We have all heard the saying, “The best things in life are free.” However, in reality we know that nothing is free that doesn’t come with a hitch. Hiring mangers may feel that by processing a free background check they are obtaining the same information that would be received if they were to outsource these checks to a background screening provider. When it comes to free background checks, you get what you pay for.
You can go to any search engine and type in a request for a free background check and will be barraged with hundreds of ads, each one claiming to provide free criminal record searches along with a variety of other background screening options at little to no cost. Though these web sites may appear enticing with their declaration of providing free and accurate information, as a hiring manager you want to be informed of what you are receiving. In reality most of these sites will only allow you to sign up for free to access their services, but will require you to pay a fee for obtaining information that is usually incomplete, outdated and inaccurate.
The information returned from these “free” searches is usually retrieved from various databases or is simply data collected directly from the internet that you could recover on your own. Courts are not required to report any information to databases, so even if results are returned, there is no assurance that the information you receive is accurate. With database searches, they may return a “name match” only with no other identifiers (ex: date of birth, social security number etc.) available to ensure the information you are receiving belongs to the individual you are searching. A search may also return as a “no record” result when the person was actually convicted or charged with a crime.
In view of the fact that courts are not required to report information to databases, records that are returned may also be outdated; it’s possible that arrest records or other charges that are returned have since been expunged. Most professional background screeners process criminal searches with the use of a live court researcher who physically enters the courthouse and manually pulls the court dockets to be certain the information that is being returned is correct. Researchers will look for any identifiers listed in the court records to help determine if the information found belongs to the individual being checked. Does your free background check do that?
When you utilize the services of a professional background screening provider, all searches processed are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This act requires that background screening providers have a process in place to correct inaccuracies. Many courts remove identifiers from court documents as a means of securing the safety of an individual’s personal information as these documents are public record. Thus, there will be times when only a “name match” is returned because the courts have removed all other identifying information.
If an applicant is denied employment based on information that has been reported by a background screening provider, the FCRA requires that the applicant receive a copy of the background report along with their summary of rights and a pre-adverse / adverse action letter. Under the guidelines of the FCRA, an applicant has the right to dispute any information contained in a report that they feel is inaccurate.
When processing a background check on potential employees, it is well worth the cost of utilizing a background screening provider who is governed by the FCRA to process these reports. The cost of a free background search could open the doors to potential lawsuits that could cost companies far more in the end.