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Background Check Services Review
Why Use a Background Check Service?
A background check can help you find important information about a potential roommate, a blind date, or a friend or family member you may have lost track of. This type of background check, also sometimes called a public records check, can’t be used on potential employees or tenants. Our top-rated background check services include Intelius, US Search and PeopleWise.
The U.S Fair Credit Reporting Act restricts the way you can use these services. You won’t be able to get credit, medical or insurance information, nor can you use the information to make decisions about employment or renting. If you’re looking for background checks for employment or renting purposes, you’ll need to find a registered consumer reporting agency. If you use the information for one of the services on this review for considering a potential employee or renter, you can face legal repercussions.
What Can I Use a Background Check For?
A background check can provide you with a wide range of useful information. All of the services we reviewed draw their data from many sources, including state and county records, court documents, and other publicly available information such as phone books and marketing data.
An online public records search can provide you with information about a subject’s criminal records, bankruptcies, court judgements and tax liens. This is valuable information you can consider when looking for potential roommates or business partners. Most services also allow you to check whether your target is a registered sex offender.
You can also search for property information, marriage and divorce records, relatives, associates and social media profiles. These can be useful when trying to find the current whereabouts of a lost friend, acquaintance or relative.
Usually, all of these items are included in your background check. Some services, such as Instant Checkmate, charge additional fees for certain information like bankruptcies and court judgements.
What to Look For in a Background Check Service?
Most background checks provide the same basic type of information, so to determine which services are most effective we looked at the accuracy, customizability and ease of use of each site.
To evaluate these services, we purchased a background check from each one to test the accuracy. We tested each of them on real people so we could verify the accuracy of the results. With permission, we ran reports on acquaintances of our reviewers, one who had a criminal record and one who moved often and could be hard to locate.
The accuracy score listed here comes from comparing the information on the background checks we ran with information provided by our test subjects. Points were deducted for information that didn’t match, so a higher score represents a more accurate background check. We recommend purchasing reports from services that rate high on accuracy, such as Intelius and US Search.
There are some reasons that a background check might not contain the information you expect. An arrest does not create a criminal record; only convicted crimes show up on a report. Public records databases can take months to update, so recent changes may not be reflected in your report. Some states and counties do not make their criminal records databases available online. People can also opt out of an online background check service and have their information removed from the databases.
Getting an accurate report is the goal of paying for an online background check, but it’s hard to get that report when you can’t find the person you’re looking for. We looked at how well you can customize the search and filter the results to find the person you are looking for.
The best background searches allow you to look for a person with more than just a name or the state they live in. We searched for someone with a relatively common name and then used other options to filter down until we were able to find our target. Being able to filter down by address and state were particularly helpful. Even more useful is searching by phone number, age and birthdate. Only one service, PeopleWise, included all of these search options. We were able to find our target with each of these services, but for some it did take longer than for others.
Ease of Use
An easy-to-use background search site can make the process simpler and alleviate some of the headaches that arise when combing through results to find your target. Every service we tested includes a dashboard that stores your saved reports for later. We prefer services that clearly define what each item in the report means. Finally, the best services allow you to search with only a single piece of information, for example a last name. This is particularly helpful for finding people with scant available information.
Our top choice for online background checks is Intelius. It provides the most accurate report results especially with regard to address history and criminal records checks. Intelius’s background checks include all the relevant information we consider essential in a background check, and there were no additional costs for any of that information.
US Search also rated well for accuracy, in particular for criminal records and marriage and divorce records. It was inconsistent with address history. Though accurate in most respects, this service does charge add-on fees for many different types of data, including bankruptcies, court judgments and tax liens. It has a very intuitive interface and is one of the few services that allow you to search by date of birth.
BeenVerfied is another strong choice. It gave us fairly accurate results and was especially strong in giving information about civil judgements, tax liens and in finding relatives of our subjects. However, it was inconsistent in finding criminal history and addresses. It also doesn’t allow search by address or phone number and in general has one of the more difficult search functions.
PeopleWise is a good option, especially if you have a difficult target and need a full slate of search options. This is the only service we reviewed that allows you to search by phone number. It has a fairly accurate background check but doesn’t provide data about marriages and divorces. PeopleWise also charges an additional fee to include criminal records in the report.
Instant Checkmate offers background checks ideal for finding address histories, relatives and marriage records. It didn’t fare as well in criminal records checks, but it does offer all the options we looked for in a background check, though some did require an additional cost.
Background checks can give you insight into a potential roommate or blind date or help you find a friend or family member you’ve lost track of. These public records searches should not be confused with a background check run by an employer or landlord, which must be done by a consumer reporting agency. The best background checks provide accurate info and offer multiple search options to help you find the person you’re looking for.