Lots of people run criminal background checks. These days, people you ask on a date often run commercially available background checks that search public records for information on you. Most background checks, though, are run by potential employers and law enforcement.
Obviously, those two groups care about different things. When law enforcement runs a criminal record check, they are looking for prior charges and convictions as well as “wants and warrants,” meaning they are looking for information on whether you are wanted on any charges or have any outstanding warrants. Potential employers are interested in criminal charges and convictions, as well, but they also are interested in a much more far-reaching exploration of your background. This raises the question, what will they find?
Depending upon how they run their search—using a professional search firm, a paid online search service, a free online-search service, or even just Google or some other search engine—will affect the answer to that question. What can they find? You might be surprised. And you probably won’t like it. Fortunately, there are ways that an attorney can help you clean up negative information in your background check, including expungement, sealing records, or seeking a pardon.
Background Checks Can Uncover Extensive Amounts of Information About You
Most people probably think of a background check as only looking for criminal history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Background checks by law enforcement look only for information relevant to law enforcement—past convictions (which can affect the charges you could face on your current arrest), outstanding charges or warrants (providing further reason to keep you in custody), and similarly relevant information, such as aliases. If you’re in custody, law enforcement agencies are seeking to ensure that they aren’t missing out on other charges or offenses outstanding against you. That’s the focus of their job.
Background checks conducted by entities other than law enforcement, however, can be far more all-encompassing. Aside from law enforcement, potential employers generally order most criminal background checks. Employers have an obvious interest in vetting their potential employees.
A recent survey by a hiring website found that more than one in four employers claimed that a single ill-advised hire had cost the company upwards of $50,000. As a result, more and more employers are using fairly comprehensive background checks, even for entry-level positions. While a background check cannot tell you what kind of person someone is—people change, after all, and old information might no longer be relevant—it can help employers make decisions between candidates. Someone with a pristine background check likely will prevail over a similarly qualified candidate with a shady past.
So what do those background checks reveal? Obviously, background checks look for criminal records. However, they reveal far more than that. In this online age, it is astounding how much information about you can be discovered even through a simple Google search or a free online search service. Public records are mostly online for anyone who cares to look for them, even using free online searches. Employers generally use more sophisticated professional services and consequently uncover even more information.
What Information Can Background Checks Show?
Background checks can differ depending upon the entity ordering the check, but the extent of information available is impressive. They can reveal employment history, credit history, driving record, criminal background, education history, identity verification, and more. The primary categories of information available include:
- Identity verification: Searches can include Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records, helping to verify identity, particularly regarding whether your Social Security number is valid or even issued to you or has been used by someone else. Such information also can verify current and past addresses.
- Credit information: Most searches include credit reports. Credit bureaus collect all sorts of information from various sources, including from your creditors. These reports can also include identifying information, as well as the usual credit report information on debt, payment history, and credit inquiries.
- Criminal records: Employers can face civil liability if they knew or should have known about a hire’s criminal record, so they pay particular attention to this information. Criminal history information can include criminal convictions at the county, state, and federal levels. This information could include pending charges, past convictions—including misdemeanors and felonies—acquittals or dismissed charges. Many states do not allow employers to ask about arrest records, but they can’t prevent employers from knowing about them, even if there was no conviction. Expunged records likely will not show up if you followed procedures to have the arrest record expunged.
- Driving records: Thorough searches will turn up extensive information from driving records, including offenses as minor as speeding tickets.
- Other information: Background checks can include such minor information as reference checks and drug screening.
How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?
In theory, your personal history goes back to birth. In theory, it would be possible to research your background all the way back to that point. Real life is a little different, though, and both practicality and state law comes into play. While there is no federal law on how far into the past background checks can go, with the exception of bad credit information, most states limit background checks to the last seven years. Federal security-clearance background checks, for instance, go back only seven years.
If You’re Concerned About the Results of a Background Check, Consult the Criminal Attorneys of Martin & Kent, LLC
If you have a criminal record that’s keeping you from moving forward in life, speak to an attorney as soon as you can. In many cases, there are legal measures that you can take that can prevent a background check from returning your criminal history and allow you to move on with your life. The attorneys of Martin & Kent have the experience to give you the help you need. For a consultation in DuPage, Kane, or Cook County, contact us 24 hours a day at (630) 430-8622 or through our online contact form.