Whatever your motive for researching an individual, the best background check services can help you to find the answers you're looking for. These services can turn up all kinds of information about a person, including their contact details (phone, email, postal address), any social media sites they've signed up to, assets they might own and whether or not they've been convicted of a crime.
Be aware that not all background checks are carried out anonymously. Also, you also need to note that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prohibits you from using these services in conjunction with decisions surrounding credit, employment or housing. The best background check services will usually have disclaimers explaining how you can use the results of your report - and more importantly, what you can’t use them for.
Intelius has some of the most comprehensive reports we saw. They include information about work history and marriages as well as the basics like emails, addresses and phone numbers.VIEW DEAL ON Intelius
We spent around 40 hours testing these background check services, carefully comparing the information provided with accurate, up-to-date details that had been confirmed by our subjects. We found that accuracy varied wildly between these different companies – for a better idea of how thorough the services mentioned in our guide are, click on the review link beneath each entry.
A quick word about cost. While it might be tempting to try a free background check service, in our experience they aren't especially helpful and certainly don't match up to sites such as Intelius – the number-one background check service on our list. When pricing up your online detective mission, bear in mind that some background check services charge additional fees for downloading reports and such like.
And finally, if you're only looking to locate a long-lost friend or relative, a background check organization is probably not for you as you'll essentially be shelling out for a load of information you don't need – instead, try one of the best genealogy sites or the best people search sites.
1. Intelius: Best background check service overall
Intelius’ background check reports are comprehensive and include information about email accounts, phone numbers, marriages, and other legal information. In fact, the service’s reports provide many of the basic pieces of information a background check should, including relatives, addresses, criminal history, court judgments, bankruptcies and assets. Intelius covers all the areas you're likely to need for most searches.
Intelius’ reports are also easy to read and well formatted, although the information is not organized chronologically, so this may be an issue depending on what you are using the report for. While we determined that the information isn't always correct or up-to-date, you can directly access background report information without any other add-ons. In terms of accuracy, Intelius is above average.
When you get a report from Intelius, you're automatically signed up for a subscription service, so just remember to cancel the automatic Intelius Premier sub before the trial period is over, and you are charged. In fact, pricing is an issue with Intelius, as you may end up needing to pay extra for additional information, and you may struggle to understand exactly what reports you need.
2. Instant Checkmate: Most comprehensive background checks
Instant Checkmate had the most comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date reports we saw. Each one included emails, phone numbers and addresses as well as information about criminal history, assets and marriages.
Most background checks cost between $40 and $50 – Instant Checkmate charges around $35 for a monthly subscription with unlimited reports and searches (3 months of unlimited reports will set you back $28 per month). This is a great value because for the cost of one report elsewhere, you can view as many as you want at Instant Checkmate. However, you have to pay $2.99 for any report you wish to download.
We ran background checks on three people, and Instant Checkmate’s reports were always the most current and had the fewest inaccuracies. It was especially accurate on phone numbers and emails, listing some that other services omitted. One of our subjects had moved recently, and their report didn’t include their new address, so information that’s changed in the past six months may not show up.
It’s easy to search for your target, no matter how common their name is. We had no trouble finding any of our subjects. By including a middle name, you can quickly narrow the results so you don’t have to scroll through pages of names. The more information you add, the easier it is to find who you’re looking for.
- Read our Instant Checkmate review
3. TruthFinder: Most accurate background checks
TruthFinder offers detailed criminal report information and also offers a good grasp of job history and social media accounts. There's also a self-monitoring option, which allows you to search your details on the dark web and reveals if you have been part of a data breach. As long as you are a paying member, you can hide your data from other TruthFinder users.
TruthFinder won't let you pay for single reports, and instead offers a subscription option. This means that you won't pay for reports which may not even be on the person you meant to search for. However, we didn't enjoy the user experience. The 'funnel' feature means you need to perform a search before paying, which is a bit of a time waster if you know you want to subscribe.
- Read our TruthFinder review
4. US Search: Best background checks on a budget
US Search’s affordable prices, accurate background check reports and useful search tools make it the best value background check service. We purchased reports for three people and looked through them for inaccuracies and omissions. US Search’s reports were highly accurate, especially in the criminal history, addresses and assets sections. It didn’t return many email address results, though that varied from person to person. However, the email addresses it did uncover weren’t found by many of the other services we tested. The information on the reports was largely up to date, though this service didn’t find any of our subjects’ marriages.
Like most background check services, US search has switched to a subscription model for its services. This costs $19.86 per month, but there are usually introductory offers on this pushing prices down to $1.99 for the first 30 days.
It’s relatively easy to find the person you’re looking for, though it’s best to add all the information you have, including middle names, cities and states, to narrow the results. This is especially useful when searching for people with common names.
- Read our US Search review
5. PeopleFinders: Best subscription service
PeopleFinders is our choice for the best subscription service because it combines accurate background check results with a low monthly price.
There are some advantages to paying for a background check subscription, especially if you plan to run many reports over a long period. However, we must caution that you can’t use this information for rental or employment decisions. For that you need to contact a consumer reporting agency.
PeopleFinders’ reports include information about possible relations, contact information, marriages, divorces, criminal history and bankruptcies. The information is accurate and well organized. A subscription to PeopleFinders costs $24.95 per month.
- Read our PeopleFinders review
6. BeenVerified: Best for self-searching
If you’re looking for information about someone’s work history, BeenVerified is the best option. Work history is another good data point to use to find someone you’ve lost track of. It can also be helpful if you need to reconstruct your own work history as you write your resume.
BeenVerified reports have accurate information, and there's currently a price-reduction in place on the site. Subscriptions cost $22.86 a month for a 1-month plan and $44.58 for a 3-month plan, which represents good value for money.
- Read our BeenVerified review
7. Whitepages: Another alternative
Whitepages is another background check service available to you. Of all the services we tested, it was the least accomplished, and we actually had a lot of issues with it. We've only really included it in this guide because it's one of the larger services, and it does provide a limited amount of free information before you hit a paywall. You might be able to find an address or phone number, but the accuracy pales next to others like Intelius and Instant Checkmate.
You have to be good at searching and parsing information yourself, as the search function and data you get back from Whitepages is tough to read (and find in the first place). Combine that with a bewildering pricing structure, and we simply wouldn't recommend giving your credit card details to this company. It's not a scam, as some user reviews claim, but you don't get good value for money, based on the reports you receive.
How we tested background check services
To gauge accuracy, we purchased reports for three people and cross referenced this information with their personal details. We saw a wide range in the results. Most had current addresses, though one of our subjects had moved recently, and the most recent address wasn’t in the reports – you can expect a small lag if there have been recent changes.
We also evaluated these services on how easy it is to search for the person you’re looking for. The best background checkers make it easy to find who you’re looking for by giving you the option to include middle names and cities in your search.
How do background checks work?
All the information included in the background reports bought and sold by these services is public information. You could, if you had the time and patience, find the information on your own. This is the value background check services provide – they do the legwork for you by using web-scraping software to mine public data or by purchasing information in bulk from companies, like Facebook and Twitter, who require users to agree to terms allowing the company to sell their information. Once the services have the public information, they collate it into a report for easy reading.
How long does a background check take?
Background checks that include criminal and employment information typically take between 2-4 days, but can take as long as a week. However, you can access some of that information in just seconds if you use an online background check company.
How much do background checks cost?
Depending on what you need it for, how much information you need and how many reports you need, a background check can cost as little as $19.95 or as much as $49.95. Most services we reviewed let you purchase single reports. However, signing up for a subscription can save you money because you get many reports for one monthly cost. Subscriptions range from $19.95 to around $35 per month, though some services charge additional fees for information like lien or permit information.
What kind of information can you find in a background check report?
Well, it depends on the individual and how much of a digital footprint they’ve left on the web, but here is a list of public information these services mine for:
- Full name and aliases
- Address history
- Phone numbers
- Marriage and divorce records
- Known and assumed relatives
- Business and social connections
- Social media profiles
Professional & Civil Records
- Education records
- Employment history
- Property records, licenses, deeds, permits
- Criminal record
- Driving record
- Lawsuits and civil judgements
Here’s information you won’t find in background check reports:
- Social Security number
- Consumer information (credit score, consumer habits)
- Financial records (salary, wealth, debt, collections, tax history)
- Medical records (protected by HIPAA)
- Phone records (who they’ve called)
- Behavior (location tracking, context for gaps in work history)
- Test scores
What background checks do employers, landlords and financial institutions use?
These types of background checks are performed by either specialty consumer reporting agencies or credit reporting companies.
There are really only three credit reporting agencies in the states: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There’s a much wider variety of consumer reporting agencies available. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a list of agencies here. You’re legally entitled to access this information once a year.
The background check services we reviewed are different from those used to make rental, lending or hiring decisions. The Fair Credit Reporting Act actually makes it illegal to use reports from the background check services we reviewed for any decisions related to potential employees, renters or borrowers.
Will background checks show all my previous jobs?
This really depends on whether or not you listed your previous jobs publicly before. Remember, these types of background check services can only scrape public information, so if you haven’t disclosed a previous position it might not appear. However, if you’ve mentioned it on a public forum or posted about it on social media, it could appear in the report.
Can background checks see private social media?
Background checks shouldn’t be able to access private social media, but if you’ve posted from that account publicly before then these posts could show up in third-party search engines. For example, if you recently changed your Twitter account from public to private, any old tweets could still be indexed by Google, so they may show up in background checks.
Do background checks show education?
Yes, background checks can show education. Our top-rated service, Intelius, usually provides this information in its reports. Although this sort of information isn't usually provided online, its possible to call up education institutions to confirm education history and graduation dates.
What if my background check contains wrong information?
It’s a good idea to run one of these checks on yourself occasionally so you can address any issues, like old or incorrect information showing up. You can liaise with the services to check where they found this information, then scrub it from the internet or update the database. There are a few other steps you can take to check on your digital footprint, too:
Searching for yourself is not as narcissistic as you might assume. You can only figure out what needs improving by seeing what is easily accessible about you
Protect Personal Data
Always be careful about the information you share. This is especially pertinent for websites requiring a registered account to access or comment on content. If you don’t have to, don’t provide your real information.
Background check services like the ones we reviewed have opt-out forms, allowing you to request your information be removed from their databases. This doesn’t protect from proper background checks a potential employer performs, but it does protect against inaccurate information these services have.
Deactivate Old and Unused Accounts
If there is no reason for you to maintain an account, delete or deactivate it. You can use this tool to evaluate which sites you might have accounts with and how easy it is to delete yourself from those sites.
Cultivate Your Online Presence
Ensuring you don’t leave embarrassing or inflammatory breadcrumbs behind is important, but you also need to cultivate an online reputation an employer wants to see. Share and comment on industry articles. Show you have active interests, especially within the industry you work in. Having no digital footprint is actually worse than having a bad one.