What Shows Up on a Criminal Background Check

Have you ever been curious about exactly what kind of information shows up in a background check and how it can help you make smart employment decisions?

Background checks provide useful data at many levels by ensuring that your candidate has the right background, skills, and formal qualifications for a job. Even more importantly, they help keep your employees, customers, and anyone else who comes in contact with your business safe.

Criminal background checks are especially important. Knowing whether or not an applicant has a history of criminal activity puts you in a stronger position to evaluate their suitability for a particular position in your company.

Types of criminal background checks

While television and movie detectives are often shown entering a single name into a single database and finding out everything they need to know about a suspect within seconds, the reality is a little more complicated. A comprehensive background check involves searching multiple databases (and sometimes multiple names). Each search builds on the last, eventually forming a complete picture of your candidate’s background.

There are numerous types of background screenings, including education, licensing, and employment verifications, SEC/FINRA screenings, and civil records searches, that employers can use to vet job applicants. In this post, however, we’ll talk specifically about screenings that are used to identify candidates with a criminal history, beginning with the SSN trace.

SSN trace

The social security number (SSN) trace isn’t a criminal background check in and of itself. Instead, it provides a comprehensive history of an applicant’s social security number, including the date and state where the number was issued and all current and former addresses and names of its owner.

It’s important to note that an SSN trace isn’t the same as identity verification. An SSN trace can find valuable information about the person who has used it, but it can’t verify that it belongs to the person who provided it. However, if there is conflicting information, such as a date of issuance that’s at odds with the candidate’s birth date, further analysis can be done to verify that this number does indeed belong to the candidate.

By revealing previously used names and a complete address history, the SSN trace allows a more comprehensive search of various records.

National criminal search

With the information returned from the SSN trace, it’s now possible to run a search of digitized records across thousands of jurisdictions for the applicant’s current and previously used names. If a criminal background is detected, the information returned typically includes:

  • A list of infractions, misdemeanors, and felony convictions as well as a list of pending cases
  • Charge classification (infraction, felony, or misdemeanor)
  • Verdict
  • Database where the record is located

A national search is a good first step that can flag potential issues across jurisdictions, but because it doesn’t check records at the county level, it may not give you all the information you need.

Current county criminal search

The majority of felony and misdemeanor cases are filed in county courts. These records are generally considered the most accurate and up-to-date, but because they aren’t always digitized, they may not show up in a national search. Checking each of the individual counties where an applicant has lived is one of the best ways to discover any history of criminal activity.

Using information from the SSN trace and noting any red flags thrown up by the national criminal search, this search provides detailed information about felony or misdemeanor convictions, pending cases, and active warrants. Information returned typically includes:

  • Defendant’s name
  • Case number
  • Charge classification (felony/misdemeanor)
  • Charge Type
  • Verdict
  • Verdict date
  • Sentencing information

National Sex Offender Registry search

Because some states restrict reporting to only criminal convictions that have taken place in the past seven years, older crimes may not show up as part of a national or county criminal history search. However, a National Sex Offender Registry report can let you know if your candidate is a registered sex offender, regardless of when they were convicted.

All fifty U.S. states, territories, Indian Country, and the District of Columbia are required by federal law to monitor and track convicted sex offenders. Nationwide, there are currently about 750,000 registered sex offenders.

Your applicant’s name will be searched in the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR), an aggregate database created to identify and monitor sex offenders. If your applicant’s name is matched to the registry, a search will typically return the following information:

  • All names and aliases the applicant has used or is currently using
  • The state in which the applicant was convicted
  • The address the applicant provided to register as a sex offender

Depending on the state in which the case was tried, you may also be able to see the type of crime committed, whether it was a felony or a misdemeanor, and what kind of sentence was received.

Global watchlist search (OFAC/SDN)

A global watchlist search is run to make sure you’re in compliance with the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) requirements. It can help you find out if your applicant is considered a threat to national security and can also tell you if they’ve been prohibited from working in certain industries.

A global watchlist search will check your applicant’s name(s) against domestic and international watchlists. These include official sanction and embargo lists to make sure your candidate isn’t a known terrorist, money launderer, narcotics dealer, or someone who is otherwise engaged in criminal activity. This search also typically includes a check of government and regulatory databases of individuals who are barred from working in industries such as healthcare or finance.

If the candidate’s name is matched on any list, details of the sanction/record are usually returned.

Final Thoughts

It’s rare, of course, that a job candidate has a criminal history that will prevent you from offering them the job. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Knowing if a candidate has a criminal background—and if so, what kind—helps you make hiring decisions in the best long-term interest of your company.

If you’d like to know how EagleScreen can help, contact us today for a free demonstration.

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