Instant Background Checks: Fact or Fiction?

The term Instant Criminal Background Check is an oxymoron. If it is Instant, no legitimate employment screening provider could honestly call it a proper Criminal Background Check.

While certain elements of a background check indeed do process very quickly, like the National Criminal File Search, those elements are derived from secondary sources, making it a violation of FCRA guidelines to base an employment decision solely on those results.

Best practices dictate any adverse results obtained through database searches must be verified through a primary source, such as actual courthouse records, by having a researcher either visit the court in person or by querying the courthouse electronic records system.

Databases such as the National Criminal File, and even the venerable FBI Fingerprint Database (NICS) used by police, cast a very wide net by including records from a large number of jurisdictions, but what they have in breadth, they lack in accuracy and compliance.

So why use databases at all? Because they provide an inexpensive avenue of research that complements other searches and can provide information from applicable jurisdictions not disclosed by the applicant.

To illustrate, let’s say applicant Mr. Jones reports on his job application that he has resided in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, and that he has no criminal record. A courthouse records search of those jurisdictions confirms Mr. Jones has no criminal history in those counties. All clear? Not so fast.

A quick search of A-Check’s National Criminal Database turns up a name match record hit in Dekalb County, Georgia. Also, a Social Security Trace shows a residence address in Calhoun County, Mississippi. However, the NatCrim Search does not produce a hit in Calhoun.

To comply with FCRA requirements, a local researcher performs a courthouse records search of Dekalb County and confirms Mr. Jones indeed does have a serious felony criminal record in Georgia.

Another researcher is dispatched to Calhoun County, where another felony record is located at the courthouse.

The recruiter just avoided hiring a felon through the proper use of databases, not as standalone tools, but as important elements to an overall background check strategy.

Databases are a wonderful thing. They allow massive amounts of information to be processed very quickly, producing results faster than any other method.

However, smart employers recognize not just the strength of these information sources, but also the weaknesses, and tailor their screening program to maximize the benefits of both. In order to maximize the synergies of each type of search, recruiters should seek a screening partner who takes accuracy and compliance seriously. And, if anyone tries to sell you an instant background check, run. Run far away.

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