How to Easily Perform a Criminal Background Check

Two Methods:Gathering Information on Your OwnOrdering a Professional Background Check

Before you place someone in a position of trust, you may want to perform a criminal background check first. Whether you are hiring a new employee, renting out an apartment, or just want to learn more about someone, you can do some research on your own to determine whether that person has a criminal record. If you are unsuccessful in your own research, you can also hire a professional service to perform a background check for you. It is important to note that if you are a landlord, employer, or credit, medical, or insurance provider, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that you hire a Consumer Reporting Agency to perform the background check for you.[1]

Method 1
Gathering Information on Your Own

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    Ask your subject directly. Often, a job or rental applicant will be willing to disclose the details of their background if you simply ask directly. Explaining the circumstances to you in person is a good way for an applicant to tell his or her side of the story, which may include mitigating circumstances.
    • If your subject is evasive about the topic of his or her criminal background, you can use his or her response, or lack thereof, in your decision to hire or rent to that person.
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    Search online. When looking for background information about someone, the internet is the best place to start. You can find social media profiles, references to the person in media publications (such as newspaper articles), and other sources of information. Simply go to your favorite search engine and search for the person's name.
    • Use quotation marks around the name. You can narrow your search by including other terms, such as the person's home state or city.
    • Remember that not every source is necessarily accurate. The information you find could be false.
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    Check with the court. Criminal justice records are usually within the public record. However, you may not be able to access them on your own, and may have to pay a fee to perform a records search.[2] Visit your local court's website or telephone the court clerk for more information about your county's records search policies.
    • When you make your request, provide as much of the following information as you can: the defendant's name, date of birth, driver's license number, and case number.[3]
    • Remember to check with all of the counties and states where your subject has lived. Your subject may have been a defendant in a criminal case in another state before relocating.
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    Check with the sheriff's office/police department. Some county law enforcement agencies make criminal justice information available online. You can sometimes access incarceration, arrest, and arrest warrant records through a website. You may also be able to find out if the subject is on probation by speaking with the probation department. If you cannot find the information online, call the sheriff's office, police department, or probation office directly.
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    Visit the National Sex Offender Public Website. The National Sex Offender Public Website's searchable database contains the names and locations of convicted sex offenders nationwide. The database will refer you to the local agency that provides information about the conviction. Visit the database at
    • Type in the person's name. If there is a match, you should see the case status, including the conviction details and length of the sentence.
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    Look for a state drug offender registry. Some states have searchable public registries of drug offenders.[4] For example, Minnesota has a Methamphetamine Offender Registry for offenders who have been convicted in connection with methamphetamine manufacturing.[5] Check online to find out if your state has a similar registry.
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    Consider a third-party internet service. Many online companies, such as Intelius, US Search, and Net Detective, offer background searches or subscriptions to a background checking service for a fee. Fees typically range from $30 to $40. You will need to enter the subject's name and location.[6]
    • These services may return incomplete or inaccurate information. According to the Wall Street Journal, a search might not return any information, while another might report, for example, non-existent bankruptcy filings.[7]

Method 2
Ordering a Professional Background Check

  1. Image titled Develop a Relationship With a Customer Step 1
    Deciding to hire a professional. If you are a landlord, employer, or credit, medical, or insurance provider, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that you hire a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) to perform the background check for you.[8] Thus, if you intend to perform a background check for one of those reasons, you should ensure that the service you employ is a licensed CRA.
    • Typically, an investigator will search for the subjects address history, state court records, federal court records, and prison system records. Investigators gather this information by contacting government institutions or referring to subscription-only databases like LexisNexis or PACER.[9][10][11]
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    Get the applicant's written consent. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are required to get your subject's written consent before you hire an outside investigator to perform a background check.[12] Give the applicant written notice of your intent to perform a background check with a space for him or her to sign affirming his or her consent.
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    Finding a licensed CRA. If you decide instead to hire a local investigator or service, verify beforehand that they are licensed to perform background checks in accordance with the FCRA.
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    Obey the limits of the law. State and federal law controls what information you can uncover and how you can use it. Under federal law, there is no time limit for conviction records, but arrest records over 7 years old cannot be included in a credit report unless your applicant has applied for a position where the annual salary exceeds $75,000.[13] Additionally, you must notify the applicant if you base your decision not to hire him or her on the information in the report.[14]
  5. Image titled Interrogate Someone Step 12
    Make your decision. If you decide not to hire someone based on the information you discovered through the background check, you must notify the applicant of this fact.[16] To do this, you should:
    • Tell the applicant that the background check returned negative information;
    • Disclose which agency performed the background check;
    • Give the applicant a copy of the form titled “Summary of Your Rights under FCRA,” which you should have received from the CRA, and is available at; and
    • Let the applicant explain or rebut the information in the background check.


  • Try not to immediately disqualify someone with a criminal record. Americans with arrest records, even where no charges were filed, are statistically much more likely to be passed over for jobs.[17] Overcoming the stigma of an arrest is a lifelong challenge. As a prospective employer, you may be in a position to offer a second chance to an applicant.


  • This article is intended as legal information and does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.
  • When making a hiring decision, you cannot reject an applicant on the basis of his or her criminal background unless that background raises legitimate concerns about the applicant's suitability for the position.[18]

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Categories: Criminal and Penal Law Procedure | Legal Matters