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Background Screening

What Does a Background Check Consist Of?

If you’re applying for a new job, renting a new apartment, or a similar life milestone, chances are you will be subjected to a background check. Background checks are great ways for employers and renters to protect themselves and their assets on many different levels. These screenings are offered at varying degrees of investigation, some only pulling up publicly accessible information such as address and civil records, while others can gather a bit more about your education, employment, and more.

Many people tend to think of criminal history checks when they think of a background check. While this is certainly a part of a background check, a comprehensive background check gives the inquiring party the opportunity to confirm whether the applicant is, in fact, who they say they are.

What Shows Up on a Background Check?

Primarily, background screening is supposed to yield the following information:

  • Criminal/civil records
  • Education
  • Employment history
  • References

The information retrieved can stop there or it can go a little bit deeper, depending on the needs and motivation of the inquirer. For instance, a job that requires you to drive on a regular basis will look into your driving and insurance history, whereas an apartment rental application will have no need for such information. If you are applying as a drive, such a background check would require a look into your motor vehicle records. This is because a simple traffic or parking ticket will not show up on a criminal record, whereas misdemeanors or felonies such as DUIs, will be found with a criminal history screening.

Further, there are different types of criminal history checks, each of which can yield varying degrees of information depending on relevant information that you may have in your history if anything. Criminal history checks typically gather information from the county, state, or federal levels, and this yields information on crimes such as theft.

A civil history background check is quite different, however, in that these cases are ones that were brought to court by the alleged victim. These cases become a part of the court’s civil records and because of this, they are publicly accessible. Civil history background screenings can pull information from the county and federal levels.

How does an agency go about performing a background screening?

Background checks are almost always performed by a third party. Websites such as Affordable Background Checks are quite popular for renters of smaller properties or employers of small businesses.

Third parties collect number of different sources including calling Universities you’ve attended in the past, contact with previous employers, research of public records, and sometimes physically visiting courthouses for legal documents.

Protection from the Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides strict guidelines on how employers can go about requesting a background check. The FCRA and state laws also protect the person being investigated, in that they are able to voice concerns or disputes on the information obtained during a background check and have the right to see the information gathered during the screening.

The FCRA does have regulations that limit the “adverse information” a credit bureau can report against you, including bankruptcies or tax liens, but when it comes to criminal history checks, there are no such restrictions, at least, not on the federal level. Most states have regulations regarding criminal history checks in addition to the FCRA. There are also limitations on what previous employers can divulge about you as well.

For example, an employer is free to provide an explanation as to why an applicant was fired, but they are typically unwilling to go much further than that, as excessive negative information begins to tread onto the territory of defamation.

Candidate Interview

The Bottom Line

Whether a background check is being performed for an apartment application or new employment, the bottom line is that there are many different types of background checks that can be performed by third parties to yield specific information about you. There are criminal history screenings that yield information on the county, state, and federal levels about any crimes you may have committed, such as driving history checks and general background screenings that will inform the inquirer about your employment and educational history, as well as confirm your professional references.

If you are concerned about any of the information found or that could potentially be found on your background screening, the FCRA gives you the right to receive a copy of your screening results and dispute inaccurate information if necessary.

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Gavin Muirhead

Gavin Muirhead has been involved in developing products for background checks and improving online experiences in the background screening industry since 2012. He is the lead author and editor of Affordable Background Checks.