What Is a Criminal Background Check? [+Top 4 Niche Companies]

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Modern technology has given us access to an astounding amount of information online, including personal information about us, our friends, family, neighbors, and even complete strangers. Although it may seem scary at first, it can also prove very useful.

With just a few clicks, you can find detailed info about a person’s life, residence, education, finances, and even look through their criminal history. Today’s article will focus on the last one.

What Is a Criminal Background Check?

A criminal background check is usually done by potential employers before, during, or after the interview process. It serves to show whether the potential future employee had any criminal involvement in the past, as this is often a deal-breaker for some job positions.

Many employers consider employees with a criminal background as liabilities. No matter whether an individual has served their time repented for their crimes, or whether they had a valid “excuse” for doing the crime, having a criminal background is a red flag for most employers. It is legal for employers to deny someone a job due to their criminal background, and the process is called taking adverse action.

However, employment is not the only instance that warrants criminal background checks. It’s also required before military enlistment or the purchase of firearms. It can also be done by any “ordinary” person who is interested to learn about someone’s criminal past.  Potential landlords may perform criminal background checks as well because not everyone is who they appear to be and identity theft stats confirm this.

We’ll be talking about a few websites that do just that later in this article, so stick around to learn how they work and how you can discover someone’s criminal history from the comfort of your home.

What Do Criminal Background Checks Show Exactly?

Each criminal background check can be adjusted to the preferences of the one running it, but most of them have the option to search through:

  • Federal and state criminal records
  • Sex offender registries
  • National criminal databases
  • Domestic and global watch lists
  • Country criminal courts

One thing you should keep in mind is the term “reporting history,” which represents the duration of time a crime can appear on a background search. The standard length of reporting history in the US is 7 years, meaning that when that time passes after a conviction or dismissal, it won’t show up in background checks anymore.

So, when you’re doing a criminal record background check for someone, you’re actually only seeing their criminal history from the past 7 years. However, this isn’t set in stone and may differ in some states.

What Information You Can Discover in Criminal Background Checks

Depending on the information’s availability, there are quite a few things you can find out by running a criminal background check through the state or national criminal database.

They include any criminal offences, no matter whether the person was arrested, convicted, or only charged. This also includes misdemeanor and felony charges (e.g., assault, theft, and burglary) as well as any pending charges, acquittals, or active warrants.

The criminal checks include a  background check on traffic court records for speeding or parking tickets. Additionally, they do a record search in sex-offender registries.

Last but not least, a criminal background check also includes a check of personal details such as full name and aliases, present and past addresses, and phone numbers.

How to Do a Criminal Background Check    

If you want to look into someone’s record but aren’t really sure how the whole process goes, let us guide you through the simple steps you are usually required to take to run a criminal background check. Each website is different, but they all typically require the same information.

Step 1: Go to your website of choice. If you’re not sure what’s the best website for a criminal background check, scroll further down and look through some of our recommendations.

Step 2: Select the option to run a criminal records background check. If there is no such option, select the regular background check as it already includes criminal checks, among others.

Step 3: Enter the first and last name of the person you want to look up.

Step 4: Enter the state and/or city that person lives in if you know this information. This information is optional, and you can still search if you don’t know it.

Step 5: Some websites may ask for additional info as they start searching. The website might ask you questions about the person’s gender, age, middle name/initial, previous residences, and possible acquaintances so that they can refine their search. However, most of the time, only the basic information from the previous step will be enough.

Step 6: Before giving you the results, there’s a high chance that the website will request your full name, email address, and zip code.

Step 7: Now, here’s the tricky part. The best criminal background check sites aren’t free, and this is the point when you see that. After you finish waiting for the website to process all the information, you are asked to register an account and start paying a monthly subscription if you want to see the results. Some might even offer a short trial period of a few days, but we all know that you’ll forget to cancel it before you get charged.

This is a tactic that’s been around for a while and can take you by surprise. That’s why we’re preparing you for it beforehand. No one enjoys wasting their time waiting for something they aren’t ready to pay for.

Step 8: We’ve come to the end. If you’ve decided to purchase a subscription, you will receive the detailed results of the criminal background screening.

What Is Frowned Upon and What Isn’t When Using Background Check?

Doing a background check can have many benefits, but there are only a few situations when it’s appropriate to do one, such as the ones we already mentioned here.

This type of check reveals personal and sensitive information that can harm the individual if it ends up in the wrong hands. It is just like hacking, only legal. Seriously though, what is a criminal background check after all, but a form of privacy invasion?

Stalking May Be an Issue

Privacy is becoming harder and harder to obtain in modern times. Many people take their privacy seriously, and that should be respected. Unfortunately, a background check web-based service can be used by certain people with improper motives, most commonly – stalkers, as a means to get closer to their victims.

What starts off as an innocent background check of the person can easily transform into full-on stalking. Stalking is no joke – it’s a crime, and the easy accessibility of personal information through various search tools certainly isn’t making things harder for stalkers nowadays.    

This doesn’t mean that background checks shouldn’t be done in everyday life. They can actually prove useful in verifying some information you aren’t sure of (or if you think you are being lied to). There have also been instances when people found long-lost family and friends through background checks.

FCRA Compliant Criminal Background Screening

As we already mentioned, a criminal background check can be done by any company or organization for employment or other purposes. These checks are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), whose purpose is to protect the subject of the background check from any unpleasantness and manipulation.

During any FCRA compliant background check, the subject must be notified that the check will take place. Furthermore, before the background check is done, the company/organization must receive written authorization from the subject.

Finally, in case an employer is considering adverse action (not employing someone due to discovery from their background check), they must follow all necessary steps to finish off the process.

Benefits of Using a Criminal Record Background Check Service

Anyone can experience benefits from doing a criminal background check, and here are the most common ones:

Improved Gun Safety

Even though there is something to be said about the prejudice against people with criminal records, maybe selling a gun to someone with a violent past isn’t the smartest decision. In an effort to avoid any gun-related incidents, sellers should look into their potential customers by running a criminal record background check before selling them a firearm.

Avoiding Negative Publicity

A rich criminal history can be an indicator of likely future crimes. Any incidents can damage the reputation of the employer and the organization.

Improved Quality of Hire

Potential employees with a criminal past are more inclined to falsify their resumes, and that sense of dishonesty isn’t something that’s admired at a workplace. Not only can this person be a poor fit for the job, but they also pose legal and financial risks for their company.

Avoiding Legal and Financial Damage

Companies usually avoid candidates with a history of fraud, theft, or embezzlement to avoid the legal and financial risk they would take if these individuals decide to repeat their crimes.

Reduction of Workplace Violence

Criminal background checks can show any history of previous workplace violence instances and weed out any candidates with such history. This can significantly decrease the chances of future violent incidents at the workplace.

Protection From Negligible Hiring Liability

Again, this applies to an employment background check. An employer can be accused of negligible hiring if an employee causes another employee harm while on the job or causes any other incidents.

The employer can be held accountable for the incident if an investigation shows that the problematic employee has a history of similar behavior which the employer didn’t look into before hiring.

Top 4 Criminal Background Check Companies

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what is included in a criminal background check, let’s be more specific. If you understand the importance of criminal background checks but don’t know where to begin and which service to use, we’ve got you covered.

Below, we offer you our best criminal background check service list of five options. All of them work on a similar principle and offer very similar services at a similar price, so you will get a good value for money no matter which one you choose. If you’re an employer and want background check websites tailored for you, start here.

TruthFinder

TruthFinder is another deserving member of our best criminal background check site list. Its most popular feature is the “people search” feature, but they also offer a dark web scan, criminal records search, public records search, reverse phone lookup, reverse address lookup, self-monitoring features, and a sex offender search. Truthfinder also gives you the option to remove yourself from their database.

Of course, all these features are only available for a certain price – a one-month TruthFinder membership costs $28, or you can choose a three-month membership for $78.

TruthFinder maintains an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, which speaks for its successful operation. Customers on the BBB website are also mostly pleased with its service, even though there is some criticism sprinkled here and there, which is inevitable.

Pros:

  • A+ BBB rating
  • User-friendly website
  • Great selection of features
  • Offers a mobile app

Cons:

  • Some negative reviews complain about inaccurate and/or outdated information
  • Paywall before search results
  • No free trial offered

Read the full interview here.

Instant Checkmate

Instant Checkmate is the best criminal background check website on our list – their most popular feature is their criminal records search. Some other Instant Checkmate features are: people search, reverse phone lookup, dark web scan, address search, and sex offender watch. As with TruthFinder, Instant Checkmate also gives you the option to remove your own report from their database.

Instant Checkmate’s services aren’t free – like the other entries on our list, it’s also a subscription service, and it offers its services at a monthly cost.

A one-month subscription is $34.78, or if you choose a three-month subscription, you need to pay $83.46. Compared to the others on this list, Instant Checkmate has the highest prices.

Customers seem to like Instant Checkmate and praise it as the best criminal records search tool, but there are also some complaints about Instant Checkmate failing to remove user’s personal details from their databases.

Pros:

  • Popular for their criminal records search
  • Gives you the option to remove yourself from their database
  • Attentive customer service

Cons:

  • Higher prices
  • Paywall before search results

Read the full review here.

Intelius

Founded in 2003, Intelius has been around for quite a long time. What makes it stand out on this list are its prices. It’s also subscription-based but has the lowest prices of them all – a one-month subscription costs only $22.86, and a two-month subscription is $38.86, making it a great choice for a cheap criminal background check.

Here is which features you will get for that price: people search, background search, public records search, reverse address lookup, reverse phone lookup, and phone directory search. For an additional $19.95 monthly, they offer Identity Protect, which protects a person’s identity from theft.

Some customer reviews complain about unexpected additional charges, but the overall reviews are mostly positive.

Read the full review here.

Pros:

  • One of the longest-running internet background check companies
  • Most affordable option on this list
  • Wide variety of features

Cons:

  • May have unexpected charges
  • Paywall before search results

CocoFinder

Use CocoFinder’s simple search function to find any information you need about a person. Other than criminal background screening, CocoFinder offers these features: people search, reverse phone lookup, address lookup, white pages, and background check. When you click to see the full background reports, the website redirects you to a BeenVerified link, meaning they’re owned by the same company.

CocoFinder shows you its prices after you’ve been waiting for a while for the search to finish, and you must purchase a subscription to see the results. The price for a one-month subscription is $26.89, and a three-month subscription is $52.44.

We couldn’t find any customer reviews for CocoFinder, but since they do their search through BeenVerified, we can say that the same reviews apply to CocoFinder as well. The majority of the reviews are positive and confirm that CocoFinder is a great place to do your criminal background checks.

Pros:

  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Wide variety of features
  • Decent prices

Cons:

  • No free options
  • Paywall before search results
  • Possible long waiting time for search results

Wrap Up

Conducting a criminal background check is a good way to get an idea of what a person is capable of and can be a helpful tool in many situations and to many people – employers, firearm sellers, landlords, and even “regular” people. We hope that we’ve helped you find the best criminal background check site for you. However, we would also like to highlight a very important issue.

Having a criminal record shouldn’t automatically be the reason to put someone on the blacklist. Circumstances and context matter, as well as the fact that people are capable of change. Sometimes they just need to be given the chance to prove that they can be a functioning member of society if they are spared from prejudice for their past actions.

Criminal Background Check Companies at a Glance

Background check company Monthly price Key features
BeenVerified $26.86 people search, reverse phone lookup, reverse email lookup, reverse address lookup, username search, VIN number search, unclaimed money search
TruthFinder $28 people search, dark web scan, criminal records search, public records search, reverse phone lookup, reverse address lookup, self-monitoring features, sex offender search
Instant Checkmate $34.78 criminal records search, people search, reverse phone lookup, dark web scan, address search, sex offender watch
Intelius $22.86 people search, background search, public records search, reverse address lookup, reverse phone lookup, phone directory search
CocoFinder $26.89 people search, reverse phone lookup, address lookup, white pages, background check

FAQ

What shows up on a background check?

What shows up on a background check depends on the criteria imposed by the one requesting it and the reason why they are requesting it. A background check can serve as a way to look into a person’s criminal record, credit history, employment, and education history, motor vehicle and license records, and more.

Is there a difference between a background check and a criminal background check?

Yes and no. A background check is an umbrella term for all the different categories of background checks mentioned in our previous answer. A criminal background check is a subtype that focuses only on the criminal history of the person of interest.

What do criminal background checks look for?

A criminal background check looks at an individual’s criminal record from the past 7 years. This includes any criminal offenses, no matter whether the person was arrested, convicted, or only charged.
This includes misdemeanor and felony charges as well as any pending charges, acquittals, or active warrants. They also check traffic court records for any speeding or parking tickets and search sex-offender registries.

Does your criminal record clear after 7 years?

Non-convictions won’t show up on a criminal record after 7 years pass. This also includes dismissed cases and felony arrests. However, if you have felony convictions on your record, they will show up no matter how much time has passed.
At the end of the day, it depends on where you live since some states have different rules regarding what is a criminal background check specialized for, and what it shows.

ABOUT AUTHOR

My eyes rarely take a break from staring at my laptop's screen—I am Big Brother, scanning the web for news and information worth sharing. Full transparency—a substantial chunk of my screentime is also dedicated to watching TV shows, but balance is key, right? Writing is how I choose to share my findings with the world while keeping my love of language and creativity alive.

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