Best Background Check Services of 2019

Best background check

A good background check is a thorough report on a specific person and can cover many personal details such as residence, employment and education history, criminal convictions and more. 

Editor's Choice: Intelius

Intelius has some of the most comprehensive reports we saw. It includes information about work history and marriages as well as the basics like emails, addresses and phone numbers.VIEW DEAL ON Intelius

The best background check services are fast, detailed and accurate. There are many sites that offer free background checks, but they often give you minimal information (if any) unless you actually pay. That’s after you have wasted your time putting all the person’s details in. Choose one of the best background check sites that we’ve carefully tested and listed instead.

Almost anyone can request a background check on anyone else. So whether you’re concerned about a prospective roommate, business partner or date then you can request a comprehensive background check report on them to ease your mind and make sure you’re making the right decision.   

We recommend Intelius as the best background check company overall. It has some of the lowest prices we saw, and its reports include information about work history, addresses and criminal records. The reports are current and especially useful for finding email addresses, since it pulled results other background searches didn’t find.

ProductPriceOverall RatingReport InformationPricingSearchingAccuracySocial MediaWork HistoryTimelineBackground CheckMonthly SubscriptionPeople Search ReportDownload ReportSearch EffectivenessSearch by Phone NumberSearch by Email
InteliusView Deal4.5/597.59.8A-$49.95$29.95$3.95-B+
US SearchView Deal4/57.399.3B-$39.95$19.95$2.45-B
Instant CheckmateView Deal4/510410A+-$34.78-$2.99A
BeenVerifiedView Deal4/58.35.810B-$22.86-$2.99A
PeopleFindersView Deal4/55.39.59.5B+---$39.95$24.95$1.95$0.50B+
SpokeoView Deal3.5/54.89.88D-$49.95$13.95-$1.95A-
TruthFinderView Deal3.5/575.59.5B--$27.78-$2.00B+--
USA People SearchView Deal3/53.59.34.5C---$39.95$24.95$1.95$0.99D-
VerispyView Deal2.5/50.3106.5F---$19.95$29.95$19.95FreeD
VeromiView Deal1.5/51.563D---$39.95$24.95$9.95-C--

Best overall

Intelius

Intelius

Best background checking service for in-depth personal history

Reasons to Buy
Education and work history included in reports
Well-designed reports
Subscription and single-report purchase options
Reasons to Avoid
Information not arranged chronologically
Reports not downloadable
Inconsistent information

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 judgements, bankruptcies and assets. 

In addition, Intelius is one of the few background check services that lists educational history in its reports. This gives you another data point to use to get ahold of someone you’ve lost touch with. Intelius’ reports are easy to read and have a unique spider graph that shows how your subject is connected to relatives, jobs and other parts of their life.

A background check through Intelius costs $49.95, which is the highest price we saw, though the company shares that distinction with several other services. A monthly subscription costs $29.95 and may be a better option. However, you need to remember to cancel your subscription when you are done using it. You can purchase a people search report, which doesn’t include information about criminal history and other legal matters, for $3.95. One of Intelius’ drawbacks is you can’t download the reports you purchase.

Best cheap

US Search - best background checking service

US Search

Best background checker for value due to price plans

Reasons to Buy
Accurate and up-to-date information
Affordable reports
Multiple search options
Reasons to Avoid
Doesn’t find marriages
Reports not in chronological order
Email addresses not up to date

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.


A background check through US Search costs $39.95, which is less than many services charge for comparable reports. In fact, many companies require you to sign up for a monthly subscription to view background reports.


If you only need basic information, such as addresses and emails, you can purchase a people search report from US Search for $2.45. You can download PDFs of the reports you run without paying an additional fee.


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.

Most comprehensive background check reports

Instant Checkmate -background check services

Instant Checkmate

A fast background checking service that provides instant reports

Reasons to Buy
Subscription costs the same as a single report from other services
Reports are accurate and current
Search tools make it easy to find who you’re looking for
Reasons to Avoid
Must pay to download reports
Can’t buy single reports
Can be inconsistent with phone numbers

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. 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.

Best for self-searching

BeenVerified - background searcher

BeenVerified

Best background check service for independent searching

Reasons to Buy
Work history is comprehensive and organized chronologically
Reasons to Avoid
Need to pay extra for property information

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, though is some cases you may have to purchase add-ons – for example, if you want information about property or other legal matters. You need to pay for a subscription to get background checks. This costs around $22.86 a month (this includes a 15% discount).

Best background check subscription service

PeopleFinders - best background service

PeopleFinders

Best background checker for small business who conduct many searchs

Reasons to Buy
It’s one of the more accurate services we reviewed
Reasons to Avoid
Reports don’t include social media information

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.

Why trust us on background checks?

We’ve been reviewing background check services for over 10 years. For this latest update, we spent 40 hours searching for people and comparing background check reports. We purchased reports for this update so we could verify the information they contain was accurate and current. 

It’s easy to confuse these services with those lenders, employers and potential landlords run before making lending, hiring or renting decisions. However, background checks from the companies we reviewed only contain personal information, not information about a person’s credit history or other financial matters.

You can find information in these reports about a person’s criminal history, marriages, bankruptcies and any other court judgments. This can be useful if you want to vet potential business partners or dates or want to see what information about yourself is out there.

How we tested background check services 

Background checks can cost between $40 and $50 each. Before you spend that much money, you’ll want to know if a service provides correct information. To gauge accuracy, we purchased reports for three people. We chose to look at multiple reports because much of the information comes from public records, and it can vary depending on the state your subject lives in.

For each report, we had the subject verify the information about their addresses, phone numbers, emails and relatives was correct. We saw that there was more variation with phone numbers and emails, especially cell numbers. Some of this may be due to how much a person shares on social media, but we noticed some background check companies didn’t include any of this information at all.

We also considered how current the reports were. 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. Some of the lower scoring services had addresses our subjects hadn’t lived at for more than a decade.

We also evaluated these services on how easy it is to search for the person you’re looking for. The best services 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 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 social media and addresses. These additional fees range from $5 to $10.

Free background checks: are they worth it?

If you’re looking for a free background check, you’re not going to find it unless you’re willing to put in the work. Many sites, such as DMV.org and Backgroundchecks.org, appear to provide free background check reports, but as soon as you enter the name into the search tools, you’re redirected to BeenVerified. And while this service strings you along with an impressive array of animations to make it look like it’s scanning the internet for information, ultimately, you have to pay for the information. Even SearchQuarry.com, whose slogan is “Information is Free” doesn’t give up any information for free.

Starting with a purpose

To do your own background check on someone, you need to know what you’re looking for and why. What purpose is the background information going to serve? This can help keep you from wasting time looking for divorce decrees when you really just want to know if the person is a felon.

Court records

Most background checks involve looking at court records. These include criminal convictions, bankruptcies, divorces, marriages and more. And most of the information is public, which you can request for free. However, this usually requires setting up an account with the government website, filling out a specific records request form and waiting for a response, which can take days or weeks. Some courts also require you to submit records requests in person. This can take time, especially if you’re careful to make sure you’re getting records on the correct person.

Sex offender registry

If an individual has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a sexual crime, they are required to register as a sex offender. This database is maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice and it’s completely free to use. If you don’t know the person’s name, like a new neighbor, you can even enter your address and see if there are sex offenders living within three miles.

Work history on LinkedIn

Since LinkedIn is primarily for professional networking and development, you can use the information people include on their profiles to do free background checks of their professional and academic history. The catch is, of course, the person needs to have a profile and the information isn’t necessarily correct. In fact, according to a HireRight report, 85 percent of job applicants lie on their resumes. And since LinkedIn is essentially a public resume of professional and academic experience, including interests and hobbies, there’s good reason to view someone’s profile with skepticism. 

While a person’s LinkedIn profile isn’t going to tell you about their criminal or civil records, it certainly provides a great deal of information about their background. You can make your own assessment about what is or isn’t a red-flag, such as gaps in work history or information that doesn’t match with what they told you. For example, if you check on someone you met on a dating app, you can confirm where they went to school and where they work before committing to meet them.

Finding people for free on LinkedIn requires you create your own profile, and it works best if you fill out your profile completely. In the My Network tab, the site recommends others' profiles based on your own profile – schools you've attended, industries you've worked in, companies you've worked for, mutual connections and interests. But you can also search for a specific person in the search bar, using the filter tool to narrow the results to as few people as possible.

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 very basic reports, such as ones containing address and emails can often take just seconds if you use an online background check company.

Should I hire a private investigator for a background check?

Background check reports from the services we reviewed aren’t always up-to-date or accurate. They can be good for confirming that the guy in an online dating profile is a real person and that your son’s soccer coach isn’t a felon, but because these services use web-scraping software to scour the internet for public information, the reports are not always accurate. This is especially true for finding info on people with common names or contextualizing a person’s associative relationships, for example.

If it's very important that the background check be completely accurate, you may want to consider hiring a private investigator. However, most of the time, such background investigations are reserved for high-level pre-employment investigations, executive-level background checks and board-of-director confirmations, according to the Diligentia Group, a New York-based private investigation firm.

Here are the three levels of private background investigations, along with the associated costs:

Red Flag Investigation

Fee estimate: $500 to $1,500

This level of investigation confirms the person’s background information and looks to highlight any potential red flags, such as felony or fraud convictions. 

Professional Background Investigation

Fee estimate :$1,500 to $2,500

In addition to including red flags, this level of investigation looks into professional history, business interests and financial status, as well as any history of civil litigation and regulations.

Comprehensive Background Investigation

Fee estimate:  $2,500 and up

This level of background investigation is as comprehensive as you want it to be. In addition to including red flags and professional background checks, it looks at points of interest such as media appearances, habits, assets, credit history (with consent), interviews with associates, political contribution history and connections.

What's included in a background check report?

All the information included in the background reports 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. 

But what kind of information can you expect to 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:

Personal Information

  • Full name and aliases
  • Birthday
  • Address history
  • Phone numbers

Social Connections

  • Marriage and divorce records
  • Known and assumed relatives
  • Business and social connections
  • Neighbors
  • Social media profiles
  • Blogs
  • Photos

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 the 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 are the different kinds of background checks?

When people hear “background check,” they usually think about the kind an employer or landlord runs before making a decision. The background check services we reviewed are different from those used to make rental, lending or hiring decisions. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, explained in further detail below, actually makes it illegal to use reports from the background check services we reviewed for any decisions related to potential employees, renters or borrowers. In fact, it would be illegal to use these background check reports to decide on which babysitter to hire.

What people typically think of as background checks are performed by specialty consumer reporting agencies. Much like your credit report, federal law entitles you to access this information once a year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends looking at your report before applying for a lease or insurance. Get a report if a job you’ve applied for asks for authorization so you can see if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Looking at the report gives you the chance to spot errors and dispute them.

Unlike credit reports, which only have three major players, there’s a wide variety of consumer reporting agencies. The CFPB has a list of agencies here.

If you can afford it, it’s also a good idea to get a background check from one of the services we reviewed. You can check to ensure the information they report is accurate and may even be able to have your information removed from the service’s listings.

Background checks and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

In Broken Records, a report on the problems with background checks, the National Consumer Law Center reported that Samuel M. Jackson was allegedly denied employment based on a felony conviction. However, according to the background check, the felony occurred when Jackson was just four years old. In truth, the report misattributed the crime because his name was similar to the actual felon's. Such inaccuracies, according the report, are widespread with background check services because of an “industry-wide lack of accountability” and incentive to “cut corners” in how they collect and attribute information.   

As background check services turn into subscription services, the temptation for businesses to use the information for employment screening is extremely high. After all, anyone willing to pay around $30 to $50 per month can anonymously view unlimited background reports for as many applicants as they want. And there is little accountability or policing of how you use the information since it's all considered public record.

The Fair Credit and Reporting Act disclaimers are posted on each of these service’s websites and state you cannot use the information to screen applicants for your business, but there is no process to ensure you follow the law or the accuracy of the background check information. And, as the NCLC’s report argues, this hurts your business, not just because it's illegal but because you could lose valuable applicants based on inaccurate information. Following background check procedures laid out in the FCRA helps protect your business. It requires you do the following:

  1. Get permission from the individual.
  2. Inform them you plan to use the information for screening purposes.
  3. Promise not to misuse the information.
  4. Provide a copy of the report to the individual.
  5. Allow the individual to dispute inaccuracies. 

What is a court runner service?

Many courts haven’t digitized their criminal records yet, which means this information is not online. As such, background check services can’t use web scraping software to collect criminal records from the courts. In these instances, some services use a court runner service, which sends a person to the courthouse to physically pull the public files. This person is called a court runner, and he or she is trained on how to dig through files and retrieve information.

This service is usually considered premium and, as such, costs about $50. However, this fee can vary according to the distance the court runner has to travel. In addition, most county courts charge about $20 to file a public records request.

Because court running is a premium service that requires a person to do work on your behalf, you should request a court runner only when you know the person you're researching has a criminal record from a specific court or if you strongly suspect he or she has a record and you want to confirm your suspicions. Otherwise, you risk paying a significant amount for nothing, and this fee is usually nonrefundable. Notably, court runners only retrieve criminal records, so you can't use them to obtain divorce records, civil court records, birth certificates or death records.

Court runners usually complete the service in two to four days. If some records are listed as pending, it means there is still a scheduled court date, pending charges or some other pending action.

Background check reports: terms to know and look for

Arrest Record

An arrest record appears on a person’s background report when the person’s been apprehended by law enforcement on suspicion of criminal activity. It’s important to note, however, an arrest record is different from a criminal record. The former indicates only that the person was apprehended by law enforcement, but does not indicate guilt. An arrest record can show the person was held for questioning, taken into custody, held for investigation, or charged and tried.

An arrest record can reveal a lot about the person:

  • Suspected age
  • Age at time of arrest
  • Whether suspected crime was misdemeanor or felony
  • Fines
  • Pending litigation

Associates

Some background check reports provide a list of associates – anyone who has been associated with the person in the past. This list can include former coworkers, roommates, business partners, relatives, spouses, children and friends on social media. It’s meant to reflect the kind of company the person keeps.

Some background check services argue that the list of associates in their reports provides a bigger picture of the individual’s credibility. The logic is that if a person’s associate list is filled with people who have criminal records, they are less credible than someone who’s associations are businessmen. However, it’s important to realize these lists are not an accurate representation of the quality of a person’s actual associations. Since these lists are computer generated, much of the context in the relationship is lost.

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a legal procedure where an individual or business seeks legal protection against the debts they have incurred. People file bankruptcy when their debt is so high they are incapable of paying it according to their creditors' terms. Bankruptcy is a serious mark on a person’s background report, but it’s not necessarily a red flag, as a high percentage of bankruptcies filed by individuals are the result of medical bills.

chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common among individuals, though businesses can file it as well. People file for this when their debt is unmanageable. It requires the court to make an evaluation of the debtor’s possessions and assets. The process starts by liquidating non-exempt property to repay as much of the debts as possible: second homes, secondary vehicles, stocks, bonds, available cash, valuable heirlooms and any other high-value possessions. If there is still unpaid debt, the person’s exempt property is liquidated to repay debt: household items, clothing, tools of a trade, personal vehicles.

chapter 11 bankruptcy is filed when the individual or business wants to reorganize debt. This is most common with businesses, as it allows them to repay debts (under the supervision of a court) in such a way to allow the business to continue operating. It requires the business to develop a profitability plan, show cost-cutting measures and show how they are increasing revenue. If an individual files a chapter 11, they are most likely an owner of a small business.

chapter 13 bankruptcy is filed when an individual’s income is too high to qualify for chapter 7. This type of bankruptcy allows the individual to retain their assets and property while repaying the debt under a court’s supervision. The advantage of this kind of bankruptcy is it allows the individual to have the repayment terms determined by the court rather than the creditors.

Civil lawsuit

A lawsuit is filed when a plaintiff (person, representative or business) has a claim or dispute against a defendant and seeks a formal judgment from a court. Lawsuits can be filed between citizens, businesses, states and government entities, and the judgments are legally binding, resulting in financial penalties or criminal liabilities. 

In the United States, you can file a lawsuit for just about any reason, which has resulted in a high percentage of frivolous lawsuits. As such, finding a civil lawsuit on a background check report can be a red flag for a number of reasons, especially if the lawsuit was filed by the person. That said, it may also mean nothing. However, it’s worth noting the different kinds of civil lawsuits.

A tort is one of the most common types of a lawsuit for seeking money. It’s filed by plaintiffs who claim to have experienced pain and suffering or a loss of compensation caused by the defendant. For example, if you’re hit by a driver, your insurance company might only cover your medical bills, so you sue the driver to compensate against the loss of income. The intention of seeking a financial judgment makes it the most common lawsuit filed.

A family action lawsuit is filed when a family has a dispute requiring a formal decision. This is where you find lawsuits for custody and child support issues. It can also be used to determine will and inheritance disputes.

Private nuisance lawsuits are between two private citizens, where one believes the other is interfering with the enjoyment of property or quality of life. For example, if your neighbor doesn’t take care of his yard and the weeds and bushes are a nuisance, you can file a private nuisance lawsuit to get a court judgment requiring him to take care of his yard.  

Embezzlement

Embezzlement is a type of white-collar felony theft in which the person used company funds for personal purposes without approval. Typically, the crime is an employee in accounting or finance with access to financial accounts, and the crime occurs over a long period of time.

Embezzlement is a crime with different motivations than other crimes, according to a Hiscox Study on embezzlement. Perpetrators are often trusted, long-time employees who came into tough times, such as a sick family member. It typically starts out with small amounts, but as they go uncaught, the amount of damage an embezzler can do to a company is dramatic. According to the study, the average loss a business absorbs over the lifespan of an embezzlement is $807,443.

Background reports can include whether the person you’re searching was convicted of embezzlement, sometimes including the amount they are charged with embezzling.

Eviction

An eviction occurs when a landlord provides a tenant with a legal notification to leave the property. Eviction laws vary by location and municipal codes, but typically, a tenant is evicted due to failure to correct a problem that violates the leasing agreement such as paying back-rent or meeting requirements stated in the lease. Unless you’re an at-will tenant (someone who lives on a property but does not have a lease), the landlord can’t evict you without initiating legal action.

Eviction records are considered public record and are typically included in a credit report, making it difficult to find an apartment or home if you’ve ever been evicted. If you have been evicted, Instant Checkmate recommends building up a list of references and looking for landlords and complexes that don’t require background or credit checks. The service also recommends reaching out to the landlord who evicted you to ask if they’d be willing to remove the eviction from your credit report if you pay any remaining past-due fees and rent.  

Felony

While there are many kinds of crimes that can show up on a person’s criminal background check, felonies are the most serious crimes. There are different degrees to a felony, with first degree being the most serious. These crimes typically include murder, aggravated or grand theft, rape and other violent crimes. To be charged with a felony, prosecutors have to get an indictment from a grand jury. For it to show up on a background check report, the person either admitted guilt or was found guilty by a jury and required to serve prison time.

Felonies stay on a person’s record permanently, unless they go through the difficult process of getting it expunged.

Lien

A lien is a legal procedure creditors use to claim ownership of a debtor’s property if the terms of debt are not fulfilled. Typically, liens are placed on a person’s home or property by a credit card company, hospital or the IRS. Liens ensure that if you can’t pay the debt, the lien holder can reclaim the debt by taking ownership of your property.

While there are many types of liens, each lien is either consensual or non-consensual. A consensual lien is determined through a contract agreement between the lien holder and the lienee. For example, a mortgage is a consensual lien between you and a bank. If you fail to pay the lien, the bank takes ownership of your home. An involuntary lien is one where the lien was created by law and not a contract. These include an attorney, demolition, judgment, HOA, maritime, mechanics’, tax and weed (yard maintenance) liens.

Misdemeanor


Unlike a felony, a misdemeanor is a less serious crime, like certain traffic offenses and minor drug offenses. Some misdemeanors require the person to serve jail sentences in a local city or county jail, and most sentences are short. However, misdemeanor sentences can run consecutively, allowing for some to serve many years in jail.

It can vary from state to state, but misdemeanors typically stay on a person’s record for between 3-5 years.

Do's and don’ts of using background search services

Just because background check services collect information through legal methods, either by scrubbing public records or by purchasing the info from companies like Facebook, it’s worth emphasizing the do's and don’ts of using them ethically.

Do:

Protect your children. It's a good idea to use these services to verify the backgrounds of adults your children interact with. They don’t provide full criminal background checks, but you can also check the free NSOPW database to see if the adult is a registered sex offender.   

Protect yourself and your identity. By evaluating your own background check, you can ensure the information is accurate and that your identity hasn’t been stolen. Also, you can verify the identities of people you’ve met online, such as potential business partners or dates, to protect yourself from scams. 

Verify phone numbers. If you’re getting calls from an unknown number, you can check the number’s ID and determine whether it’s worth answering.

Don’t:

Stalk anyone, ever. It should go without saying, but using background check services makes it far too easy for people to step over the line. Remember, even if you’re trying to reconnect with an old friend or ex-lover, many people don’t want to be contacted and don't realize their contact information is out there. As such, you should never use the information to do the following:

  • Make unwanted calls or emails
  • Show up at their home or work address
  • Send unsolicited letters, flowers, emails and gifts
  • Cause harm by spreading rumors about their divorce, work or criminal past on the internet

All of these are stalking behaviors as outlined by the Department of Justice. Always be respectful of other people's boundaries.

Use the information for hiring, lending or renting decisions. Using this information to hire someone, even if you’re a small, one-person business, is illegal. The same goes for lending money or renting property. For those purposes, you have to get written consent from the individual and use a different kind of background check.

Do felonies show up after 7 years? 

A felony conviction is not like a debt collection issue on a credit report. It’s a permanent mark on your record and appears on your record even after you die. And for good reason - felonies are considered the most serious criminal offenses a person can commit within society - murder, arson, fraud, armed robbery, sexual assault, etc. If you’ve been convicted of a felony, it means you either pleaded guilty to an egregious offense or you were found guilty through the justice system.   

However, according to Criminal Watch Dog, you can get a felony removed from a background check, but only if you apply for the record to be expunged. Even a pardoned crime isn’t removed from your criminal record, despite what people often think. Rather, a pardoned crime is just noted as having been forgiven by a person in executive power, like the Governor or President.

Requirements for expungement vary by state. For example, Utah’s expungement laws require you to pay all fines, fees, restitution and interest related to the crime, but there is a long list of offenses that cannot be expunged, such as violent felonies, first degree felonies and sex offenses. The state also has a complicated list of other reasons for denying expungement, most of which involve felony and misdemeanor convictions showing a pattern of criminal activity.

How to manage your digital footprint

In an article published by Rasmussen College, Kristina Ericksen argues the importance of your online presence – everything you do online leaves breadcrumbs for potential employers to judge you by. In today’s competitive job market, the importance of being conscious of your internet presence is more critical than ever.

To manage your digital footprint, consider the following: 

  • Google Yourself: 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. Think of it this way – by Googling your name, you’re only doing what potential employers are going to do anyway. It allows you to evaluate what is good for them to see and what you can better manage. Ericksen even recommends setting up Google Alerts so you can track every time you are mentioned on the internet.  
  • 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.  
  • Opt-Out: 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.

Is your personal information safe from identity theft?

In 2017, the Insurance Information Institute reported that over 16.7 million Americans were victims of identity fraud. That's about 4 percent of the population. Adding to the concerns about the safety of your personal information is the dramatic rate of data breaches in 2018. According to Business Insider’s list of the 21 biggest data breaches of 2018, over 2.5 billion accounts containing sensitive information were exposed to hackers just last year. Basically, the chances your personal information is already on the dark web is high.

However, Nick Clements argues in "Should Identity Theft Really Scare You?" that you shouldn’t necessarily lose sleep about it. While identity theft is on the rise, the vast majority of the cases are reported as account takeovers – instances where someone uses your financial information to make purchases or gains entry into and takes over an account. These are, according to Clements, nothing to worry about. Since this kind of identity theft is common enough, banks and financial institutions are very good at making things right, so long as you report the fraud as soon as possible. In fact, 96 percent of people who experienced identity theft never had to pay a dime.

The identity theft you should worry about is identity takeover. This is when someone uses your personal information to open new accounts, credit cards and loans. However, this kind of identity theft is rare, occurring to only 4 percent of the people who experience identity theft. So even with all the data breaches occurring each year, the chances your information will be purchased on the dark web is almost on par with winning the lottery. Albeit a terrible kind of lottery.

Protecting yourself against this kind of fraud is not as easy. It requires keeping a studious eye on your credit reports on all three credit reporting services. In addition, recovering from identity takeover can be complicated and painful. Fortunately, an entire service industry has popped up to do the monitoring and recovery for you. You can read our reviews of the best identity theft protection services to learn more.

What do employers look for in background checks?

A background check is part of most hiring processes, but it can be unclear what happens between when you grant the company permission to run one and when the hiring manager makes their decision. Here are some things prospective employers look for in a background check and what red flags may cause them to reject you:

A standard background check for employment looks at your employment history, criminal history, credit history, driving history and educational history. Having something negative turn up in any of these categories isn’t necessarily a deal breaker – a lot depends on the type of job you’re looking for. For example, having poor credit may only affect an employment decision if the job involves handling money or having a company card.

In general, prospective employers run background checks to verify the information you provided and to see if there are any criminal convictions in your past. This is especially true if the job you’re applying for involves handling sensitive information, finances or property.

A criminal record doesn’t necessarily disqualify you for a job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides protections that prevent employers from outright rejecting an applicant based on criminal records. This varies from state to state and depends on the nature of the job you apply for. According to data collected by Sterling Talent Solutions, the majority of employers only disqualify 5 percent of prospective employees based on criminal history found in a background check.

When you apply for a job, there are a few things you can do to potentially improve the results and successfully get a job offer. First, be as honest as possible. If you know something may come up, tell the company when they ask permission to run a background check. You should also be as accurate as possible when applying, and keep a copy of your records on hand. In addition, look at your credit reports before applying and contest any inaccuracies.

How to spot a reliable background check

If you’re paying for a background check, you want to ensure the information in the report is accurate and up to date. During our research, we found some services had more accurate reports than others. The worst services included information that was nearly 20 years out of date and had incorrect criminal histories. This is especially a problem when you search for someone with a common name. Here are some ways to spot a reliable background check company:

One of the best ways to gauge a background check’s reliability is to run one on yourself first. This gives you an idea of how accurate that service is in general. Pay particular attention to addresses and marriages. You can expect some lag in the information if you’ve moved recently, but if the background check is behind by one or more addresses, you can expect to find other inaccuracies and errors. 

Generally, you only need to pay to access some information. Most searches show basic information for free, and you can use it to gauge how accurate the service might be. The most obvious way to check is to look at the list of associates and relatives – if you see several errors there, it's a clue that particular service won’t be very useful.

The search itself is also a way to gauge a service. If you can’t find yourself, it's highly unlikely you’ll find the person you’re using the service for. Most background check services include filters you can use to limit results by city, middle name and other information. If you’re still having trouble finding your target, look for another service.

Should I pay for a background check subscription?

Usually, it’s more cost-effective to pay for a subscription if the service offers one. Subscription costs range from $14 to $35. This is generally less than a single background report, which run anywhere from $20 to $50. You can get a scaled down “people search” report for as little as $4, but that report won’t have any information on criminal history or legal records. A subscription can save you money, especially if you’re looking up multiple people. And even if you’re not, you can run a report on yourself to see what information comes up.

However, be especially careful with subscriptions. They renew automatically, often without warning. If you’re a journalist or private investigator, ongoing access to a background check service can be very useful. But for most people, it can easily become another service you signed up for and forgot about. If you do choose to pay for a subscription but don’t intend on using the service long term, set up a reminder to cancel it. Usually, you can cancel through your account settings page, but some services require you to contact customer service.

Contributing Writer: Jeph Preece, Senior Domain Editor