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How to use 10 Types of Background Search and what they uncover.

Woman running background search on lineThere are several types of background search or checks that you will need in different situations. Each type of background search includes different information, depending on the needs of the person and organization running the background search. It can be complicated to understand each type of background search, what it covers, how to do it, and when it is legal to do one. That is why we have compiled this top 10 list to give you an overview of the most common types of background search you will encounter, and what they cover.

What is a background search?

Generally speaking, a background search or check  looks into someone’s history, to verify that the person is who they say they are, have the required qualifications, and have done all that they claim.  It usually involves checking a person’s criminal record, credit reports, education, or employment history. Background searches are commonly run by employers, landlords, or when purchasing things like firearms.

The types of background search include:

  1. Employment Background Search
  2. Criminal Background Search
  3. Universal Background Search
  4. OIG Background Search
  5. E-Verify Background Search
  6. Fingerprint Background Search
  7. International Background Search
  8. Credit Background Search
  9. Personal Background Search
  10. Professional Licenses Background Search

1. Employment Background Search

Employment Background Search is the most common background you will encounter, as approximately 72% of all employers with perform a background check on every new person they hire. They run checks to verify your education and employment history, and to make sure they are not hiring someone who might become a liability to the organization. This is especially important for jobs that involve working with vulnerable persons, or with sensitive personal information.

Typically, an Employment Background Check is run as part of the hiring process, however, some employers will run them more regularly. For example, jobs that require drug tests will usually test employees every year, or even quarterly.  Some may run a criminal background search on their employees every six months to ensure they are maintaining a safe and secure workplace.

Pre-employment Background Search

A Pre-employment Background Check usually includes, but is not limited to, a person’s work history, education, criminal record, credit history, driving record, social media, medical history, and drug testing. Usually these checks go back as far as seven years, but some may go back as far as ten years, depending on the particular state is being run in. An employer will normally gather the candidate’s full name, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), and current or past address to complete the check.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) restricts what information employers are allowed to check, and how they can use that information. It also requires consent to be collected before a search can be run, so that the candidate in question is aware of what will happen, and how the information collected will be used to make a decision. It is against the law to perform an employment background check on the basis of someone’s race, nationality, color, sex, religion, disability, or age.

If an employer chooses not to hire someone because of information found in a background search, they must send the applicant a written notice of how they made the decision, and a copy of the background report. They should also include a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” This gives the candidate a chance to go over the report, and check for any errors. They can they go back to the employer and explain any misinformation, such as gaps in their employment history, or criminal offenses.

For more specialized positions, employers may ask applicants for even more information relevant to the job in question. This usually happens for high stakes jobs with very specific responsibilities. One example is for jobs in the financial sector, that might perform further screenings of an applicant’s financial history, and any certifications or licenses they claim to have.

It is normal for organizations to outsource their employment background search to third party companies that specialize in these style of reports. Collecting all the information requires having access to a lot of different databases for credit reports, medical or police records, so it easier to work with an FCRA compliant company who has all the necessary access. Websites like are also good to use as they consolidate all the information you need in one easy to use tool.

Employment background search costs vary depending on what is required by the employer. A basic review that covers the standard criminal history check may costs as little as $30, whereas a more thorough review may go up to around $80 per report.

2. Criminal Background Search

Criminal Background Search will review of a person's criminal history. This includes all criminal activity, such as fraud, embezzlement, violent or sex crimes, and felony convictions from the last seven years. Arrests are generally not included, and neither are civil citations like speeding tickets, though your driving history can be searched with a motor vehicle records check.

Criminal Background Search is run in a variety of situations, for instance for new employees, adoptions, military enlistment, or the purchasing of firearms. They are very common in employment situations, as organizations want to make sure their new hire does not pose a threat to their clients, or create an unsafe work environment. Some industries also have regulations against hiring people with criminal convictions. This is common for jobs in healthcare, education, or government sectors.

However, having a previous criminal conviction will not necessarily prevent you from finding a new job. In order to prevent discrimination, and to help ex-felons rehabilitate into society, the federal government created the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program. This program offers incentives to employers who hire the formerly incarcerated.

One challenge with criminal background searches is that different states have different regulations, and in order to get a complete picture you would need to look into the court records held in all states or counties the person you are reviewing has lived in.

A full Criminal Background Check involves looking into: 

  • National criminal databases
  • Federal and state criminal records
  • County criminal courts
  • Sex offender registries
  • Domestic and global terrorist watch lists

Different states have different levels of a Criminal Background Search. For instance, a basic background search, will only look into the relevant state records, and employment history check.  At a higher level, a background search may search federal, state, and county criminal records in addition to national databases. Usually an additional fee is charge for this.

3.  Universal Background Search

Universal Background Search is specific to firearm purchasing in the USA.  Any dealer, importer, manufacturer, or seller of firearms must run a Universal Background Search on a prospective buyer using the systems put in place by the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). This check looks into criminal and mental health history to determine whether the buyer is eligible by law to purchase a firearm. 

Universal background search was mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI in 1998.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) oversees the universal background search, but the actual NICS background search is carried out by the FBI. Since its implementation, more than 230 million firearm background checks have been made, leading to more than 1.5 million denials.

Of course there are some exceptions to this background search. In certain situations, like private party transfers of firearms, a Universal Background Search is not required. Thirty two of the States permit gun transfers between unlicensed individuals without a background search, and the remaining 18 states (and DC) place restrictions on private gun sales, requiring a federally licensed dealer (FFL) to run a background search before a transfer can be completed.

4. OIG Background Search

OIG Background Search is another very specific type of background search used in the healthcare industry. They are reviews of the exclusions list held by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This exclusion list includes individuals and entities (LEIE) who have committed healthcare-related crimes, and so should be prevented from working in federally-funded healthcare programs. OIG Background Search is  mandated by the Social Security Act.

Employers may run an OIG Background Search before hiring a new employee, or before hiring a new organization for contract work. It is also common for employers to regularly check staff to make sure they have not been added to the exclusion list since starting work. This is because an employer could potentially be at risk for safety and liability issues if they are found to have staff or are working with entities on the list. During the hiring process, if an employer does not perform an OIG Background Search and hires someone who is on sanctions list, the employer could also be forced to pay civil monetary penalties.

Running an OIG Background Search is free to do on the OIG website, by searching for a person's name. Search results will return the person's date of birth, address, and reason for exclusion, and can be confirmed with a Social Security number (SSN).

People and entities will show on the sanctions list if they’ve been convicted of certain types of criminal offenses, such as:

  • Fraud, or other offenses related to state healthcare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
  • Abuse of neglect of patients.
  • Felony convictions for other healthcare-related theft, fraud, or other financial misconduct
  • Felony convictions related to controlled substances (e.g. drugs or chemicals whose use is regulated by a government).

The OIG has the discretion to add individuals or entities to the list, or leave them off in the following situations:

  • Suspension, cancellation, or surrender of a license due to professional competence, professional performance, or financial integrity.
  • False or fraudulent claims submitted to a federal healthcare program.
  • Misdemeanor convictions related to healthcare fraud (other than Medicare or state health programs), or fraud in a non-state program funded by any federal, state, or local government agency.
  • Misdemeanor convictions relating to controlled substances.
  • Defaulting on health education loan or scholarship obligations.
  • Controlling an excluded entity as an owner, officer, or managing employee.
  • Engaging in unlawful kickback arrangements.

5. E-Verify Background Search

E-Verify Background Checks are voluntary online checks that allow enrolled employees to verify whether their employees have the right to work in the U.S. It compares information from the I-9 form that is mandatory for all employees to complete to confirm that they are authorized to work in the U.S. In most cases this is a voluntary check, however, since 2009 the federal government has mandated its use for some federal contractors. 20 states also require it for certain types of employees in both the public and private sector. Enrolled employers can perform an E-Verify check through the E-Verify website.

The I-9 form and E-Verify are similar in their purpose, but E-Verify takes the process one step further. The key differences are that E-Verify requires a photo ID and SSN, whereas the I-9 form does not. As well, E-Verify cannot be used to re verify expired employment authorization.

6. Fingerprint Background Checks

A Fingerprint Background Search is when a person or organization searches the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) as a way of verifying someone’s identity, and getting an accurate report of their criminal history. The AFIS was launched in 1999, and stores over 35 million sets of fingerprints, most of which have been submitted by law enforcement agencies.

Running a Fingerprint Background Search will give you and accurate read of a person’s criminal history from authorized criminal justice agencies, including arrests and disposition reports. It is pretty near impossible to fake fingerprints, so the AFIS will also include records for potential aliases.

A Fingerprint Background Search is also sometimes referred to as an Identity History Summary, and is most commonly run in conjunction with other background checks, usually as part of the pre-employment screening process. It is required for government-run institutions like hospitals, public schools, airports, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments. As well, some professional licenses, for example for jobs in real estate, medical care, finance, casinos, and pharmacies, may require a Fingerprint Background Search.

When used for employment, the applicant will have to visit an authorized local fingerprint business or government organization to have their fingerprints scanned (or inked) and submitted to the database.  The FBI can provide an individual with a copy of their own Identity History Summary for an $18 fee and a fingerprint card. This summary can include information related to a person’s:

  • Criminal history
  • Federal employment
  • Naturalization
  • Military service

7. International Background Search

As the name implies, and International Background Search is a review of international records, normally perform by an employer in the U.S. who is considering hiring someone who has recently lived, worked, or studied in a different country.  This is performed on top of the regular employment background search.

There are different requirements for International Background Search, depending on the country that records need to be collected from.  Usually you will need the candidates full name and some sort of government-issued ID, such as a passport. It is common for employers to work with third party organizations who already have a good understanding of the requirements for various countries, and know how to request the appropriate reports. The employer can ask for international criminal records, education, and employment verification reports, and will pay according to the number of records requested.

8. Credit Background Search

A Credit Background Search, also called a credit report, is a very common report that is a standard requested when applying for a loan, or credit card. A credit report covers how someone has managed credit and bill payments in the past, and will show their credit to debt ratio.

Landlords may run a Credit Background Search on new tenants, so they can verify if someone has had a good credit history, and is therefore more likely to be a good tenant and pay rent on time. Jobs in the financial sector, or any position that requires handling large amounts of money may also require a credit report, so that they can assess how well the candidate manages money, and if they have history of fraud or embezzlement.

Generally speaking, credit background report will cover:

  • Bills and repayment history.
  • Unpaid bills in collections.
  • Recent credit inquiries.
  • Civil judgments.
  • Tax liens (e.g. failure to pay taxes).
  • Bankruptcies.

The Federal Government set out rules for how this information can be collected in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). These rules state that employers must get written permission from candidates, and let them how this information will be used to make a decision about the position. The FCRA also determines the time frames for these report, and states that:

  • Tax liens cannot be reported seven years after payment.
  • Accounts in collection can’t be reported after seven years.
  • Bankruptcies will not be reported after 10 years.
  • Civil suits and judgments can’t be reported after seven years.

Exceptions to these rules apply to credit reports being run on potential employees for high paying jobs, but what constitutes a high paying job varies from state to state. For example in California, an employer is allowed to look at credit reports going back as far 10 years for a potential applicant who is being offered a salary of at least $125,000.00. As a guideline, the restrictions lift for salaries over $75,000 per year.

9.  Personal Background Search

Personal Background Search is when an individual runs a background search on themselves, usually, so they can find out what information any potential employees might be uncovering about them. That way they can dispute any discrepancies, or address and potential errors that might affect them getting a job or loan application. Personal Background Search can cover anything from employment history, credit reports, or criminal records.

One of the easiest is to run a personal background check is to search for yourself on websites like They offer a free background search service which gives basic details, or, you can pay a small fee to use the Instant Total Background Search, which gives one of most thorough background checks available to private citizens.  This report consolidates all your information, including criminal history search, in one easy report.

10. Professional License Background Search

A Professional License Background Search is a verification process normally done during the hiring process to check whether the candidate possess the required licenses necessary to complete the job. This is vital in industries that rely on certifications and licenses to ensure that staff have all the required expertise and qualifications. Employers run this check to make everything the candidate claims is correct, and to protect themselves from potential negligent hiring claims.

Examples of industries that are likely to run a Professional License Background Search include:

  • The financial sector, including banking, insurance, financial planning, accounting and real estate.
  • Tradesmen, like plumbers, builders, and electricians
  • Education, including teachers of all levels, professors, and administrators.
  • Health care providers, including doctors, therapists and cosmetologists.

To complete a Professional License Background Search, employers will normally contact a background screening company who has access to the applicable industry or state licensing board and can verify that the candidate holds the right license, and that it hasn’t lapsed or expired. They will also uncover if that the license is in good standing and make there are no restrictions or violations associated with the license.

Why run a background search

The purpose of a background search varies from situation to situation, but the underlying idea of running a background search is to verify that information provided by an individual or organization is correct. While a person’s history does not necessarily indicate their future, it is a helpful way to validate information and make informed decisions. A background search helps to build trust and transparency, and in the case of employers, allows them to build a safe working environment, which is better for everyone.

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