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The Ins and Outs of Background Check Services: How Public Data is Used to Derive Accurate Results

Background checks have become an essential tool for businesses and individuals alike. Whether you're a hiring manager looking to evaluate a candidate's credentials or a landlord conducting tenant screening, background checks can help you make informed decisions. As technology advances, background check services have access to a vast amount of information, including publicly available data and other sources. But how do they use this data, and how accurate are the results? In this article, we'll explore the world of background checks to answer these questions.

The Types of Background Checks

Before we dive into how background check services conduct their searches, let's first understand the types of background checks available. The most common types of background checks include:

Criminal Record Check

A criminal record check is a search of court and criminal records to determine if an individual has been convicted of a crime. This check will typically include a search of federal, state, and county criminal databases.

Credit Check

A credit check is a search of an individual's credit history, including payment history, outstanding debts, and bankruptcy filings. This type of background check is often used by landlords or financial institutions to evaluate an individual's financial responsibility.

Education and Employment Verification

Education and employment verification checks are used to confirm an individual's education and employment history. This type of background check will typically verify an individual's diplomas, degrees, and certifications, as well as their employment history and references.

The Sources of Background Check Data

Now that we've covered the types of background checks let's explore the sources of background check data. Background check services use a variety of sources to compile information on an individual, including:

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Publicly Available Data

Publicly available data includes information that is accessible to the public, typically through government databases. This type of data can include criminal records, court records, property ownership records, and other public records.

Commercial Databases

Commercial databases are compiled by companies that gather and sell data to background check services. These databases can include information on criminal history, driving records, employment history, and financial history.

Social Media and Online Presence

Background check services can also utilize an individual's social media and online presence to gain insights into their character and behavior. This can include information on an individual's interests, friends, and social activities.

How Do Background Check Services Conduct Searches?

Now that we know the sources of background check data let's explore how background check services conduct their searches. While the specific methods may vary depending on the type of background check and sources used, here's a general overview of the process:

1. Information Gathering: The first step in conducting a background check is gathering information on the individual being screened. This can include their name, date of birth, social security number, and other personal information.

2. Database Search: Once the initial information is gathered, the background check service will conduct a search of its databases. This can include searches of criminal records, credit histories, and employment and education databases.

3. Public Records Search: If the background check service does not find the information it needs in its databases, it will conduct a search of public records. This can include searches of court records, property ownership records, and other public databases.

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4. Online and Social Media Search: Background check services may also conduct searches of an individual's online and social media presence. This can include searches of their public social media profiles, blogs, and other online activity.

The Accuracy of Background Checks

The accuracy of background checks can vary depending on the quality of the data sources and the methods used to conduct the search. While background check services strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, errors and omissions can occur.

For example, criminal record checks may not include all convictions, particularly if the conviction occurred in a different state or county. Similarly, employment and education verification checks may not include information on all employers or degrees, particularly if the information is not publicly available or has been withheld by the individual being screened.

Additionally, false positives and negatives can occur in background checks, particularly if the individual being screened has a common name or if the information in the background check is outdated or inaccurate. Therefore background check services provide disclaimers that their reports may not be completely accurate.


In conclusion, the world of background checks is complex and ever-changing. Background check services use publicly available data, commercial databases, and online and social media searches to conduct their searches. The accuracy of these checks can vary and is dependent on the quality of the data sources and methods used. It's essential to be aware of the limitations of background checks and to consider multiple sources of information when making important decisions. As technology advances, it will be interesting to see how background check services evolve and continue to help us make informed decisions.

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