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Accurate Employment Background Checks

After months of searching, you finally found the perfect candidate for your (insert job here) role. This guy or gal has everything you’re looking for: great experience, sterling references, and a personality that fits well within your organization. Let’s face it: they are the bee’s knees.

Now, the only thing that has stopped you from making an offer is waiting for you on your desk—the background check results. You furiously scan the document to make sure there are no red flags: verified education and employment . . .  check, stellar driving record . . . check, substance abuse test came back clean . . . check. But wait. No, this can’t be happening.  Your best candidate is a registered sex offender?


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Comprehensive Criminal Background Check

Ten years ago, it was hard to find reputable background screening companies that enthusiastically endorsed the use of commercial criminal databases with “millions and millions of records” as an effective screening tool. Quality was poor, holes were huge, information was incomplete, and prices were sky high.

Five years ago, background screening companies became, more or less, ambivalent. Results weren’t as bad and the cost dropped, but it still didn’t give enough bang for the buck. Technically called a multi-jurisdictional database search, the lingo used by the industry and employers, National Database, suggested a level of completeness and accuracy that wasn’t there in reality.

Fast forward to today. EmployeeScreenIQ, along with other background screening companies, proudly turn that paradigm on its head. In our experience, we believe that a multi-jurisdictional database search should be part of every comprehensive criminal background check. Not because of what it finds. But because of what it doesn’t.

Now why on earth would a background screening company accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) endorse a product because of what it doesn’t find? This is my explanation: At its core, the National Database is just a compilation of data assembled from jurisdictions nationwide.

There is no uniformity regarding the completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information. Some counties, towns, and states participate, while others do not. Some provide all of their records. Some don’t. Some provide data quickly…you get the point. In sum, it’s a data dump. It hits our system looking nothing like what our clients see on a final report.

What it’s not: An easy-to-read report, with 8-10 lines, clearly indicating felony or misdemeanor, guilty or not guilty, the date of the offense.

What it is: Pages of criminal cases and hundreds of lines of raw, often contradictory data. At that point, we have three tasks as the background screening provider:

  1. We filter through to determine whether the information is or isn’t your candidate.
  2. If it is, we fill in the missing details. Knowing whether it’s your candidate means little if you don’t know what the conviction is. But it’s still a database search with many holes.
  3. Our third job is to verify and corroborate in conjunction with a traditional county court search, which meets the accuracy, thoroughness and up to date standard set forth by the FCRA…and lets our clients sleep well at night.

The problem was, this process cost more, took longer, and at the end of the day, almost always wasn’t the client’s candidate. When a candidate had records, we previously found on average, 13 of them, 89% of which were false positives (not your candidate after all). We didn’t report this information on the final report, but boy did it take a lot of time to filter it out. Using new methods, the false positive rate has dropped by 71%, and the number of records our team filters through has dropped 63%. These internal enhancements mean our clients can realize faster turnaround time, without compromising accuracy or quality.

It is crucial to point out that conducting this search does not guarantee every record that could be found will be found. Significant holes still exist. Any client that uses this tool as their primary background check strategy and in lieu of county court searches will miss many, many records. This product remains simply a tool to cast a wider net.

However, since the quality of the data has improved, and the percentage of false positives has dropped, and it has now become cost efficient, this database is sufficient for use in a criminal background check, at least in part. We consider it a strong complementary tool and look forward to working with our clients who want to expand the quality of their programs.

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Federal Criminal Background Checks for Employers

If you’re running a criminal background check by adhering to best practices, including a search in each county to determine if your candidate has any convictions on his/her record, then you might consider your employment background screening program both thorough and accurate. On the other hand, if this does not describe your current program, you should consider submitting a request to find out how EmployeeScreenIQ helps clients create a comprehensive screening program tailored to their needs.

But even if your background check company conducts a thorough search, there could be another piece of the puzzle missing: what if your candidate was convicted of a federal crime?

Well-known federal convicts include Bernie Madoff, former Illinois Governor’s Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, John Dillinger, Al Capone, The Unabomber, John Gotti and Aldrich Ames.

Unfortunately, a county criminal background check would not include these federal convictions or any others.  However, there is a good way for you to search for federal convictions without breaking the bank: a Federal District Criminal Records Search.

Basics of a Federal Record Search

Federal District Criminal Record Searches identify criminal activity prosecuted through the federal court system. Criminal activity prosecuted in Federal District Courts typically involves violations of the Constitution or other federal law. These crimes include tax evasion, embezzlement, bank robbery, kidnapping, mail fraud and other federal statute violations.

There are 94 federal judicial districts throughout the country, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States – the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands – have district courts that hear federal cases.

And as mentioned previously, federal criminal convictions do not appear in state or county felony and misdemeanor court record searches. Therefore a federal district search is imperative if such records are needed. Each state is comprised of several federal districts.


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Congress Background Checks

Despite the ongoing government shutdown, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that some business is being conducted on Capitol Hill—namely, a Congressional briefing on background checks. Earlier this week Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) hosted a Congressional briefing focused on the National Employment Law Project (NELP) report “Wanted – Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment”.  I blogged on the NELP report a few weeks ago, sharing my opinion that the report brings some important things to light—namely the glaring weaknesses in the FBI fingerprint system and the significant holes in that database.

I appreciate the work that NELP has done on this topic—a subject that needs to be publicly addressed and scrutinized. I part ways with NELP, however, when it comes to their recommendations on what to do about the failed Federal system. Instead of focusing on ways to improve the database by filling gaps, improving the completeness of the data and focusing on enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, NELP is advocating more restrictions for both private employers and the federal government alike.


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Federal Criminal Background Checks

We’ve had a lot of questions over the past few days about whether employers that conduct background checks or background screening companies would be affected by the federal government shutdown.  While we knew that the vast majority of the services we provide would be unaffected, we wondered if we would still be able to complete Federal District Criminal Background Checks.  These searches are performed through the federal government’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system and we were concerned that the service could be impacted.

For a quick refresher, Federal Criminal Court Searches identify criminal activity prosecuted through the federal court system. Criminal activity tried in Federal District Courts typically involves violations of the Constitution or other federal law. Such crimes include tax evasion, embezzlement, bank robbery, kidnapping, mail fraud and other federal statute violations.

That said, I couldn’t wait to get in the office this morning to call PACER and find out. [...]

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Quality Background checks

“Are we there yet?” That was my favorite question to fire off to my parents minutes after getting in the old Electra station wagon (remember the movie Vacation?) for a road trip. That question became a recurring theme in my early twenties with the advent of the dial up modem. And now in my adult life, that question has been replaced with, How long should it take to complete a criminal background check for employment?

For the purposes of this post, let’s just deal with county criminal records which are by far the best method for conducting criminal background checks.

For starters, let’s talk about the incorrect answer to the above question: Instant. As we’ve chronicled ad nauseum, an instant criminal background check is a recipe for disaster.

And the correct answer? My first response is that the average county criminal search takes about 24-36 hours to complete (this average includes clear records as well as those including convictions). But if that question is answered properly, it requires far more explanation.

If a background screening company is doing a good job, they ought to use the best possible resource for retrieving court data. In most cases, that means conducting a physical search of records at the courthouse. However, there are some instances where a direct web interface is the best option.

Here’s a breakdown of the various research options and how long they take to complete:

  • In-County Court Research- When physical research of court records is necessary, the average turnaround time is anywhere from 30-36 hours.  This is by far, the most common method for conducting a thorough criminal background check, so it has the biggest impact on the overall turnaround time.  When no records are found, turnaround times are considerably shorter.
  • Clerk Run Searches- Some courts throughout the country do not allow non-court personnel to conduct a criminal background check.  Instead the court researcher must rely upon a court clerk to perform the research on their behalf.  And unfortunately, court personnel don’t always make this research a priority.  For instance, it’s not uncommon throughout the state of New Hampshire or in Las Vegas, Nevada for searches without records to take more than a week to complete.  And fughetaboutit when a possible record is found.  That can sometimes take in excess of two weeks. Other areas that are well-known for clerk run searches are Phoenix, Arizona various counties throughout Northern California and the state of Michigan.
  • Direct Web Interface- When using a direct court interface, the results are available instantly.  However, don’t get too excited.  There are a couple important things to consider here.  1.) EmployeeScreenIQ has found that only approximately 25% of counties throughout the country offer a service that is as good as or better than physical research.  2.) These searches are great when no record is found but if there are records, there is usually a lot of raw data that needs to be sifted through before reporting.

Now that you know the various types of research, it is also important to understand how the presence of criminal records can impact turnaround time.  And again, if you are using a reputable background screening company, there is more work to do before simply reporting the presence of a conviction.

Here’s a breakdown of the activities that can impact turnaround time:

  • If the record is understandable and straight forward a reputable background screener will confirm that the personal identifiers (name and date of birth, address or social security number) match the subject of the search.  They will also ensure that the record is reportable under state and federal law.  The last thing you want is to make a hiring decision based on inaccurate or unreportable data.
  • If the record is unclear, a reputable background screening company will contact the court for additional information.  Sometimes, they can clear everything up in one quick phone call.  Don’t hold your breath though.  Many courts are understaffed these days and even the simplest question could take some time to resolve.  If court personnel can’t answer your question without further research it could take some time.  Once the information has been resolved, the company will perform the aforementioned confirmation steps.

Advice for HR Professionals:

  • Build time into your hiring process to conduct a thorough criminal background check.  Figure that your average background check will be completed in 2 to 4 days.
  • Don’t take shortcuts in the screening process.  If it sound too good to be true (i.e. instant background checks or guarantees on exactly how long a search will take), it most definitely is.
  • Identify a screening partner willing to update you when a search is delayed.  It’s a service business and you should have to chase them down.
  • Be transparent with your applicants.  Let them know how long a search usually takes and keep them posted.

Do you ever doubt the accuracy of your employment background checks? Find out how to avoid a hiring horror story through HR’s Guide to Effective Evaluation of Background Screening Providers. Click here to download.

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Valuable Background Checks

When seeking an employment background screening provider, many factors are brought to the table that contribute to making a decision. These could include services, criminal hit rate, accuracy, turnaround time, and of course, cost.

In any given purchase, not only background checks, you aim to pay the lowest price possible and still hope for the best product. In some cases, this might work-you can buy a quality product at a lower price and not worry. On the other hand, there are many purchases that are worth spending a little extra.

The same standard should be true for your criminal background checks. You find background checks for the awesomely low price of $9.95 and sign up without hesitation, believing the company is reputable and safe. But what if a couple months later, your background check “breaks”? Your background screening provider missed a criminal record in the search and you hire someone with a criminal record. While a criminal record alone should not be a disqualifier for a candidate, employers should still know who they’re hiring. You can’t ask for a refund, like some purchases, so what can you do?


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Comprehensive Criminal Background Check

What components are required for a comprehensive criminal background check? It’s no longer enough to simply say that you’ve done a background check. Employers need to consider elements such as accuracy, criminal hit rate, an address history search, alias names, county criminal searches and how far back the record is found. Is your background screening provider conducting a comprehensive background check? Our expert panelists discuss the components that can make or break your criminal background checks.

Perhaps conducting a background check is just another item on your to-do list and you’re not concerned about the level of accuracy. However, if you want to learn how you can make the best hiring decisions based on all information available, this video is for you. Our expert panelists discuss the intricacies of forming a comprehensive criminal background check.

The components to consider for a comprehensive criminal background check include:

  • Address history search
  • Alias names
  • County criminal search
  • Maximum possible accuracy philosophy
  • Research & test the tools that provide the best results

To learn more about the elements of a thorough criminal background check, download EmployeeScreenIQ’s article, Time for a Wake Up Call: Are Your Criminal Background Checks Giving You a False Sense of Security?

Related EmployeeScreenIQ Content

Time for a Wake Up Call: Are Your Criminal Background Checks Giving You a False Sense of Security? (Article)
Less Records Are Now More Valuable: The Ins & Outs of the National Database Search (Blog post)

5 Criminal Searches Every HR Professional Should Know (Blog Post)

Quick Takes is a video series blending together bits of experience and expertise from EmployeeScreenIQ’s background screening experts. With a newsroom feel, discussions surround the latest issues in the background screening industry. All of the videos were filmed unscripted-giving you the opportunity to hear genuine responses from the professionals. Topics range from social media background checks to conducting a thorough criminal records search. We’re releasing a new video every month, so stay tuned.


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Criminal Records Search

How much do you really know about criminal background checks? Whether you know a little or a lot, the best place to start the conversation is by defining the different types of criminal records searches available. And while there are some criminal record searches that are more revealing than others, they all play an important role developing a comprehensive background check.  So the question is, where do you start? While the screening package might vary by job candidate, there are some fundamentals to know for any criminal background check.

A county criminal record search is the most tried and true source for finding criminal records. And in our experience, national or statewide criminal record checks are not a full compilation of all criminal records that could exist, nor can they guarantee that you have found what you’re looking for. However, a county search goes directly to the source of the criminal record. Before a county criminal records search has even commenced, the Social Security Number Trace (often referred to as an “Address History Search”) will determine:

1. If there are additional alias names associated with the candidate.

2. Addresses and therefore, counties where the person has lived.


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Criminal Background Checks

Do you worry that your criminal background checks aren’t as accurate or thorough as you assume?

As a background screening company, the key to a thorough criminal background check is gathering information that helps employers make smarter hiring decisions. This includes knowing the different types of criminal background checks, how far back to search for records, and how accuracy plays an important role when searching for criminal records. Whether you’re already knowledgeable in criminal background checks and would like a refresher or if you know very little, this guide is for you.

Download EmployeeScreenIQ’s latest article, “Time for a Wake Up Call: Are Your Criminal Background Checks Giving You a False Sense of Security?,” and you’ll receive a five-step guide to help you determine whether your background checks are truly giving you all of the information and protection you need.

This guide provides you with critical insights into:

  • The truth about social security number traces and address history searches.
  • The reasons all criminal record searches aren’t the same.
  • Why the National Database Search is valuable when used with other tools.
  • How criminal records should be verified.
  • Often-overlooked options for your employment background checks.

Download a copy today to learn valuable information for your organization’s employment background screening program.

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