Is Finding a Criminal Record like Looking for a Needle in a Haystack?

Nick Fishman

Searching for Criminal Records

Finding a candidate who is a good fit for your company is difficult enough—once you’ve found that candidate, you still need to perform an employment background check to ensure that nothing in their past will interfere with their job. For employers who have even a basic understanding of criminal background checks, you might still wonder how your background screening provider is able to find a record with so many resources available.

In truth, finding a criminal record is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately for employers, a background screening provider that follows best practices will not only find a candidate’s criminal record but will also verify that the information reported is accurate. Keep reading to learn four ways background screening companies find criminal records and ultimately, deliver the results to you.

Tracking Down All Names

A crucial first step to the criminal background check is determining not only where to search for a potential criminal record, but also which names should be searched. By using a Social Security Number Trace (or Address History Search), your background screening company will be able to conduct the most thorough search possible using all alias names for your candidate. This might mean a maiden name for one candidate or perhaps your candidate has used their middle name as their first name at some point. It’s important that the researcher know any alternate names, as this might be vital information for verifying whether or not a record belongs to your candidate.

The Most Thorough Criminal Record Search

A county record search depends on a variety of factors that can be overcome by a seasoned background screener.

  • If your candidate has a common name, this might make the search a bit more difficult. Criminal records should never be reported before confirming at least two identifiers like a date of birth, address or Social Security Number. Can you imagine how much information there is to comb through on a candidate with the name John Smith, for example?
  • If your candidate has multiple alias names, this will also make the researcher’s job more complicated. They’ll conduct a separate search under each name.
  • If your candidate has lived in several counties, this might also increase both the time and difficulty of the criminal record search.

The Real Needle in a Haystack

A tool more elusive than the county criminal court search is the national criminal database search. While this tool might have some information about your candidate’s criminal record, it can be more difficult to determine with 100% certainty if a criminal record belongs to your candidate. In addition, even if a record is found and it is your candidate, the information in this database might be incomplete or inaccurate.

However, while a criminal record search should not rely on this database alone, it is useful as a complementary search. If a criminal record is found in the national database, your provider can verify with the county court whether or not the record is accurate.

Statewide, Federal and More

While a county criminal record search and the national database are the most popular methods, there are other searches that can be helpful.

While a statewide search is not always recommended, particularly as the only search, additional information may be revealed here that was not uncovered in the other sources. However, also keep in mind that state records are not unified with the county courts and likely have partial or incorrect information available.

Another search that can be helpful is a federal court search. It’s important to remember that a federal court search will only reveal information about a crime prosecuted on the federal level—which is only a small portion of all criminal records. In addition, crimes persecuted on this level won’t be found in a county or statewide search. It’s best to consult your screening provider to determine if a federal search is right for your company’s searches.

Lastly, a vital tool for many employers is the multi-jurisdictional sex offender registry. If your candidate is included on this registry, it was likely due to a court order to register in their current state. But again, if your candidate is found on this list, your screening provider should verify with the local jurisdiction before reporting this to you.

While finding a criminal record can be difficult and takes time, research, and experience, it is possible. Remember that it’s up to your background screening provider to conduct a thorough search to ensure you receive the most accurate results possible. If you doubt that you’re receiving the best background check results, download EmployeeScreenIQ’s guide to learn more.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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