There are many consumer sites offering to do background checks that sound a little too inviting. The reality is pre-employment screening firms, known as Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs), must abide by the provisions of the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In addition there are a myriad of state laws and compliance rules that go beyond the regulations imposed by FCRA. CRAs do have a web presence and do advertise their services. And yes, CRAs will use database criminal record vendors who provide very impressive supplemental yet useful data.
But there are many consumer sites advertising an instant, national background check for someone to learn about anyone’s past. Rarely do these site mention the FCRA. And since there is no true national database of criminal records and 25% of the felony courts are not online, the reality is the promotional wording these sites use is often very misleading.
So how do you determine if a web vendor is truly an FCRA-Complaint background screening service or a database distributer with a great marketing presence? If you find a site using any of the marketing schemes listed below, then a giant red flag should pop up in your mind and you need to take a closer look.
- Charging membership fees for unlimited access to national background data
The most common type of site is charging a $29 to $35 fee for a one- to five-year membership term. Sites even offer an affiliate program where you set up your own site to sell memberships to others. But there is some benefit. These sites provide the ability to simultaneously search hundreds of free government sites at once; but there are no magic or special databases used. The membership fee is paying for sophisticated hits or links to a series of free search pages belonging to others. Problems are currency of the data and how national is “national?”
- Show endorsement by a phony or suspect trade association
Several of the suspect public records membership sites tout an endorsement from a national association of private investigators. Do a Google search on that association’s name. Read the results. Some are phony.
- Promote what amounts to non-FCRA compliant employment screening
Any public record professional will tell you that you cannot purchase a “background check” on a new hire for $15 and be truly protected from a negligent hiring lawsuit. Nor will the vendor likely be in compliance with the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). You may be able to do a quick record search from a couple web pages or court repository, or from a supplementary database vendor, but that does not equate to fulfilling the due diligence necessary in a professional pre-employment background check.
The bottom line is to use caution and common since if using one of these sites.
This article is taken from The Manual to Online Public Records 4th Edition by Mike Sankey and Cynthia Hetherington. For more information on this publication, please visit The BRB Bookstore or Contact Katee@brbpublications.com.