Conducting Background Checks: When Is Screening Legal?

Conducting Background Checks: When Is Screening Legal?

Background checks reveal many details about a person, both good and bad. Most checks are performed by employers, landlords, the courts and government agencies, but sometime individuals need to learn more about someone. Romantic partners, new roommates, neighbors and new friends may all give people motivation to run a background check.

Few people, however, know how to perform background screening properly or legally. While many of the facts needed for a background check are publicly available, finding that information requires special skills and experience most people lack. For this reason, background checks are best left to a private investigation company.

Public Information and Background Checks
You can run a background check on anyone within certain legal limitations. Most of the information gathered on a background check comes from publicly available sources, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, the courts and municipal departments.

Keep in mind that tracking down all this information takes time and accessing databases can be costly. In addition, some information is only legally available for a certain period of time. For example, many states will not provide criminal information after a set period of time passes.

Online Searches and Social Media
If you’re looking for hard facts, public records are your best bet. If you’re just looking for indications of a person’s behavior or personality, you might want to try an online search. Type your subject’s name, in quotation marks, into Google and see what comes up. People often say or report things online that they’d never admit to in person.

When searching online, remember that not all the hits you’ll get for your search name will necessarily be for the individual you want. Name duplications are very common; even unusual and seemingly unique names may be duplicated online. You can add a geographic location to the search to narrow results.

Credit Reports and Background Checks
You may have submitted to a credit check when applying for employment. When you did, you should have signed a written statement explicitly granting the employer the right to run the check. That’s because, in most cases, it’s illegal for someone to access your credit rating without your personal permission.

In other words, if you try to access someone else’s credit rating, no matter what your intent, you’re breaking the law. The ruling is for everyone’s protection; without it, we’d all be vulnerable to identity theft and credit fraud. This does, however, make credit information off-limits to anyone running a background check that’s supposed to remain secret.

International Screening
Background screening becomes more complicated when international borders and national laws come into play. Local laws and limitations won’t apply, for instance, to a India background check. In such circumstances it’s best to hire a private investigation company with international screening experience.

Shane is an avid writer who really enjoys covering legal subjects.  His passion for law is leading him to work towards a law degree in the near future.

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