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From Criminal Histories to Credit Scores: The Different Types of Data Used in Background Checks.

Background checks have become increasingly popular in recent years. With the rise of online dating, remote work, and shared economy, people need to be sure that the people they hire, date or rent from have a clean record. Background checks provide a quick and easy way to verify someone’s identity and check their criminal history, credit score, employment history, education, and other relevant information. But how do background check services use publicly available data and other sources to conduct their searches? And how accurate are the results of background checks?

To answer these questions, we need to understand how background checks work. There are several types of background checks, including criminal record checks, credit checks, employment verification, education verification, and reference checks. Each of these checks requires different sources of information and methods of verification. However, most background checks start with the same basic step: identifying the person in question.


The first step in any background check is to identify the person being screened. This involves obtaining their full name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Once this information is verified, the screening process can begin. Most background check services use databases that aggregate public records from all 50 states to find the person’s criminal history, bankruptcy filings, civil lawsuits, and other legal records. This information is often available online, but it requires a subscription or access to proprietary databases.

Public Records

Background check services rely heavily on publicly available data to conduct their searches. Public records include information that is legally available to the public, such as court records, property records, voter registration records, and marriage and divorce records. These records often contain personal information, such as a person’s name, age, address, phone number, and Social Security number.

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While public records are a valuable source of information, they are not always complete or accurate. For example, criminal records may not be updated in real-time, or they may not include all the charges or convictions for a particular person. Similarly, property records may not reflect recent sales or transfers of ownership. Therefore, background check services must use multiple sources of information to verify the accuracy of the data.

Social Media

With the rise of social media, many background check services have started to use social media platforms to conduct their searches. Social media profiles can provide valuable insights into a person’s lifestyle, interests, and behavior. For example, a person who posts pictures of themselves drinking heavily or engaging in risky behavior may be seen as less trustworthy or responsible.

However, using social media to conduct background checks can be controversial. Some people argue that it is an invasion of privacy, and that social media profiles may not accurately reflect a person’s true character or behavior. Additionally, some people may have their profiles set to private, which makes it difficult for background check services to access their information.

Credit Reports

Another important source of information for background checks is credit reports. A credit report provides information about a person’s financial history, including their credit score, outstanding debt, and payment history. This information can be used to determine whether a person is financially responsible and trustworthy.

However, not all background check services use credit reports in their searches. Some services only check criminal records or employment history, while others include credit reports as part of a comprehensive background check. Additionally, credit reports may not be accurate or up-to-date, as they rely on information provided by creditors and credit bureaus.

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Employment Verification

Background check services also use employment verification to confirm a person’s work history and credentials. This involves contacting previous employers and verifying the dates of employment, job title, and salary. Additionally, some employment verification checks may require a reference check, where background check services contact professional references to verify a person’s skills and qualifications.

Education Verification

Similar to employment verification, education verification checks are used to confirm a person’s educational credentials. This involves contacting their school or alma mater and verifying their attendance, degree, and academic achievements. Some education verification checks may require additional documentation, such as transcripts or diplomas.


The accuracy of background checks varies depending on the sources of information used and the methods of verification. Public records can be incomplete or inaccurate, as they rely on data provided by various government agencies. Similarly, social media profiles may not reflect a person’s true character or behavior, and credit reports may not be up-to-date or accurate.

Therefore, background check services must use multiple sources of information and cross-reference the data to ensure accuracy. Additionally, they must comply with state and federal laws that regulate the use of public records and protect the privacy of individuals. This includes obtaining consent from the person being screened, providing them with a copy of the report, and allowing them to dispute any inaccurate information.


Background check services use a variety of sources and techniques to conduct their searches, including public records, social media, credit reports, employment verification, and education verification. While these sources can provide valuable insights into a person’s character and behavior, they are not always accurate or complete. Therefore, background check services must use multiple sources of information and cross-reference the data to ensure accuracy. Additionally, they must comply with state and federal laws that regulate the use of public records and protect the privacy of individuals.

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