How a Criminal Background Check Works

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What is a criminal background check and how do they work?

When someone is arrested of a misdemeanor or felony a file is started that includes everything about a person, including a set of fingerprints. This information is kept by the city, county or federal agency that performed the arrest. If the case is dismissed or the person is acquitted there will not be a conviction. If the person pleads guilty or is found guilty by a judge or jury then the person is adjudicated guilty and will be convicted. Normally criminal background checks reveal convictions only, but depending on how the criminal background check was obtained it may show both.

There are typically two methods to perform a criminal background check. The first is to go to the source of the arrest and/or conviction. This would be a county or city court, federal agency, or state or federal corrections website. The second would be to utilize a background search service, which is typically a fee-based website. Arrests without convictions are more likely to show up when going directly to a government agency, and background websites will probably reveal convictions only. Most background checks are performed by a private company because they will include a comprehensive search of all 50 states, and in some cases other countries. Going to a local courthouse could lead to an incomplete report not knowing the history of the person in which you are conducting the search.

There are several online companies that perform criminal background checks, but before choosing one you should consider the following factors:

  • Reputation

  • Cost

  • Quality

  • User Friendliness

By researching consumer websites it should be easy to narrow down the more reputable background search websites. Finding one that will deliver information specific to your needs is key while staying within your budget. Most sites offer a monthly rate for either unlimited or a certain number of searches, but it is possible on some sites to use the service as needed for a one-time fee. Ensure the site is easy to use if there will be different people performing searches.

To perform a criminal background check you will need at minimum a person's full name, date of birth and social security number. This will ensure you are performing a search on the correct individual.

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