The popularity of background checks makes sense. Background checks give you insight into a person’s criminal history.

While a background check cannot reveal absolutely everything about an individual due to privacy laws, it does tell you exactly what you need to know to protect yourself and to be safe.

Many people—including small business owners—mistakenly believe that background checks can only be conducted by a government agency or licensed professionals.

Some people also assume that background checks cost a lot of money. Actually, you can conduct can background check online!

After reading this article, you will know more about what background checks include and how to receive a background check when you need one.

What is a Background Check?

A background check involves searching the public record for information on a person.

background check website

Public records are by definition accessible to the general public, but state or federal law will determine which public records are made available upon request and which require the express authorization of the individual whose records are being searched.

A background check is generally a process of accessing various public records to locate and process information about an individual or a company.

To conduct a background check, you may need to contact various government and private organizations, or use an online service that does the work for you

There are different types of background checks, including ones you can conduct online by accessing public records directly. You can access public records quickly and easily using our handy online guides, which provide you with up to date and detailed information for each and every state.

Each state will vary in terms of which government agency holds which types of information, and what information can and cannot be accessed without a person’s explicit permission.

Background Checks And Privacy Issues

Background checks have become commonplace, even standard operating procedure in some situations. Therefore, it helps to know what your rights are, whether you are the one performing the background check or you are the person being checked.

The most important factor impacting the content of a background check is the law. Most laws related to background checks are state laws, which is why the process of conducting a background check will vary from state to state.

Different states vary in terms of what can and cannot be included in a free background check, and how you go about finding the information you are seeking. Also, privacy laws may prohibit some types of information from being released to the general public.

Depending on where the individual is from, a background check may include only certain types of information. When you conduct a background check on two people from two different states, your results could be radically different due to differences in state laws.

free background check website

Generally, government organizations may have greater leeway and more authority in conducting background checks without the consent of the individual. Yet in most cases, you do need the person’s consent to search some types of information such as credit history or education records.

The background check you request might include information such as criminal history, motor vehicle or driving records, and possibly education history and even credit history.

However, laws do vary state by state in terms of what will be included in a background check. Some state government agencies may only be able to release information about a person if you have the proper credentials, or are legally authorized to access that information.

Why Run a Background Check?

Now, the majority of small business owners at some point should be utilizing the opportunity to conduct background checks online to keep their assets safe.

There are several reasons for running a background check, some of which may seem obvious to you and others not as much.


Background checks are also crucial in some situations. For example, if you are looking for a home health worker, a childcare professional, or a housekeeper, you will want to run a free background check on all prospective employees and independent contractors. You may be required by law to do so, in the interests of public safety or for insurance purposes.

With the little time it takes to conduct the background check, you can protect yourself, your family, and your property. Plus, background checks are beneficial when you know where to look and avoid paying a third party for unnecessary services.

Searching for Long Lost Family Members

Also, you can use the background check process to quickly and easily find information on friends and family members. Long lost loved ones can sometimes be located through diligence and background checks.


Many people search public records when performing genealogical research. While not typically thought of as a background check, that is really what you are doing when you look for your ancestor’s life history in order to learn more about who you are.

Online Dating

Another less obvious but important reason for conducting a background check is for online dating situations. While some websites claim that they conduct background checks on their clients, you are much better off being in control of the information and doing the background check yourself. After all, it is beneficial to do the background check and easy when you know where to look for the information.

The Gig Economy

Background checks are becoming more important as the gig economy flourishes.   If you are a freelancer yourself, you can also use a background check on a prospective client or firm. The information may alert you to possible scams, showing you that a company or individual has been in trouble for breach of contract.


Finally, you may want to run a background check on yourself. Why? When you learn what is on your permanent record, you are armed with knowledge that will help you defend against unlawful discrimination and unethical behavior.

It is a great idea to be aware of what information is on your file, visible to individuals, so you are better prepared to field their questions in an interview. You may find that your background check reveals small tidbits of information from your past that you had forgotten about, but which could impact how others perceive you.

Alternatively, you may be pleased to note that something you feared would be on the public record is in fact not because state law prevents that information from being released.

When you have your own personal information, you will be better prepared in an interview situation or to defend yourself in court if necessary.

Employment Law and Background Checks

Federal and state laws prevent employers from accessing information without your express consent.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA) stipulates when and how an employer may conduct a background check, preventing discrimination in employment as well as unwarranted intrusions into a person’s information.

While some types of information are public record, such as criminal history, many types of information will not be released when you request a background check. The prime example is credit history; credit history is not considered part of the public record. To access a prospective employee’s credit history, you must generally have the person’s express and formal consent.

If you want to conduct a background check on a prospective employee, just make sure the background check is FCRA compliant. You could land yourself in legal trouble if you do not conduct an FCRA compliant background check.

A good rule of thumb when doing a background check is to always get written, formal consent from the individual. Disclose explicitly the reasons for the background check, the information you are seeking, and how that information will be used.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also prevents employers from abusing the information they receive in a background check. An employer cannot use the information received in a background check to discriminate directly or indirectly.

On the other hand, employers generally do have a right to ask for some types of information from a prospective employee. The person is entitled to withdraw his or her application if they do not wish to consent to a background check.

Background Check

What Information Is Included in a Background Check?

It depends.

The information contained in a background check will vary from state to state, and even from person to person.

It also depends on what information you need, because when you conduct a background check you select the types of information relevant to your needs.

Doing a background check yourself gives you more control over the type of information you search for.

Also, the information that is included in a background check depends largely on whether you receive express consent from the individual. While some public records are searchable regardless of whether the person provided consent, many records are sealed until the individual provides the proper identification and authorization to release that data.

Some types of information that may show up in a background check include:

Criminal History

Convictions will usually come up in a background check, but arrest records may or may not be included.

Identity Validity

If the person provided you with a Social Security number, you can use a background check to verify that person’s identification. For example, the background check might show that the Social Security number is registered to someone with a totally different name. In some cases, a background check can be used to verify the person’s address and phone number.

Credit History and Bankruptcy

In many situations, you will be able to readily access a person’s credit history when conducting a background check if the individual has provided you with a Social Security number and authorizes the search.

A background check may reveal whether a person has filed for bankruptcy, which would significantly impact your decision to lend money to that individual.

In some cases, though, you will need special credentials to access credit history as part of a background check.

If you are eager to learn whether a person’s credit history might impact their ability to pay rent, then your best option is to request that the person voluntarily provide you with their own credit check.

Driving Records

Driving records are part of the public record and can be a part of a background check.

In some states, you do not need the person’s authorization to search driving records. In other states, you will need that person’s permission.

Searching for driving records is important for jobs that include driving or situations in which safety is a concern.

DUI (Driving Under Influence)

One of the most common and important reasons for conducting a background check is to find out whether or not that person is safe and trustworthy. As an employer, you have the right to know whether a candidate has a DUI record. This is especially true if the position involves driving, but can also be relevant for any job in which safety is a critical concern.

Online Background Check Services

Military Records

With the person’s permission, you can also search military records if the content of those records may be useful for your needs.


Although you typically do need the person’s permission to access their education records including school transcripts and grades, the information you receive can tell you a lot about the individual’s level of experience and expertise.

You may also want to search education records simply to verify the information included on the resume.

Vital Records

Vital records include birth and marriage certificates. While this type of information may not be relevant to most background checks, you may use this information to verify a person’s identity.

Checking a person’s date of birth can tell you if they have lied about their age on an application or online profile.

Searching for marriage and divorce records can also be useful when you are conducting a background check for online dating purposes.

Employment History

Searching for a person’s employment history is usually not possible without the person’s direct consent. Employment history information is not necessarily on the public record.

Legal Name and Aliases

Because a background check does include access to vital records, you may be able to find out if the person has been misrepresenting themselves. You may learn if the name they provided to you is legally accurate or not.

Address and Phone Number

Background checks can reveal the person’s current and previous addresses and phone numbers, which can be useful in several situations. In some cases, you may even be able to find out if there are other persons living at the same address. This type of information may be useful to you when compiling evidence or learning more about the person’s lifestyle.

Relatives and Known Associates

You may be able to use a background check to learn about a person’s affiliations, which can help you understand the individual better. Knowing who a person’s relatives and associates are could help you recognize any possible warning signs that would impact your decision.

Background checks can in these cases include informal means, such as searching that individual’s social media profiles, rather than using government records.

Property Ownership and Liens

Background checks can show you what real estate assets a person has, and whether or not the person has any liens. This type of information is especially useful when you are considering buying property from that person, during divorce proceedings, or when contesting a will.

Weapons Permits

It is highly recommended to conduct a background check before providing a person with a potentially deadly weapon. In some states, background checks are required in order to receive a license to carry a weapon.

A background check may also be able to reveal whether the person has a license to carry or use a weapon.

Court Records

Background checks can include an assessment of the person’s court records, related to either civil or criminal cases.

Where Does Background Check Information Come From?

When conducting a background check, you may wonder where this information is coming from.

Some of the data is part of the public record—which means that government agencies at local, state, and federal levels create and maintain that information as part of their duty to the taxpayer. This is especially true of criminal records, driving records, and vital records.

However, the information from a background check does not always come from government courses. Depending on what you are looking for, you may need to search non-government sources such as financial institutions, professional organizations, or even social media.

How to Get a Background Check

There are many paid services available for background checks. Before you give into the temptation to fork over the money, do not assume that these services will provide you with any information you cannot locate yourself.

Some of these services charge for a subscription, which may be useful for some companies. Many people do find that learning how to do background checks themselves is not that time consuming at all, and saves you a lot of money.

If you use our handy guides to how to find public records in each state, you will be able to locate the information you need at little to no cost to you. The only fees involved will be in cases where the municipal, state or federal government agency charges a small fee for either processing the request or for a printed copy of the report.

Even when the government agencies do charge, the cost of accessing that information yourself is nothing compared to what third party services charge you for the same.

At State Level:

At County Level:

Popular Background Check Services

1. Intelius

Intelius is a top rated background check service that includes an abundance of information from judgments and criminal records to lawsuit track records and bankruptcies.  Intelius is a subscription based service, priced at 24.86/mo or save money by becoming a power user, 21.13/mo for 3 months (billed $42.25 today).

2. People Finders

With one of the lower cost subscription services, People Finders offers occasional promotional rates of only $10 per month. People Finders is good for when you know you will need to use the service for multiple name searches. Single searches are about industry average at $40 per name, but if you want you can also do a stripped down background check with limited information for only a few dollars. Although the service is generally reviewed well, there have been some complaints about billing.

3. Truth Finder

Another popular background check service is Truth Finder. Truth Finder admits that they are not FCRA compliant, which means it cannot be use for employment, tenant or credit screening.  However, the site does depend on subscriptions and you cannot purchase an individual report. A subscription is currently less than $30 per month, though, which makes it an attractive option.

Can I Delete my Background Check Information?

If you are concerned that the information included in your background check will adversely impact your ability to find a job or purchase a home, you may be able to request that your information be excluded from third party background check services.

However, unless you can legally expunge your record, any public record will still be included in municipal, state, or federal government agencies. This means that the information you are concerned about—whether a DUI or an arrest—will still be visible to potential employers or anyone searching for your data.

While some types of public records can be expunged, such as juvenile records, a lot of the information from a background check is protected under freedom of information acts.

State laws do vary, though. Unless you provided permission to another party, some types of information may not be searchable without your consent.


Background checks put you in charge of the information you need to make informed decisions. Background checks can be used to protect you and your family.

You can conduct background checks quickly and easily using our helpful state-by-state guides. State laws vary, affecting what information is public record and what information is protected.

With all the background check services out there, it is easy to forget that you can actually do background checks on your own. Whenever possible, acquire the person’s consent when doing background checks and you can have access to all the information you need.

If you want to save money or only need specific bits of information instead of an entire report, simply access the public records using our handy guides. Background checks are secure and legal, and prevent you from running into trouble with EEOC or FCRA laws.