- Free background checks are commonly advertised, but they are not always (rarely, in fact) worth your time.
- The quality of data contained in free background checks can be questionable. The data is not always fully, or appropriately, vetted by the third-party that acquired the information.
- If your business is considering using a free background check service, we offer tips to ensure (as much as can be expected) that you are proceeding with decent data.
- This article is for business owners, managers, and supervisors who want to learn more about "free" background checks and whether the information they provide can be trusted.
Background checks help ensure that you are reviewing the full picture of a candidate when making your hiring decisions. When utilizing free background check services, it is important to exercise caution and carefully assess whether the data you have received about a candidate is accurate, reliable, and comprehensive.
What's wrong with free background checks?
As an important hiring tool, background checks aren't a place to cut corners.
Most reputable third-party background check companies charge a fee for their services. These checks are conducted by experts who know how to extract data from reliable, trusted and legitimate resources.
Editor's note: Looking for the right background check service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
Some agencies that offer free background checks may not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), or the background checks they provide contain inaccurate information. You may, for example, conduct a background check on a new candidate and receive a result that contains a smattered history of individuals who share the same name as your candidate, but who, in fact, are not your candidate. Many free background check services do not ask for the person's date of birth or Social Security number when the request is submitted.
TruthFinder.com is a website where people can conduct an online search of an individual. Below is a screenshot of its waiver of liability, or its "notice."
The notice asks users to "… agree not to use our site and the information we provide to make decisions about consumer credit, employees, tenant screening, or any other purposes that would require FCRA compliance." The data you receive from these types of background searches differs from the data one receives from a more systematic, curated background report from third-party background check firms.
'Free' social media background checks
Some employers check a candidate's social media accounts as part of a background check. For professional positions you hire employees for, it almost seems negligent not to check the candidate's LinkedIn account. However, the haphazard ways that a free service may have of verifying and assessing the qualities of a candidate or current employee may not be a thorough or reliable way of evaluating a candidate.
Tip: Although free background checks are commonly advertised online, you may receive unreliable data.
What information does a free background check include?
Some free background checks offer quite a bit of data, including driving under the influence (DUI) citations, criminal offenses, former addresses of the individual, social media accounts, and other intimate details about a candidate. However, there is always the concern that some, or much, of the data is not complete or accurate. For example, if you have the candidate's full name, e.g., John Smith (and you're located in Idaho), but no date of birth or Social Security number, it's difficult to be absolutely certain that the information you received about your candidate is, in fact, about your candidate, or if it's someone who is unrelated, i.e., a John Smith who is located in California.
Did you know? Some free background checks may include some data points on your candidate that are accurate. However, without submitting a Social Security number or date of birth, you can't be absolutely certain that the data is legitimate.
Should your business use a free background check service?
While it might be tempting to run a free background check, it is almost always more advantageous to pay for one instead. Paying a nominal fee to a third-party background check service limits the number of inaccuracies in the report, and it is more likely to contain more thorough information.
If your organization does use the free method of running background checks, we recommend following the multipronged approach outlined below:
- Talk to legal counsel. Talk to an attorney who specializes in this field of law before using a free background check service.
- Conduct a search of some public search websites. There are some public websites (we will not mention all of them) that could be worth checking depending on the candidate, your company's needs and the type of job you are looking to fill. For example, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System can offer some helpful information. Other public sites include Arrests.us, which searches public records from hundreds of different sources.
- Conduct a more refined search in a search engine. Rather than entering the individual's name in a search engine, add the state they live in, too, or include the last employer's name. These extra steps can help narrow the focus of your search.
Tip: Although some businesses may use free background checks, we suggest proceeding with extreme caution. Never base a hiring decision on the results of a free background check.
3 reasons to avoid free background check services
Relying on a free background check service to inform decisions about your newest potential team member is risky and ill-advised. Here are three reasons why you should not use a free background check service:
- Consider how the background check service makes its money. Some services have a bait-and-switch model, where the "free" version provides basic data, but to obtain more detailed data, you must pay more. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier, the service may not be FCRA-certified, meaning the accuracy of their information cannot be guaranteed.
- The cost of a non-trustworthy partner. Even if a free background check service strives to be the best it can be, there are questions as to whether they have the resources or internal policies to do a thorough job. For this reason alone, we recommend a fee-for-service background check company over a free one.
- Cookie-cutter background reports. Background checks should serve a specific purpose for your company. If you are getting a free background report, it is likely a watered-down report based on a general template that all consumers receive regardless of the purpose of the background check. [Find out how you can tell if a job candidate is lying about their credentials.]