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  • Writer's pictureRick Raymond, P.I.

Are Online Background Checks Worth It?

We've all seen them. The ads that pop up on search pages touting that they can "find anyone" in just one click. For just $19.99 you can locate the long lost high school girlfriend or boyfriend, you can find out anything on anyone or you can run a nationwide criminal records search. Other ads claim that they can get all information on a person including addresses, vehicles, spouses, related persons and court records from $20 to $60. Can it be true? Can you really get all this great information for those prices? The short answer is NO.

What is important to understand is how public records and background information works. First, you have the source. Let us say the source is a local county clerk's office. Perhaps a record is generated at the clerk's office in March of 2011. The record is maintained at that office and entered electronically. It can take several months before that record is picked up by the database information brokers that re-sell it to the public. Then, it may be a year later before you conduct your search. By then, the record is well over a year old. What often happens is the information you are buying over the internet is dated and inaccurate. Additionally, the information is heavily redacted to comply with federal laws. The old data entry adage of "junk in, junk out" applies here. Information is very often entered incorrectly. When you purchase the "online background check" there is no professional investigator on the other end of your request reviewing the information for you. There is only a computer database that spits out data. Much of that data is old and much of it contains data on unrelated persons.

If you search for John Q. Public, you may get results for that person and also John R. Public and John S. get the idea. Oftentimes, non-related persons' information is lumped in with the person you are searching for. Another thing to remember is that local, state and federal records are all maintained on different database sources. Half of the battle with a thorough background investigation is knowing where to search for the information. Professional private investigators know where the information is. Part of what you are paying for with a professional investigator is his/her skill and knowledge. Just like if you paid a dentist to pull a tooth or paid a plumber to fix your pipes. You want someone that knows how to properly do the job.

Another issue that comes up often is the concept of a "national criminal check". Folks, there simply is no such thing as a nationwide criminal history check. The closest thing to that is the NCIC database maintained by the federal government. The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is the source used by law enforcement officials to check a person's criminal history and or if they have warrants. Even the NCIC database contains errors or is missing information and the NCIC database is for law enforcement agencies only. A private citizen, including private investigators, do not have access to that. The only way to properly do a criminal background check is to search state by state, county by county based on where the subject has lived in the past. Even then, you could miss an arrest if the person vacationed for a few days in some other area and was arrested. Professional private investigators have access to many private and proprietary database records that are not publicly available. Investigators must undergo rigorous vetting processes to have access. They know where to go for the information you need and also know how to decipher the difficult to read background data that these sources return.

It doesn't matter that you may think you are "good at finding stuff on the internet". A professional background investigation is not a "$20 online background check". I have clients call me all the time and tell me they paid $20 or $40 for an online background check that gave them no new information. Save your money and hire a professional investigator to provide you with accurate information.

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