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Where do criminal background checks come from?

The single source database and other myths of criminal background checks

There is no single source for criminal background checks.

There—it’s out. Many employment screening companies sell their customers on the national database search, but there are so many gaps in this search—including almost the entire state of Louisiana—that it should rarely be used as a standalone product. Most of the time, employers are looking for a complete picture of their candidates, and this search, although it is cost effective and quick, simply does not offer that.

Here’s a few more myths of background screens we’d like to dispel.

Myth: All criminal data, from local, state, and national courthouses, is compiled in the national database.

Fact: No such database exists. The national criminal database is composed of records from:

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

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 information contributed is not updated with any consistency, and no national law exists that mandates reporting to this database. The purpose of this kind of database is to get as broad a look as possible into an applicant’s criminal history.

Myth: All states have fully automated reporting capabilities, and records are created and stored in real time.

Fact: As of 2010, only 27 states and Guam had fully automated criminal history files. There are vast differences in the timeliness and accuracy of reporting to the state level.

Myth: A social security trace and a national database search will unearth all the records associated with the individual.

Fact: While some major screening companies advertise this combination as a comprehensive search that takes only seconds, it is a faulty proposition. A social security trace does help identify an individual and find past residences, thus allowing a more accurate search, but it still does not search those records that are not in the database.

How do you find the background information you need?

So, what do you do? How do you find all the information you need on a candidate?

This is really where an expert in the employment screening industry comes in. The answer is, it depends. What do you need?

Are you hiring a caretaker to work with the elderly? Then you’ll definitely want a sex offender registry search in addition to a criminal background check. We’d even recommend an OIG/GSA search to provide an extra level of security for your customers.

Are you hiring a bookkeeper to manage your finances? In addition to a criminal background check, we’d recommend a civil records search to provide insight into their financial past that a credit score simply can’t provide.

There are many, many screening products available, and it is only with the right combination that you get all the information you need at the right price. Employment screening companies have been selling the simplified searches for some time, but the reality is that it is a complex process. The only way to simplify it is to work with a screening provider who knows the landscape and is willing to build a search package around your unique needs—not your industry or your business size.

Other myths of employment screening and background checks

Fast, cheap and quick: The National Database Myth

The lure of social media screening: Enter at your own risk

All of your employees are record-free—have you been “flushed”?

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