Background checks are essential protection for every industry in the digital age. Whether you’re a church vetting people to work with the children, a landlord screening potential tenants, or a healthcare company that needs to be sure sensitive patient information stays out of the wrong hands, knowing how to do a background check will save you time, expense, and liability down the line.

How to Do a Background Check in 7 Easy Steps

1. Check the Laws

Every state has different laws covering what you can ask about in a background check. Some common issues and limitations to look out for include:

Using Arrest Records

Some states won’t let you look at arrest records at all. Some will let you look only at convictions. Some won’t let you consider those convictions until after you’ve made a conditional offer of hire. In some states, once you find out about criminal history you can only factor it into a hiring decision if it has relevance to the position in question.

What does relevance include? If, for example, someone has a conviction for reckless driving and are applying for a position that would never require them to drive any type of vehicle, that conviction would likely be considered irrelevant. If the position the applicant is applying for requires them to drive a forklift around the warehouse floor or transport children from one place to another, the conviction suddenly becomes very relevant indeed.

Length of Background Check History

In some states, you’re not permitted to see any criminal records older than seven years. In other states, the limit is 10 years. There are exceptions for certain situations or industries, but in most cases, the smart move is to discuss this with a background check expert to be sure your situation qualifies.

Credit History

Some states won’t allow you to use a person’s credit history in certain background check situations. If you’re hiring for the banking or insurance industries, however, there’s usually an exception.

2. Inform

The law requires that you inform a person about the fact that you intend to run a background check. If the person is apply for a job, a tenancy, or a volunteer position, do this on a separate page from the rest of the application. Make sure there’s nothing else on the page except the notice about the background check, and be sure you’ve got the person’s permission in writing before you start.

3. Choose a Background Check Company

There are a number of good reasons to choose a professional background check company, not least of all the fact that they know how to do a background check more thoroughly and quickly than a private person ever could. But the most compelling reason to use an accredited company is that only an accredited Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) is legally allowed access to credit reports.

CRAs pay for that access and must adhere to a strict code of conduct set by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners and subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Most CRAs will offer full background checks that include more than just credit reports.

4. Verify Your Background Check Company

The two most important things here are to note whether a company is legitimate and whether they have permission to operate in your state. Here’s are some questions to ask:

  • Do they follow all FCRA regulations (ideally linking to them on their site)?
  • Can they verify their business license?
  • Do they have specific information for each state and know how to stay in compliance everywhere?

Once you’ve found a CRA and verified them, you must next discover whether they have the services you need. Here are some things to consider:

Do They Know Your Industry?

Background checks are valuable in all kinds of industries, but what a construction company needs in a background check might be quite different from what a preschool or a bank wants to look at. The CRA you’re working with should have packages and advice they can tailor to your industry in particular.

What Do They Cover?

The Internet is full of websites claiming to give you a nearly instantaneous background check, but for the most part these checks aren’t worth the few seconds it takes to run them. An accredited and experienced CRA knows how to do a background check well and will take the time to find out exactly what you need. They will also cover more than just the basics. Here’s just some of what they should be offering:

  • Criminal records from county, state, and federal sources and all jurisdictions
  • Sex offender registration at the state and federal levels
  • Verification of social security numbers, driver’s license status, and driving records
  • Property and real estate assessment records
  • Reports on any liens at the county, state, or federal levels
  • Reports on any bankruptcies or foreclosures, including international ones
  • Civil records at the county, state, and federal levels
  • Drug testing options
  • Verification of references, education, and employment


Will They Customize?

A final thing to consider is whether the background check company you’re considering is willing to offer just the services you need in addition to any package offers they may have that contain multiple services. You don’t want to be paying for checks you don’t need, or you may want to get a package but add on something important to your situation.

5. Order Your Background Check

When you’ve found the right CRA, put in your order for a background check. Before the agency can start the background check, they’ll need some information from you. You will need to certify that you will not use any of the information you find to discriminate illegally against any person. You will also need to certify that you’re in compliance with the FCRA laws and have gotten a signature assent from the person you’re checking.

6. Wait

Those who don’t know how to do a background check often mistakenly believe it can be done in just a few moments. In reality, a thorough background check will take between 24 and 72 hours, depending on exactly what you need.

7. Use Your Report Wisely

The law requires you to tell a person if you’re making a negative decision about them based on something you found in their background check. This is done so the person in question has the opportunity to challenge the information if they believe it is incorrect.

To do this legally, you’ll need to tell the person exactly which agency you hired to do the job and give them a copy of the FCRA’s Summary of Your Rights document. Then allow the person the opportunity to rebut the findings either in person at the moment or in a letter.

Get Exactly the Background Check You Need

Whether you’re a business, a non-profit, a landlord, or a private individual, a background check offers important protection. When you are careful about due diligence, you are protecting the people around you. You’re also protecting yourself from lawsuits for negligence.

A background check is too crucial to leave to just anyone. When you need a report you can rely on, contact the Background Experts for thorough, accurate, and legally compliant results you can count on.