Free background checks might not be all that they seem by initial, outward appearances. Here's why your business should avoid using them.
Free background checks are commonly advertised, but they are not always (rarely, in fact) worth your time.
The quality of data contained in free background checks can be questionable. The data is not always fully, or appropriately, vetted by the third-party that acquired the information.
If your business is considering using a free background check service, we offer tips to ensure (as much as can be expected) that you are proceeding with decent data.
This article is for business owners, managers, and supervisors who want to learn more about "free" background checks and whether the information they provide can be trusted.
Background checks help ensure that you are reviewing the full picture of a candidate when making your hiring decisions. When utilizing free background check services, it is important to exercise caution and carefully assess whether the data you have received about a candidate is accurate, reliable, and comprehensive.
What's wrong with free background checks?
As an important hiring tool, background checks aren't a place to cut corners.
Most reputable third-party background check companies charge a fee for their services. These checks are conducted by experts who know how to extract data from reliable, trusted and legitimate resources.
Editor's note: Looking for the right background check service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
Some agencies that offer free background checks may not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), or the background checks they provide contain inaccurate information. You may, for example, conduct a background check on a new candidate and receive a result that contains a smattered history of individuals who share the same name as your candidate, but who, in fact, are not your candidate. Many free background check services do not ask for the person's date of birth or Social Security number when the request is submitted.
TruthFinder.com is a website where people can conduct an online search of an individual. Below is a screenshot of its waiver of liability, or its "notice."Some agencies that offer free background checks may not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), or the background checks they provide contain inaccurate information. You may, for example, conduct a background check on a new candidate and receive a result that contains a smattered history of individuals who share the same name as your candidate, but who, in fact, are not your candidate. Many free background check services do not ask for the person's date of birth or Social Security number when the request is submitted.
TruthFinder.com is a website where people can conduct an online search of an individual. Below is a screenshot of its waiver of liability, or its "notice."
The notice asks users to "… agree not to use our site and the information we provide to make decisions about consumer credit, employees, tenant screening, or any other purposes that would require FCRA compliance." The data you receive from these types of background searches differs from the data one receives from a more systematic, curated background report from third-party background check firms.
'Free' social media background checks
Some employers check a candidate's social media accounts as part of a background check. For professional positions you hire employees for, it almost seems negligent not to check the candidate's LinkedIn account. However, the haphazard ways that a free service may have of verifying and assessing the qualities of a candidate or current employee may not be a thorough or reliable way of evaluating a candidate.
What information does a free background check include?
Some free background checks offer quite a bit of data, including driving under the influence (DUI) citations, criminal offenses, former addresses of the individual, social media accounts, and other intimate details about a candidate. However, there is always the concern that some, or much, of the data is not complete or accurate. For example, if you have the candidate's full name, e.g., John Smith (and you're located in Idaho), but no date of birth or Social Security number, it's difficult to be absolutely certain that the information you received about your candidate is, in fact, about your candidate, or if it's someone who is unrelated, i.e., a John Smith who is located in California.
Should your business use a free background check service?
While it might be tempting to run a free background check, it is almost always more advantageous to pay for one instead. Paying a nominal fee to a third-party background check service limits the number of inaccuracies in the report, and it is more likely to contain more thorough information.
If your organization does use the free method of running background checks, we recommend following the multipronged approach outlined below:
Talk to legal counsel. Talk to an attorney who specializes in this field of law before using a free background check service.
Conduct a search of some public search websites. There are some public websites (we will not mention all of them) that could be worth checking depending on the candidate, your company's needs and the type of job you are looking to fill. For example, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System can offer some helpful information. Other public sites include Arrests.us, which searches public records from hundreds of different sources.
Conduct a more refined search in a search engine. Rather than entering the individual's name in a search engine, add the state they live in, too, or include the last employer's name. These extra steps can help narrow the focus of your search.
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