussed nearly enough in non-hysterical terms is the imperfection of background checks. Yes, there is commentary all over the Internet, but most of it is laced with expletives and incoherent ranting - which means most reasonable people won't pay any attention.

There is, however, validity to some of the arguments, and here are three legitimate problems to be aware of with background checks - whether you're doing the search or are subject to the invasion of privacy.

1) Common names present reliability issues. Mark Jones, John Smith, Steve Johnson, Mary Williams, the list can go on and on. You would think that there are other means to verify that you have the right "John Smith," and there are. However, publicly accessible records have personally identifiable information removed from them, and unless you have a social security number and consent from the individual, you'll generally have a hard time exactly verifying the Jane Doe.

Even professional detectives and investigators have trouble with common names - especially when the middle initial is identical. More states are allowing individuals to conduct criminal records searches without written consent, so check official channels before tossing your money at some instant online service.

2) Databases aren't perfect. This is a major issue to be aware of because many background check services -- you can see a list here -- completely rely on databases without confirmation of records (serious or minor), such as source documents.

Databases compile information from literally millions of public records, so the likelihood of error can be quite high. The only way to get an accurate background check is to combine database checks and onsite checks at local resources like a repository.

Unfortunately, this is usually out of reach for most consumers, and even many employers just don't want to dedicate the necessary resources to ensure they are getting highly accurate screening reports.

3) Some things won't show up. It's true. Some things just aren't traceable by background checks.

If you smoked marijuana at a party in high school or college, that won't show up on, unless, of course, there was a problem with the party and the police were called, at which point it will most likely appear on your record.

States have different reporting standards, and as such, a national database might have only inmate records from North Carolina, but everything all the way down to traffic infractions for South Dakota.

In the end, background checks are based on the available facts from public records. It's up to the employer or other person who's doing the research to use the information fairly and with proper discretion.

Authored by Dave Jordan.