Background checks are all the rage now. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days.

There are background checks for gun purchases.

Background checks for employment purposes.

There’s the “Instant Background Check.”

Government background checks for security clearance.

Nanny background checks.

There is even a school in the Chicago suburbs that conducts a “criminal background” check via a “national database” for every visitor to the school.

You get the idea. Everyone’s doing them.

Will the real “background check” please stand up?

The term “background check” is so overused. In every instance noted above, a background check means something completely different.

There are many types of background checks depending on the situation.

To purchase a gun, your name gets run through National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS (which is not accessible to the public).

For employment purposes, they may verify your highest academic degree, some of your employment history and check your criminal history over the last seven years. They may even do a credit check and a social media check “if you are lucky.”

And for the school in the Chicago suburbs, maybe they are using the mythical national criminal records check.

Or for a nanny background check, you may choose to do a $19.95 online instant national complete background check.

Lots of investigative firms offer background check services as well, some charging as little as $75 for a “nationwide background check.”

Types of Background Checks

Government Background Check

Background checks in this category include checks when purchasing a gun, seeking government security clearance or applying for a government job. The depth of these background checks varies greatly depending on the purposes of the background check. For gun purchases, it may be as simple as accessing NICS, while high-level presidential appointees go through a rigorous investigation.

Employment Background Check

Employment background checks typically involve criminal background checks (which can be limited in scope depending on the state), driving records (if the job demands the skill) and verification of past employment and academic degree.

In some cases, the background check will include a credit check; according to the Small Business Administration, this is currently done by 60 percent of employers.

Online Background Check

This type of check is also known as an instant background check, national background check, complete background check or online instant national complete background check. There are literally hundreds of websites that offer to conduct commercial background checks. The depth and quality of these online background checks vary greatly depending on the information contained in the databases.

As we have pointed out in previous posts, there are gaping holes in these databases and it is highly recommended that you read the fine print. For example, an online instant national complete background check would never catch someone lying about military service.

Do-It-Yourself Background Check

There are a number of resources available for individuals to conduct their own background checks. After all, as we have previously discussed, for the most part a background check utilizes open source records. It’s just a matter of understanding how to access the information.

For example, in Connecticut, anyone can conduct a statewide criminal background check through the Connecticut Department of Public Safety.

Of course, hiring a professional who does this on a daily basis using their expertise is an ideal solution, but it may not always be cost effective or necessary.

Professional Background Investigation

A professional background investigation is more than just checking a few sources, passing along raw data or punching a name into a couple of databases. A background check utilizes hundreds of different data points and collects and analyzes that information for misrepresentations, inconsistencies or omissions. A background investigation goes beyond the typical red flags and provides a comprehensive picture of an individual.

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

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