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While the terms background check and background investigation are frequently used interchangeably and, in fact, we use the terms interchangeably on this website, there is a big difference between the two.

What Is a Background Check?

A background check is a quick way to verify the integrity of a person, and includes inputting a name into one or more databases and passing the raw data along to the end user.

The information in these databases varies, but may include millions of public records, including address history, date of birth, Social Security numbers, names of relatives and in some cases, property records, judgments, liens and bankruptcies. These databases can contain much more information, but by and large, the information described above is what is commonly found in these databases.

Seem simple enough?

What makes things more complicated is that there is no standard as to what information is checked and there is no standard database to use as a source. Each database provider has its own set of data, with completely different records.

In addition to database searches, for employment purposes, a background check may also include verification of one’s highest academic degree or professional license or employment. It may also include a credit check, although the effectiveness and legality of reviewing credit history has been widely debated.

Dig Deeper: Can a Private Investigator Get a Credit Report?

Information in a background check is only as good as the information that is being searched in the databases, and the information contained in these databases varies greatly.

For example, one of the biggest misconceptions is that these databases contain every record from the entire country. This misconception is spread by various databases that make claims of things like “nationwide criminal record searches.” The truth is, there is no such thing and any claim to the contrary is flat-out wrong.

Dig Deeper: The Mythical National Criminal Records Check

So … What Is a Background Investigation?

For those of you not interested in the cheapest way to do it, or the fastest way to do it, but who want to dig deep into a person’s past, a background investigation is the more appropriate way to go.

The fact of the matter is that a background check only scratches the surface and may leave gaping holes in a person’s past.

Dig Deeper: Case Study – Preliminary Background Check Identifies Criminal Investigations

A background investigation is more than just passing along raw data or punching a name into a couple of databases.

Here is what a background investigation is:

  • A comprehensive, exhaustive search of publicly available documents that goes beyond online searches and includes a range of on-site court searches in the relevant jurisdictions to cover the gaping holes in online coverage.
  • Scouring public records, court records, divorce filings, probate records, state criminal repositories, property records, assessors’ offices, regulatory filings, court clerk records, UCC filings, and corporate documents, and may include interviewing sources, neighbors or opponents in litigation.
  • Analyzing records for misrepresentations, inconsistencies, financial problems, fraud, omissions, sanctions, suspensions, disbarments, fines and false statements.
  • A thorough, more comprehensive picture of a person through in-depth analysis of fact-based, unbiased information.

Final Thought

While the definition of a background check vs. a background investigation may be a matter of semantics, the bottom line is that most background checks only scratch the surface of what can be found and can provide you with a false sense of security.

A background investigation, on the other hand, provides you with peace of mind, in-depth analysis and fact-based, unbiased information that may not obvious on the surface, allowing you to make a more informed decision about the person who is the subject of the inquiry.

This post is part of a series of posts titled Background Investigations 101 – What You Need To Know

 

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