A 6-part blog on why background checks miss records: Part 2

Welcome to part two of our six-part blog on why background checks miss records. Last time we went over searching for the wrong, or even a non-existent, person. This week we will take a hard look at one of the most misunderstood aspects of a background check: the “nationwide criminal search”. The biggest mistake most organizations make is believing their background check is more comprehensive than it is. Most people would assume that if the search is called a “nationwide criminal search” that it means a search is being done for the entire country to see if an individual has a criminal record anywhere in the United States, right? The reality is that it isn’t even close. In fact, a nationwide criminal search is industry speak for a specific kind of search product.

A Database Search by Any Other Name

Background check companies all describe their nationwide search by other names. Such as:

  • Criminal SuperSearch
  • CrimCapture
  • Ultimate Search
  • ect.

The truth is they are all the same type of database search.

Some companies will compile the database search with a search of their own past searches to see if they have ever pulled a record on the same person and give the illusion of searching more records. Many of them will present their database search as the core of their service packages. When you rely solely on database searches, you will miss records!

So What is the Nationwide Criminal Search Really?

The databases are all created the same way. A database company buys as much criminal records data as it can, from as many jurisdictions as are willing to sell it. There are entire states that do not sell their data to the databases, such as South Dakota and Wyoming. In the State of Nebraska, out of 93 counties, only one sells their data and it’s not the county with all the people in it. California, the most populous state in the country, has 58 counties. Only 27 of them sell their data. These are just a few examples. On top of those that don’t sell anything, there are many jurisdictions that only sell arrest records, which aren’t reportable anyway. Best estimates are that the databases have at most, 20% of available records in them. There are no standards whatsoever as to what information they provide or how often that information is updated. For this reason, the EEOC issued guidelines in 2012 against using database only background checks for employment purposes specifically because they were incomplete and not up to date.

Database Searches Can Point the Way

With only 20% of records, no consistency as to what is provided, and no standards for when it gets updates, one might think it is completely useless, but a database search can serve a purpose. If it is used as a supplement to other, more up-to-date, searches, it can be a tip-off that an applicant may have a record. For example, if John Doe was convicted of a felony 10 years ago and served 5 years in prison, depending on the jurisdiction, the conviction may not appear in a database as it is older than 7 years. If a database search includes the department of corrections, we might see that he was released from prison 5 years ago. This is then a tip-off that at some point there was a conviction that wasn’t reported and gives us the information we need to dig deeper and find the original record.

So, to sum up, this week, Nationwide Criminal Search, more aptly named database criminal search, is not thorough enough to be the only search you do, but can certainly provide information that points to the need to dig further. Next week we will take a look at the best source of information; real-time original source records.



One Source’s TotalCheck and TotalCheck Plus Packages utilize a multi-court jurisdictional search comprised of:

  • 700-800 Databases
    • Proprietary Offender Data
    • Department of Corrections
    • Administrative Office of the Courts-dated back 7 years
    • Department of Public Safety
    • Traffic Court
This casts a broad net and often points to records we can verify and report.



About Author

Greg Simmons
Greg Simmons

Greg oversees the nonprofit business development at One Source. He helps clients around the country and across a full range of industries hire the right people by providing the most comprehensive pre-employment screening products and services.

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