The reasons for performing a background check can vary depending on the situation, ranging from a curious landlord to a nosy spouse. Regardless of your motives, here is a how-to guide on conducting a thorough and lawful background check. Before you get started, though, you should have at least have the person s full name, place of employment, and his or her current address or city in which they reside.

The steps presented below are ideal if you represent a business screening a potential employee. They can also assist you as a private citizen checking out a would-be tenant or simply verifying someone's credentials before he or she starts working in your home.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, sets the standard for who can access an individual's report. Overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, the FCRA allows any background report to reflect arrests that date back seven years. Beware though, some arrests may not show up in an individual s records, especially if they did not result in a conviction. The term consumer report includes a person s criminal records, credit and employment history. While the act strives to provide accurate information, it also strives to ensure that information is fair to individuals.

Curiosity cannot be the only reason you want to gain access to these files. The only two categories of individuals who have access to a person's history are employers and landlords. If you're an employer, the first point of contact to perform a background check is through a consumer reporting agency (CRA).

CRAs specifically gather background information on people and create reports for employers or landlords, selling to these two categories under the parameters of the FCRA. Generally, CRAs update their databases through resources that their agencies have paid access to. The type of information they are able to acquire may include arrests, convictions and previously held addresses. The main source of information are law enforcement agencies, sex offender registries as well as government records.

Important Information before Hiring A CRA

Before hiring a CRA, one must inform an employee or job applicant that you might use information gathered from a consumer report to decide whether or not to extend an offer of employment. When hiring an individual, you must have them sign an agreement acknowledging they understand that a background check will be conducted. You'll also need to create an additional agreement stating that you will not use any information in a report to discriminate against an applicant. Other agreements can be drafted stating that you have the permission to run a consumer report during the duration of their employment with you.

It is critical to ensure that all documentation meets FCRA regulations and was obtained with the consent of the employee or applicant. In order to abide by the FCRA regulations, you will have to give the employee a copy of his or her consumer report and provide a summary of rights under the FCRA and other information acquired through government records.

Next, you'll want to hire a CRA. Make sure that the CRA complies with FCRA regulations and has a reputable standing. One can double check an agency's standing by verifying the CRA is a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). Additional authentication steps include checking to see if the CRA has a business license and asking them to provide references and proof of insurance. Once you've obtained the appropriate documentation and have hired a CRA, provide them with the information.

One of the main sources of information for a background check is the Interstate Identification Index. This database is the one the FBI and law enforcement agencies use to gather state, federal and international criminal records. To gain access to such a database, the state must approve employers in order for them to obtain criminal background checks from this source.

As a private citizen, the procedures are different for conducting a background check. First, you can visit your state government s site. To avoid a misstep in searching, the phrase "obtain a criminal history in (your specific state)" usually yields the desired government links. With the growth of digital records and access to government records, some agencies and departments will have a link on their website where you can download and fill out a form. Often, because these are records acquired by the government, these services require you to pay a fee.

Follow the same steps when searching through court records or criminal records. The federal court system has online records called the "Public Access to Court Electronic Records." Often you can view these records for a small fee or by page basis. Another method of finding information is through a commercial or web-sponsored search service. Generally, these companies gather the information one would find through a public records criminal background check.

If you go this route, double check to make sure that the background check services company you use is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. Also, choose a company that is not new. Finally, through Google and social media, you can bridge the gap between the general background information you receive along with other information. Social media outlets like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn can reveal other aliases, employer information, friends and more.

Some of the companies that also gather potentially helpful information include PeekYou, Spokeo and White Pages Neighbors. If all avenues are exhausted and you do not find the necessary information you need, you can always hire a private investigator. Though sometimes they are more expensive than CRAs and background check service companies, private investigators can perform the research quickly, accurately and allow you to focus your time on other matters. Although it's not a guarantee, passing the job over to a professional can reap its rewards.

More Top Stories