5 Key Components of a Comprehensive Criminal Background Check


A criminal background check uncovers a wide variety of information employers need to know to make confident hiring decisions. From sex crimes to severe theft, many things should give employers pause.

Employers should run comprehensive checks using a trusted screening provider to protect themselves, their clients, employees, and their businesses. Here are five key components that comprise a comprehensive background check for employment.

Social Security Number (SSN) Trace

An SSN Trace is one of the first searches conducted as part of a comprehensive criminal background check. It uses commercially compiled data, including credit bureaus, US Postal Service records (subscriptions and utility bills), and information obtained through customer loyalty programs, online retail purchases, health club memberships, and magazine subscriptions. The SSN Trace reveals jurisdiction, name, and address information that can help employers identify additional locations where they may wish to conduct criminal and motor vehicle record searches. It can also reveal maiden names and aliases, which can expand criminal history searches and help uncover individuals who change their name regularly or for other reasons, such as to conceal a previous identity or avoid identification theft. An SSN Trace identifies the names and addresses associated with a Social Security Number for the last seven years – a critical piece of information when conducting most criminal background checks. Often the SSN Trace reveals alias names and address histories not disclosed by an applicant, which may prompt further research or a discussion with the candidate before denying employment.

Criminal Record Search

A criminal record search investigates an individual’s criminal history at the county, state, or national level. Criminal history records uncover a wide array of information that can help employers make confident hiring decisions.

Criminal record searches pull data from multiple sources, including local and state law enforcement records, statewide criminal record repositories, offender registries and watch lists, and state prison and parole departments. A social security number trace and address history also provide valuable insight into an applicant’s identity, helping to confirm they are who they say they are.

Some states and counties have ban-the-box laws that prevent an employer from asking about job candidates’ criminal histories until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. When this is the case, a national criminal database search is the best option for employers to expand the scope of their searches to other states and counties where a candidate has lived or worked. These searches will reveal convictions, pending cases, and arrests that may have been overlooked by a search of a single state’s court records.

Federal Criminal Record Search

A federal criminal record search searches across 94 federal courts for convictions and pending cases that involve violations of Federal law. This type of check reveals crimes such as tax evasion, embezzlement, illegal firearms sales, and pornographic exploitation of children, among other offenses. This search is often performed for C-level executives, accounting and financial professionals, and candidates seeking jobs that could have access to sensitive information. A national criminal database search is essential to a comprehensive criminal background check because it looks beyond the records at the county and state levels, where most criminal convictions are located. This type of search reveals criminal convictions and charges found in court records nationwide, including those recorded in states where the applicant has previously lived.

A fingerprint-based FBI background check is another key element of a comprehensive criminal background check. This type of search compares a candidate’s fingerprints with those in the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the FBI’s repository for arrests and convictions. It also checks the prints against the sex offender registry and the most-wanted list.

Sex Offender Registry Search

When it comes to sex offenses like sexual assault, rape, criminal sexual conduct, indecent exposure, and possession of child pornography, which typically show up on a criminal background check, many states also require perpetrators to register. This helps law enforcement track where and when they committed these crimes and assess a person’s risk level.

While not every business needs a sex offender registry search, any company that hires contractors and volunteers with direct contact with the public should consider including this as part of their pre-employment vetting. This can include family restaurants, children’s parks, and daycare facilities. This search will include the National Sex Offender Registry, which compiles offender information from registries available in all 50 states and U.S. territories and from Indian tribes. It includes the names, aliases, birth dates, and physical characteristics of people on the list. It is important to note that employers may not make hiring decisions based on this information and must follow state laws regarding using sex offender registry reports. 

Civil Court Search

Civil court searches can reveal tax liens, debt collection records, and civil judgments. They also surface cases heard in the county or federal civil courts. Civil cases differ from criminal charges because they are filed by an alleged victim or wronged party. Unlike criminal convictions, which may result in jail time, civil cases often result in financial penalties. For example, OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder in criminal court but was found legally responsible for his actions in civil court. A civil search can uncover lawsuits brought against a job candidate by an employer, harassment claims, or contract violations. A county civil search can go back seven years to identify if a candidate has been named a plaintiff or defendant.