paper file and folders at the county

Background Searches

Background searches are becoming increasingly popular because of the readily available public information online. People are searching for information, both positive and negative, in order to make informative decisions in their business as well as personal lives.

But, is it legal? Is it necessary? Is the information that is out there on someone accurate – and something I can use to make informed decisions? Well, that depends. Who is providing this background information? How deep into someone’s past do you wish to go?

These are great questions, but first, you need to ask yourself if a background check on someone is legal and ethical. And, do you have a legitimate reason to run a check on this person? Or, are you just being a busy-body? You might wish to consult with a competent Attorney before jumping into this.

The next step is to decide where to get these checks from. Different companies provide different levels of background checks, so you should conduct some research on the subject in order to make the right decision.

Why People Conduct Background Investigations

People may need to check the background of someone for many reasons. Among them:

  • Job Candidates
  • Potential Business Partners
  • Potential Tenants
  • Present or Potential “Significant Others” (dates, fiancés, spouses)
  • Boyfriends and Girlfriends
  • Credit and Insurance Applicants
  • Neighbors
  • Roommates
  • Friends
  • Enemies

The above is not all-inclusive. There may be other reasons to conduct a background check, but these are the most common. Whatever your particular reason may be, make sure you’re getting your information from a reputable organization. Don’t get ripped off.

Remember that many types of background searches require authorization from the subject. Many people conduct these searches along with a credit check to obtain the most information possible.

What is the Most Accurate Type of Background Search?

Here’s the deal: If you need a legitimate background search on someone, for whatever reason, get a signed release from from your subject, and fingerprints, and run it through the FBI. It’s the only way you’ll be assure of getting accurate, up-to-date results.

Many businesses use this type of background search. For us regular people, an online search may be good enough. The best way to go, however, is to hire a private investigator or skip tracer to do the work. It will probably cost you around $100.00 – but it’s much more accurate and comprehensive than a simple online search.

What Kind of Information is Available Online?

conducting background searches using a laptop computer

Through background searches online, you can find a person’s age, address, marital status, occupation, aliases, current and past employment, educational level, driving record, litigation record (including a possible divorce or divorces), criminal record (if there is one), bankruptcies (if there are any), military record, and financial worth. Really – just about anything having to do with their background.

Public records cannot tell you everything about everybody. But by searching backgrounds, you can get a fairly accurate (not perfect) snapshot of the subject you are investigating. You may be able to deduce personality traits, consumer preferences, romantic preferences, employment, and financial stability.

Credit checks and DMV (driving records as well as motor vehicles), are generally not available online. For these types of searches, you’re going to need written consent from the subject. You should probably familiarize yourself with the DPPA – Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.

Obviously, these types of searches would be for employment and security positions. If you try running a credit report on someone, without their permission, you can run into problems with the FDCPA – the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the FRCA – Fair Credit Reporting Act.

What are the Limitations of Background Information Online?

You will not get access to your subject’s medical records without that person’s authorization. Or insurance. Marriage and divorce records are restricted in many states and counties. Driving records are sometimes restricted as well. Typically you will not be able to discover if the person is a drug user – unless there has been a previous arrest.

If it is your goal to find out this information, then you may want to hire a private investigator to do your background search, because they will be able to conduct surveillance and interviews with acquaintances, neighbors, and former employers. This can get expensive, but you really do need the best information available at the time.

How Much Do Background Searches Cost?

Typically, a good background search will set you back around $100.00 – $200.00. Of course, there’s always those online checks that you can purchase for $20 – $30,  but they’re not very accurate or up-to-date. If you’re just trying to get some basic information, then they’ll do just fine.

Employee background searches are a bit different, and you really need to brush up on the law regarding these. Usually, you’ll need a signed waiver from the subject to conduct employee background searches. These will probably require a set of fingerprints – so you should probably consult with a competent Attorney.

Which Background Check Company Should You Use?

Obviously, that depends on your needs. There are online resources that will give you some information for as little as $9.95. Others charge $19.95. Still, others are much more. What most people don’t realize, however, is that almost all the companies doing cheap background searches are using the exact same information drawn from the same databases.

Here’s how it works: They just set up their website so that it looks a little different from others. But they are all asking the same information from you. That’s the clue that they are using the same background search databases. So, if you want a cheap search, then do it as cheaply as possible.

However, if you want a more reliable and comprehensive search of someone’s background, then you may want to pay the extra money for a better search. If the information is important, the results are also important, and you want the most complete information check you can get.

You can usually tell which companies are the best by how personal their services are. A company that simply asks you to put in the name and address of a person whose background you are searching will simply run the basic computerized searches and produce a lot of addresses and phone numbers of people with the same name that you requested information about.

Then you have to write to or call these places yourself. In some instances, that information may be useful to you, or it may be quite a bother to continue the searching on your own.

A more personal background search service will handle your case individually. For example, in some instances, they may do much more than merely search court records online. If the instance warrants it, they may actually go to the courthouse to continue research by hand. That’s quite a service.

In other instances, a background search company may hire a private investigator to gather additional information. Of course, this will only happen after discussions with you about previous results they have obtained, so that you can decide how far you want to investigate.

Background searches are readily available, generally inexpensive, and often come with a quick turnaround time. Your choices are how extensive you want the background search to be. And you can determine that by deciding how important it is for you to have the information.

If you are hiring someone or marrying someone, and you have doubts, then it may well be worth the extra cost to find the most comprehensive searches available. It’s your life!


Deciding on whether to search someone’s background can be a personal or business decision. Follow the law! Remember that most online background searches cannot be used for employment, insurance, and other reasons. You need a “real” background search, conducted through the proper channels.

You get what you pay for. Online searches for $49.00 probably are not going to cut it. There’s just way too much missing or inaccurate information; however, they may have just enough general information to serve your purpose.

Related Questions

Do debt collectors run background searches? Yes, they do. They will run these searches in order to find out if you have any assets – like property or motor vehicles. They can also find out if you’ve declared bankruptcy – which may halt the debt collection process.

How long does it take to get a background search completed? Most online background searches can be completed within 24 hours. Others can take awhile longer – depending on whether you’re submitting fingerprints and looking for criminal records.

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