Is this person trustworthy? As President Reagan once said: "Trust - but verify", and that's what background checks are all about. Background checks are the best way to verify someone's claims and understand their past - within some clear legal restrictions. Whether you're trying to find out what to expect on in your own background check or thinking of running one on someone else, this post can help you understand what to expect.
What Will Show up on a Background Check?
Before we get started, we need to understand what constitutes a background check in the first place.
A "traditional" background check refers to a simple online or automated criminal record check at the state, federal, and county level for criminal records, and often not much else. Obviously, if you're going to really get into the nature of someone's character, you might need to go a little further. A background check (often known simply as background research) run by a private investigator can get about as in-depth as you'd like, often including all sorts of things like employment records, military service records, and financial information.
What shows up on a background check depends on two factors: What the scope of the background check is (for instance, if you were going for a security clearance, you can bet the background check will be extensive), and what the background check is for. This second qualifier is important, because for certain purposes, background checks are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (or FCRA). Background checks conducted by private investigators for other purposes (like an online date etc) are not subject to many of the FCRA's provisions.
Criminal Record Check
Criminal record background checks report on two types of records: non-convictions and convictions. These two record types represent different interactions with the legal system, and are subject to different legal restrictions under the FCRA.
- Non-Convictions: Non-convictions are events like arrests, dismissed charges, warrants, and other types of judgments not resulting in a conviction - including ones that are sealed or expunged. These sorts of records are generally reportable (except when sealed and expunged) for up to 7 years after conviction under the FCRA. Some non-conviction events can later turn into conviction events later on, like arrests ahead of a court date, or in cases where someone has been found guilty and is on parole or a good behavior bond which they later violate. Finally, even if the FCRA allows the reporting of a record, state law could prohibit it in certain circumstances.
- Convictions: Convictions include felonies, misdemeanors, and other convictions at the federal, state, and county level. When checking these records, most investigators will also look for convictions under alternate names, and entries on sex offender registries. Generally speaking, convictions are indefinitely reportable in a background check according to the FCRA, except where further restricted by state law. In some states, reporting convictions is restricted according to income or other factors.
A private investigator will be able to locate records that may not be reported by a simple automated background check, including records that have been sealed or expunged, records that are associated with a previous name (like a maiden name), and non-convictions more than 7 years old. This information can usually be found by looking into other resources like newspaper stories etc. If the purpose of the background check is not an FCRA restricted purpose (such as employment), an investigator may be able to report on this information and more.
Credit, Financial Information, and Assets
Looking into someone's financial history can reveal a lot about their judgment, lifestyle, and reliability. For instance, if someone has a history of bankruptcy and financial liens, it could indicate that they are not particularly good with money. In other cases, the presence of a large number of LLCs or other corporations in their name could indicate risky or even shady financial dealings. Here's the sort of information that credit, financial, and asset checks look for:
- SSN Verification: Any background check should be able to verify the SSN number provided by the applicant and link it with a name, along with a state and year of issuance. Generally speaking, a SSN verification requires permission from the person who is being verified.
- Credit Score: A credit score is something that should be included in a basic background check will provide. However, credit scores are just a credit agency's best estimate of a person's creditworthiness - i.e. their ability to manage money and credit. A private investigator will be able to interpret this further, and look for evidence of large shifts in credit score, unusual credit checks on their record, and even past bankruptcy. This information is also subject to the FCRA for certain purposes like employment, and generally requires permission from the person being checked.
- Businesses, property, and other assets: A private investigator will also be able to compile a list of assets owned by someone. This list can include past and present properties, cars, business, corporations, and other assets they have an interest in. A good background check should also include details on these assets like estimated value, property tax assessments, registration information, photos, dates owned, and more. Note: while it is common for clients to request someone's bank statements, this generally cannot be obtained without a subpoena - although sometimes private investigators can confirm that an account exists.
Personal details are often left out of regular background checks, but private investigators will usually include them on a report if requested. Personal details can go far beyond someone's maiden name or home address too - if needed, a private investigator can find all sorts of details like social media accounts, previous marriages, known associates, and more that can provide an interesting insight into someone's motivations, ties, and character. Here's what a private investigator can uncover:
- Marriage Records: Marriage records are public information. Private investigators can generally find the details of past and present marriages, including property jointly owned, place of marriage, and details on current and former spouses.
- Phone Numbers: When conducting a background check, private investigators will usually compile a list of all phone numbers associated with an individual. While this information may not be evidence of anything in particular, a large number of phone numbers (especially if the person in question is young) can indicate unusual activity.
- Family and Known Associates: Investigators are able to compile a list of family members and known associates of an individual, and provide details about the nature of the relationships.
- Social Media: Social Media Background Checks are a type of background check in and of themselves. In a social media check, an investigator will look for all social media accounts associated with a person, and examine their posting and commenting history Private investigators can often find evidence of everything from fraud to drug use to infidelity online.
If someone is going to be entrusted with a vehicle, it's a good idea to make sure they're a safe driver. DMV records include traffic tickets, driving-related convictions, and license suspension or revocations. Generally, the person who's records are being checked needs to give permission before the check is done.
Private investigators can also find evidence of incidents that might not be on a DMV record - for instance drunk driving charges that have been wiped, crashes that weren't reported, and other incidences depending on the circumstances.
State and Federal Licenses
License checks can verify someone's qualifications and provide further contextual information about their character. This search will also show any restrictions or violations that may be associated with the license. These are the common license checks that can be done:
- Attorney: Where and when they have passed the bar.
- Private Investigator License: If you're going to hire a private investigator, we recommend checking their credentials! This licence check can show the status of a license, where it was issued, and if there have been any compaints against the license holder.
- Medical License: What license they have and the status of their license.
- Gun License: What guns, and for what uses the applicant has a licence for.
- Pilot License: Where they obtained their license and what certifications they have.
There is a lot of information in a military record, including the date and location of the applicant’s active duty from inception to release date, home address at the time of entry as well as after discharge, final duty assignment, final rank, military education, military job specialty, medals, citations, campaign awards received, total creditable service (including foreign services credited), and any separation information such as the reason for leaving the military and the reenlistment eligibility.
Pulling records of this kind generally requires permission from the applicant.
With permission of the applicant, a private investigator can request transcripts or confirmation of enrollment from universities and colleges to confirm someone's education credentials, grades, and and credits.
This is one of the most common areas of falsified information.
Someone's past work history can offer insight into job stability and loyalty. This verification may include any jobs' beginning and end dates, salaries, titles held, job duties, the reason for leaving the job, and rehire eligibility.
With permission, a private investigator can also interview previous managers, colleagues, and other professional associates and assess someone's character with far more confidence than a normal reference check. These kinds of investigations tend to shake loose any potential issues that would be missed by a more cursory check of someone's employment record.
Why Run a Background Check?
Well, you would want to run a background check if you need to know if you can trust someone of course! Some common reasons people request a background check through Trustify include:
- Tenant background check: to make sure tenants are able to pay, and are of good character.
- Due diligence: to make sure that someone you are thinking of entering into a partnership or deal with is trustworthy and legitimate.
- Dating background check: to make sure someone you met either online or in person is safe, and that any claims they might have made are true.
- Employment background check: to make sure that someone to whom you are entrusting your company's reputation or finances is reliable and has integrity.
- Nanny background check: to make sure that the person looking after your children is trustworthy, reliable, and a safe driver.
At Trustify, we beleive that background checks should be a more common part of business and personal dealings - particularly in a competitive post-fact world, where the incentives to lie or bend the truth are higher than ever. Where trust and transparency is important, a background check can help you avoid risking your own safety, assets, businesses, or loved ones unnecessarily. If you're wondering if you can trust someone, consider hiring a private investigator to find out if they are worthy of placing your faith in.