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The National Database Myth

“August 2014 will have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This only happens once every 823 years.  The Chinese call it silver pockets full. Share with your friends have enjoy good financial health…”

In August 2010, an item began circulating via social media sites claiming that the month was something special. Similar claims about months containing five instances of three different days of the week have subsequently been circulated about other months in every year since then. And, guess what? It’s August 2014 and the same message is going around.

Those months may be special, but only a little bit—nothing close to 800 years’ worth of special. They, as do all months with 31 days, include five occurrences of three days of the week that follow a simple pattern which repeats every several years or so, not eight centuries. So why do we still see this shared today? How can people who have mastered the DVR and taking selfies that make you look skinnier believe this hype and perpetuate it via the almighty “share”?

We can correlate this to the shared belief that there is an all-encompassing database of information that can be tapped, giving you everything you need to know about a candidate’s background, instantly and for one low, fixed cost.

I cannot seem to stop the “Silver Pockets Full” sharing on Facebook, but I can address the fallacies associated with background screening.


Such a lovely concept and yet so flawed.

Only 1/3 of the counties in the U.S. contribute to the repositories that form the national criminal databases. Though the national criminal database is often sold as a complete search, magnified it would look like a Seurat painting–points of data with many spaces between.
National criminal databases, sometimes referred to as multi-jurisdictional databases, can be an important tool in your background screening process because they broaden the scope of your search.  The national criminal databases compile information from many different jurisdictional sources, including:

  • county courthouses
  • state court support agencies
  • state and local corrections departments
  • other government agencies
  • state sex offender registries
  • federal security agencies

The purpose of this kind of database is to get as broad a look as possible into an applicant’s criminal history. These repositories are often credible and well-maintained, but there are over 3,100 counties in the United States and only one third of them contribute to the repositories, due to either legal, internal policy or budgetary reasons.

The national or multi-jurisdictional database search can reveal a much larger picture of an individual’s criminal history than a traditional search alone, which is not the issue. The issue is:

What you will miss if you only run a national database search?

  1. Accuracy due to limited identifiers associated with the records, like dates of birth, middle names, driver’s licenses, etc., making it too easy to either miss a record or associate a record with a candidate to whom it does not belong.
  2. Records filed under the real name vs. the middle or nickname the candidate currently goes by because court records use the subject’s full legal name, but lists nicknames and known alias names.
  3. Records found in any of the 2/3 of all county and municipal courts nationally that do not share their information with databases or do not have the records indexed in a searchable format.


It exists, but is it worth it? National criminal databases may not be updated, so the information can be outdated or even incorrect. The update frequency is set by, and varies by, each data source. This may only make information available on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or semi-annual basis.  While the search may be instant, accuracy is sacrificed for speed.

California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota and Indiana currently require all consumer reporting agencies to verify criminal matches found during a national or multi-jurisdictional database search directly with the source before reporting it and/or offer no compiled source of criminal information.  This process of verifying criminal matches found on the database with the actual county or courthouse source is the most effective way to provide accurate, detailed information.  Depending on the number of records and the response time from each source, this can take a few days.

The national or multi-jurisdictional database search can reveal criminal history results instantly, which is not the issue. The issue is:

What will you get with instant results?

  1. Potentially outdated records that have since been expunged, dismissed or sealed by court order.
  2. “No records found” due to incomplete records with obscure details, making them unreportable per FCRA.
  3. “No records found” due to ambiguous Information associated with criminal record such as: plea, disposition, sentence, degree of offense, etc., making them unreportable per FCRA.
  4. Or worse, all of the above records disclosed to you with the out of date, ambiguous and incomplete information for you to decipher, opening you up to multiple lawsuits because they are not verified and not searched on the source level.          

Fixed Cost

The national criminal databases will not provide as much detail as a direct county search but can cover a much larger geographic area and offer a broader look at an individual’s criminal history. These databases are not intended to replace a county criminal search. Instead, they are meant to provide employers with a more affordable way to include a broad view search as a first step in the screening process, with county court searches utilized to verify records.

Each county that has to be verified will increase the cost of the background check. Therefore, background checks that have records to be verified will cost more. Additionally, some candidates have lived in multiple jurisdictions and have had multiple alias names while others have resided in one city and had only one name their whole lives.

What will you get with a fixed cost scenario?

  1. Inflated prices for each search to cover the variations in the number of counties required for each individual candidate.
  2. Inflated prices for each search to compensate for the alias names that are required for some candidates vs. others.
  3. A background check that is either limited in scope and/or depth without your knowledge.
  4. A background check that is out of compliance because of the above detailed scenarios.





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