Background checks have become increasingly common over the past few years as employers, landlords, and other organizations want to verify information about job applicants, tenants, volunteers, and more. While background checks used to be primarily used by employers, they are now a typical part of many application processes.
In 2024, getting a background check on yourself or someone else is easier than ever before. New laws have also made background checks more accessible and affordable for personal use. This guide will provide an overview of background checks, the different types available, what shows up on them, and step-by-step instructions for running various personal and professional background checks in 2024.
What is a Background Check?
A background check is a review of a person’s commercial, criminal, employment, education, and/or financial records. Background checks may also include drug tests, credit checks, driving records, professional license/certification verification, and more. They are conducted by specialized consumer reporting agencies that access public records and proprietary databases.
Background checks allow employers, property managers, volunteer organizations, online marketplaces, and others to verify information supplied by applicants. This helps mitigate risk when hiring new employees, renting to tenants, allowing volunteers to work with vulnerable groups, or transacting online.
Background checks are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and various state laws. These regulations are designed to promote accuracy, fairness, and the privacy of personal information.
Types of Background Checks
There are many different types of background checks available in 2024. Some of the most common include:
Criminal Background Checks
A criminal background check searches local, state, and national criminal databases for any arrests, convictions, incarcerations, registered sex offender status, and other records. This helps identify any past criminal history.
An employment verification confirms past employment listed on a resume or job application. This may include dates of employment, job titles, duties, reason for leaving, and salary. Some checks verify past employers while others verify current employment.
Similar to employment verification, this confirms academic credentials like degrees, diplomas, and professional certifications earned. Transcripts may also be verified.
For roles involving driving, this background check reviews DMV records for past accidents, traffic violations, license suspensions, DUIs, and other motor vehicle records.
A credit check provides details on past credit accounts, outstanding debts, bankruptcies, late payments, liens, judgments, and other financial information.
For healthcare jobs, this checks records for medical board disciplinary actions, malpractice claims, and sanctions against a medical license.
Rather than relying solely on letters of recommendation provided by an applicant, employers may conduct reference checks by contacting past managers, coworkers, teachers, or other personal references directly.
Social Media & Internet Screening
Many employers now screen social media profiles and Internet history looking for any red flags that might disqualify an applicant.
What Shows Up on a Background Check?
What shows up on your background check depends on the type conducted. Here are some details on what may be included:
Criminal Records – Felonies, misdemeanors, pending cases, warrants, incarcerations, probation, etc. Note that details like arrest records without convictions may show up even if charges were later dropped.
Sex Offender Registry – Any registration as a sex offender will appear.
Employment Verification – Job title, employment dates, duties, salary, performance issues, eligibility for rehire, etc. Some employers only confirm basic employment dates and titles.
Education Verification – Degrees, academic credentials, transcripts, GPAs, certifications, disciplinary issues.
Motor Vehicle Records – Past DMV information like speeding tickets, license suspensions, DUIs, car registrations, accident history.
Credit Reports – Late payments, collections, foreclosures, bankruptcies, outstanding debts, liens, judgments.
Professional Licensure – Details on licenses like date issued, renewal, any disciplinary actions.
Social Media & Internet – Concerning posts, photos, videos, comments, groups joined, etc. Anything set to “public” may appear.
How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?
Most background checks go back 7-10 years looking for criminal convictions, bankruptcies, civil judgments, and other records. However, some checks may uncover older information including:
- Criminal convictions – May report any felonies no matter how old. Some states limit reporting older misdemeanor convictions.
- Education – Will verify all degrees and credentials earned.
- Employment – May confirm employment history as far back as 15-20 years.
- Motor vehicle records – Typically include all DMV records available regardless of age.
- Professional licenses – Check disciplinary and complaint history for entire licensure period.
- Sex offender registry – Includes all current registrations regardless of date added to registry.
How to Get a Background Check on Yourself
Conducting periodic background checks on yourself is wise to verify the accuracy of records and identify any potential issues in advance. Here are some options for getting your own background check in 2024:
Order from CRA Websites
The three main credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – all provide background check services with instant online access to your credit report and other records. You can order credit reports for free weekly through 2024 under current law. Other personalized background check products are affordably priced.
Use Third-Party Background Check Sites
Many companies like GoodHire, Checkr, Sterling, and more provide instant online background checks for personal and professional screening. Services range from basic criminal checks to robust multi-state checks covering employment, education, driving records, verifications, and more.
Request from State or FBI
You can request a copy of any criminal history records through your state’s Department of Justice or directly via the FBI. This allows you to review law enforcement records about any past arrests, charges, convictions, etc. Results are usually delivered within 1-3 weeks.
Contact Past Employers
While employers are limited in what information they can legally disclose, you can contact previous workplaces directly to verify your employment dates, titles, salary, performance, eligibility for rehire, and other work history. This helps anticipate what employers may find.
Review Court Records
Search public court records through county or state court websites to uncover any civil judgments, bankruptcies, small claims cases, traffic violations, or other legal cases involving your name. Any errors can be disputed.
Search Your Name Online
Google yourself routinely to uncover any concerning social media posts, photos, comments, blog entries, forum posts, or other online content tied to your name. You can then take steps to improve or remove unflattering search results.
Running an Employment Background Check on a Job Candidate
Employment background checks are crucial for verifying the qualifications, experience, character, and history of applicants. Follow these steps when running a pre-employment background check:
Get Signed Consent
Have the applicant complete a background check authorization form according to the FCRA requirements. This informs them a check will be conducted and gets their permission.
Define the Check Details
Determine which verifications and searches you want performed based on relevance to the position. Common checks include past employment, education, motor vehicle records, criminal history, and credit reports where applicable. Professional references and drug tests may also be wise.
Pick a Background Check Company
Research companies that provide employment screening services. Look for turnaround times, reliability, compliance, customizable checks, integrations, pricing, and other factors when selecting the best provider.
Submit Background Check Requests
Provide the screening company with relevant personal details on the applicant like full name, date of birth, SSN, past addresses, employment history. This facilitates accurate record matching.
Comply with Adverse Action Rules
If you decide not to hire someone based on negative background check findings, you must provide them formal notification and a copy of the report. This gives them a chance to dispute any errors.
Update Hiring Policies
Establish consistent standards for how different types of background check findings will be evaluated during hiring. Some minor offenses may not disqualify candidates in many cases. But be sure to consult local laws on using background checks.
How to Run a Tenant Background Check
Landlords and property managers should screen all rental applicants carefully to avoid problem tenants. Follow these tips for running effective tenant background checks:
Review Rental Application
Have applicants complete a detailed rental application covering identity, residence history, employment, income, references, criminal history, credit consent, and other important details.
Contact previous landlords and personal references provided to verify the tenant’s reliability, payment history, property care, complaints, and eligibility to rent again.
Run a Credit Check
Review the applicant’s credit report to uncover past evictions, rent payments, property damage, collections, bankruptcies, judgments, late payments, and other financial risks. Require credit consent on the rental application.
Screen Criminal History
Conduct a criminal background check spanning at least 7-10 years looking for any convictions, charges, or active warrants involving theft, fraud, violence, drugs, or sexual offenses.
Ask for recent pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements or other documentation to confirm the tenant’s income is adequate to pay monthly rent consistently.
Review Public Records
Search public court and property records for any past evictions, foreclosures, tax liens, small claims cases, or other red flags.
Ask to see a current government-issued ID to verify the applicant’s identity against records like credit reports and applications.
Getting a Background Check on a Contractor
Since contractors access your home, it’s important to vet them thoroughly first. Follow these tips:
Confirm that the contractor has an active license in good standing by contacting your state licensing board. Check for any disciplinary actions.
Ask for and contact references from recent customers to learn about the quality of work performed and professionalism.
Search Public Records
Look for any civil suits, liens, judgments, or regulatory actions involving the contractor or their business. Bankruptcies may also appear here.
Ask for proof of adequate general liability insurance and workers compensation coverage protecting you from risks.
Google the contractor’s business name and read reviews on sites like Yelp or Angie’s List looking for any red flags mentioned by past clients.
Confirm Work Eligibility
For solo contractors, verify their identity, citizenship status, and legal right to work using checks like E-Verify.
Meet in Person
Meeting a contractor first gives you a chance to assess their presentation, demeanor, knowledge, and communication skills.
How to Dispute Errors on a Background Check
If you find mistakes on your background check, act quickly to get them corrected by following these steps:
Get a Copy of the Report
Request a copy of the full report from the background check company or employer so you can review it for errors. Reports can be obtained for free if they resulted in adverse action.
Identify Incorrect or Incomplete Information
Look for any inaccurate personal data, criminal records, employment or education details, financial information, or other disputed items. Make note of what is wrong and why.
Reach Out to Data Furnishers
Contact the courts, employers, credit bureaus, or other entities that supplied the disputed information. Explain what is incorrect and provide supporting documents. Ask for records to be updated.
Submit Dispute Letter
Send dispute letters with supporting evidence to the background check company and any other agencies involved requesting investigation and correction of the errors. Send via certified mail.
Lodge Complaints if Needed
For inaccurate consumer financial data, file complaints with the CFPB and your state attorney general’s office. For other disputes, contact the FTC or your state labor department.
Confirm Errors are Fixed
After several weeks, order a new copy of your background check report to verify the disputes were addressed and errors resolved accurately.
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Background Check?
Background check turnaround times vary substantially depending on the scope of the search. Here are typical timeframes to expect:
- Instant criminal checks – Usually just a few seconds for database searches of felonies and misdemeanors only.
- Instant online checks – Background checks through consumer reporting agency websites for basic criminal records, sex offender lists, and credit reports may take just minutes.
- FBI identity history summary – 1-2 business days.
- Criminal records – Can take 1-3 business days for county, statewide, and national criminal searches.
- Verifications – Employment, education, and licensing verifications typically take 1-3 business days depending on responsiveness of the entities contacted.
- Motor vehicle records – 3-5 business days on average. Need to retrieve from individual DMV offices.
- Civil court checks – May take 3-7 days for someone to pull files from courthouse archives.
- Full background checks – With verifications, criminal searches in multiple geographies, education, employment, licenses, etc. the full process may take 5-7 business days.
Allow extra time for hard-to-find records, non-responsive agencies, or case backlogs. Let candidates know an estimated timeline so they can plan accordingly.
Cost of Background Checks
Background check costs vary based the extent of the search. Here are typical price ranges:
- Instant online checks – $10-$50 for access to national criminal records, sex offender lists, and credit reports.
- Criminal checks – Local checks $20-$75; state checks $30-$100; national checks $60-$200. Depends on number of counties/states.
- Employment verifications – $10-$75 per employer verified.
- Education verification – $10-$50 per school.
- DMV driving records – $10-$25 per state.
- Civil court checks – Varies significantly based on number of counties searched. $300+ in some cases.
- Full background checks – When including everything, expect costs from $100-$500+
Many providers offer package pricing for bundled services bringing down costs. Volume discounts are also common for frequent screening.
Alternatives to Background Checks
Background checks are not perfect. Errors can occur and personal growth may render past offenses irrelevant. Some alternatives employers might consider include:
Administer relevant skills assessments to gauge abilities instead of relying solely on resumes.
Ask situational and behavioral interview questions to judge ethics, critical thinking, diligence, teamwork, communication skills and other traits.
Thoroughly contacting references rather than just accepting provided letters can give better insight into candidates.
Have new hires start under a probationary period allowing closer evaluation on the job before making a permanent offer.
Check Portfolios/Work Samples
Review examples of past work products relevant to the role to assess skills and proficiency.
Have candidates take reputable personality or emotional intelligence tests to evaluate suitability beyond just qualifications.
How to Run a Background Check on Someone
Here are some tips on how to run a background check on someone else:
- Use a reputable online background check service. There are many companies like BeenVerified, TruthFinder, Instant Checkmate, etc. that provide background check reports on people for a fee. This gives you access to criminal records, addresses, employment history, and more.
- Search public records databases. Many county courthouse websites offer online access to civil and criminal records that may include bankruptcies, judgments, divorces, and charges/convictions.
- Contact their current or former employers. With the person’s consent, you may be able to verify employment history, titles, duties, and other details by calling their workplace.
- Check motor vehicle and driving records. You can request a motor vehicle report from their DMV to see any past accidents, traffic violations, DUIs, and license status.
- Search their name in news archives. Look for any articles mentioning their name involving crimes, legal cases, business dealings, etc.
- Look up professional licenses. Check with licensing bodies to confirm the status of any professional licenses like contractors, nurses, doctors, lawyers etc.
- Search social media and the internet. Look for anything concerning online like offensive comments, photos, criminal associations, etc.
- Verify education credentials. You can check with schools to confirm degrees, diplomas, and certificates earned.
- Interview personal references. Speaking with people who know the person can give additional insight into their character and past.
Be sure to follow all applicable laws regarding privacy and background checks when researching someone else. Also note that individuals are entitled to dispute any errors found.
Background Check Requirements
Here are some of the key legal requirements when conducting background checks on job applicants or tenants:
- Obtain written consent – Get the applicant to sign a disclosure form authorizing the background check and detailing what records will be searched.
- Provide adverse action notice – If denying an applicant based on negative results, send an adverse action notice detailing which background check factors led to the decision. Also provide a copy of the background check report.
- Comply with the FCRA – Background checks performed by third-party agencies fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This requires things like ensuring the accuracy of information and providing applicants access to the background check results.
- Ban the Box – Some state/local laws prohibit asking about criminal history early in the hiring process. Make sure applications comply.
- Check state laws – Many states regulate the use of criminal records, credit reports, and other background checks for employment purposes. Know and follow all applicable regulations.
- Stick to relevant information – Only gather background check information directly related to the position’s duties and requirements to avoid overreach into private details.
- Allow applicants to dispute errors – Have a process for allowing applicants to contest mistaken information found in reports and get errors fixed quickly.
- Protect sensitive data – Take steps to ensure any sensitive background check data like SSNs, financial info, etc. remains protected and confidential.
- Destroy records when required – Follow all laws regarding securely destroying background check reports and source records after a defined period of time.
Best Background Check Site in 2024
Here are some of the top recommended background check sites:
- BeenVerified – Offers a wide range of background check reports including criminal records, arrest records, addresses, properties, bankruptcies, judgments, social profiles, and more. Known for comprehensive database.
- TruthFinder – Provides criminal and arrest records, court/legal records, contact information, marital history, personal reviews, social media searches, and more. Very user-friendly.
- Intelius – Wide range of public records searches including criminal checks, arrest records, legal judgments, addresses, properties, relatives, neighborhood info, and employment history.
- PeopleFinders – Accesses databases of criminal history, court records, contact information, properties, marriage/divorce details, relatives, and personal profiles. Very thorough.
- Instant Checkmate – Good for basic criminal records and sex offender registry searches. Also provides arrests, court records, contact info, marital history, and more. Lower priced.
- Checkr – Specializes in background checks for employers and property managers. Offers criminal records, reference checks, document verification, drug testing, and more. Integrates with many HR systems.
- GoodHire – Known for reliable and compliant background checks for employers. Checks include employment/education verification, motor vehicle records, references, credit reports, and more.
When choosing a background check site, review the types of searches available, reputation, turnaround time, accuracy, cost, and compliance protections. Only use services that search public domain records.
Key Background Check Trends for 2024
Some emerging trends shaping the background screening industry in 2024 include:
- Increased use of AI and machine learning to improve search accuracy and turnaround times.
- Growth of continuous background screening programs that regularly re-check existing employees or volunteers for new offenses.
- Tighter focus on evaluating rehabilitation and job-relatedness of crimes instead of automatic disqualification.
- New privacy regulations like the CCPA limiting collection and use of personal information by employers and landlords.
- More online background check solutions allowing self-service applicant screening.
- International background checks becoming more commonplace as employment becomes global.
- Ban-the-box laws prohibiting questions about criminal history on job applications spreading to more states.
Background checks are an important risk management tool for employers, property managers, nonprofits, and other organizations in 2024. However, screening should focus only on information relevant to the role or transaction to avoid overreach into private affairs.
When conducting background checks, strive to evaluate candidates as a whole, emphasize accuracy, allow them to dispute errors, and give individuals an opportunity to explain past issues. With more organizations performing background checks today, being proactive and checking your own records periodically is wise to resolve any potential mistakes and anticipate what will surface.