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Navigating the Online Criminal Background Check Labyrinth

More and more individuals wish to protect themselves, their businesses and their loved ones from the possibility of falling prey to criminal activity. One popular safeguard against unnecessary access to unsavory characters is a criminal background check. Whether performing due diligence on a potential employee, securing safe childcare or vetting a new online love interest, criminal background checks have become a regular part of our interactions. As a result of this increased interest in access to criminal histories, many people turn to the most readily available option, the Internet, in order to obtain the information they desire.

A cursory Google search for “online background check” astonishingly returns over 10 million results. The logic is apparent, if the Internet works for shopping in your pajamas and reconnecting with high school classmates, why wouldn’t it work equally as well for background screenings. However, as is typically the case with most endeavors, quantity does not necessarily directly translate to quality.

Often, clients express their utter disbelief when we uncover evidence of a prior criminal history during the course of an investigation. “But I paid for a criminal search online and it was all clear. How could this ever happen?” or some equally confused equivalent are all too common responses. These reoccurring complications center largely on the quality of the information utilized in the search. The old adage stands true; output data quality is only as reliable as the quality of the input data.

Websites offering statewide and nationwide background searches typically perform searches through one of several available databases and pass along the results to the consumer at a highly inflated cost. Essentially, they act as a middleman, selling you someone else’s services without concern for quality or cost. While this alone is unnerving, under further examination you will often find that the databases they utilize are actually severely outdated and or startlingly incomplete. Add the possibility of spelling and data entry errors into this already maladroit mix and your reliable online criminal background check quickly begins to resemble an attempt to catch fire ants with a butterfly net.

It is true that computer aided searches provide the benefit of speedy access to vast amounts of past criminal case files. This in itself sounds substantial, but the reality is often vastly different than initial impressions. For example, some states do not require their judicial offices to report criminal convictions to database agencies. There is also variance at the county level within individual states for requirements of which, if any, criminal history data is sold to third party vendors.

This situation creates a strange paradox in which you can receive a “clear” criminal check from an alleged “statewide” online search, while the subject could actually have a serious and lengthy criminal record in a non-reporting county within the state. The reality that online searches often only produce records from reporting counties that are available post implementation of computerized record systems only compounds this confusion and further augments the margin of error.

The chaotic mix of contributing factors all greatly impact the accuracy and reliability of online record searches. Consequently, the most secure option for a comprehensive criminal background check available to the public remains utilizing an experienced private investigator to physically research the individual. Investigations of this nature ensure that all areas are fully investigated and greatly reduce the likelihood of unknown records under aliases. In fact, physical research is still utilized for most high-level security clearances and positions directly related to personal safety. While technology does aid these screenings, human efforts remain the gold standard over computerized convenience in this sector.

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