What Does a Thorough Background Check Look Like?

While INA’s Recommended Practices for Background Screening helps individuals and business understand the basics of background checks, it can be tricky to determine how to apply these recommendations to get the most from your background checks. This post will provide some guidance on these issues.

The Social Security Number (SSN) Verification is a basic component of any background check, as it includes where and when the SSN was issued and whether the number is valid. Most importantly, SSN verifications identify the names and addresses linked to the candidate’s SSN. This critical information guides savvy agencies and background screening companies in determining exactly where criminal checks need to be conducted and which names to search. Agencies should compare the names and locations yielded from SSN verifications against the information provided by the candidate. A “surprise” name or location is a red flag!

The subject’s driving record is also a key component. It’s obvious that you need the driving record if the nanny will be driving children. However, the driving record is critical for additional reasons. It provides the means to verify the legal spelling of a candidate’s name and confirms the date of birth. Sometimes candidates “adjust” the spelling of the name or the date of birth they provide. Using correct identifying information is essential to accurate criminal checks, as criminal records are recorded by a subject’s name and date of birth, not by SSN. Agencies should review the driving record not only for DUI’s and accidents, but also for routine moving violations such as speeding. If the nanny has unpaid tickets or hasn’t shown up for court dates, if pulled over he/she could be arrested for “Failure to Appear.”

The criminal check is where things get complicated. First, there is no such thing as a nationwide criminal check. Most background screening companies offer a check called the “National Criminal Database.” However, the data provided in this check is derived from flawed databases that are full of holes and inaccuracies. There is no harm in doing this check, unless it is the sole source of criminal data relied upon.

It is possible to obtain reliable statewide criminal checks in some states. However, it is critical to determine the source of the information. Data derived from the state’s official criminal repository or administrative office of the courts is superior to commercial databases compiled by data aggregators. It is important to determine whether both arrests and convictions are included, the currency of the data, and whether it comes from an official source. Agencies should ask their vendors questions concerning data source, content, and currency.

In many states, no statewide search is available, so county level criminal court records are searched instead. There has been an exponential increase in the number of counties that provide online data, yet a large number of county courts are still completely offline and can only be searched manually. Even where there are online county court records, there are three key issues to be aware of:


Most online county records do not include identifying information. Therefore, a researcher must go to the courthouse to manually search the records and verify whether a record is indeed linked to the candidate.

Online county records are often not current.

Online records often don’t include information about whether the subject was convicted.

Ask questions about how the records were gathered, whether all felonies and misdemeanors are included, how current the records are, and what the records mean.
Even high quality background checks are not 100% guaranteed. Background checks are a buyer beware product, and informed agencies are in the best position to obtain checks that their clients can depend on.

Please note that these are the background check procedures for the United States of America. If you are not living and working in the US, your background check procedure will be very different. If you have a good understanding of how the procedure in your country works, we would love for you to submit a blog post explaining it to our audience.

Lynn Peterson is the founder of PFC Information Services, Inc. and currently is Vice President of Customer Relations. Lynn and many of PFC’s staff are licensed private investigators and they conduct many kinds of investigative research besides pre-employment background checks. Nevertheless, background checks for caregivers has been a special niche for PFC since it was founded. PFC is the oldest household background screening company in the US, providing comprehensive services to agencies since 1987. Members of INA since 1987 and APNA since 2003.

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