The internet has put the ability to do background checks seemingly at the tips of everyone’s fingers. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can attempt to find out information about nearly anyone else. That said, not all online background checks are equal. Here are three things you need to know about checking a background online:

  1. Compliance is critical and complex. There are a number of laws and regulations governing the search, use, and storage of personal information. These laws are intricate and are changing regularly. The following is a small sample of the many regulations you need to navigate:
    • The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA) requires that anyone, including employers, doing a background check for credit, medical, or insurance reasons must use an accredited Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA). CRAs are required to maintain specific standards for data protection and are obligated to offer dispute resolution. If you use information from a non-CRA background check company to reject a tenant or employee, you are at risk for legal penalties. 
    • The FRCA also has strict policies relating to notifying individuals that a background search is taking place, taking adverse actions based on background check information, and storing and disposing of screening records.
    • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces anti-discrimination laws that make it illegal to use race, sex, religion, disability, or age as the basis for running a background check. For example, you cannot make it a policy to only run background checks on women. These laws are in place to protect applicants from discrimination.
  2. “Background check” is a broad term. This blanket term can mean anything from entering a name into a search engine to see what pops up all the way to hiring a professional investigator to search the deep web and everything in between. Screening techniques include basic internet searches, online public record searches, access to court files, and even in-person visits to verify information. Whether you’re conducting the search on your own or hiring a background search firm, you need to define what information you need and what resources you need to obtain it.
  3. Better information yields better information. The more details you have about the candidate, the more accurate your background search will be. Names, including middle and maiden names, birthdates, addresses, and social security numbers are all useful for finding data and ensuring that you are getting data about the right person. 

Professional search firms have the knowledge and experience to navigate the multitude of thorny issues surrounding background checks. Hiring an expert, accredited firm to conduct your background screenings helps you make better decisions. 

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