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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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How to Conduct a Background Check

If you plan on hiring a new employee, babysitter or bringing a new tenant into your rental property, conducting a background check is a must. If you want to do so on your own, you may want to search through general and vital records, or search for criminal records on an individual. However, in order to start this process there is some information you'll need to gather and resources to help you along the way. Following is a discussion of how to conduct a background search without the aid of outside sources or companies.


Gathering Necessary Information


The first step to conducting a background search on your own is to ensure you have as much personal identifying information about the individual as possible. You'll need to get a photocopy of their driver's license or other official identification, as well as their current address, full name and phone number. If you can get a list of past addresses from the past 5 to 10 years, this will also prove to be helpful later on. Any former aliases or legal names such as a maiden name are important to have, and you'll also want the individual's Social Security Number if you want to check their credit. The names and numbers of their current and past employers and personal references will be necessary to efficiently gauge their character and reliability.

Next, you'll need to gather appropriate disclosure or release forms in order to request information from certain entities. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you'll need an Applicant Release Form if you are conducting a background check that an employment decision will be based upon; however, this may not be necessary if you are conducting the background check without the use of an outside company. If you use the services of any outside companies or credit bureaus, you may need additional release forms signed which state that the individual is aware that you are checking his or her background information.


General Records


In order to simply verify information, a general records search is usually sufficient. This may be the case if you are hiring someone who needs to have specific experience or professional licensing to work for you. Some landlords are also only concerned with an applicant's payment history and merely need to check these references and credit history.

A general records search requires you to approach the necessary parties to confirm or deny the information you've been given on an application. If you want to confirm someone is a licensed insurance agent, for example, you'll need to contact your local Professional Licensing Agency or PLA. This office is usually found in the local courthouse or near the state capital.

Personal and work references simply require a quick phone call and list of questions to discover if you should be concerned with the individual's past. This type of check is conducted because it is generally accepted that past performance is a good indicator of future performance. Employers may only confirm the dates that someone worked for them and if they would be eligible to be rehired in the future. Personal references may divulge more information about someone; past landlords may reveal if the individual was ever evicted or paid their rent on time.


Criminal Records Search


For positions which require the utmost in trust and reliability, a criminal records search may be necessary. This type of search requires you to access the local Department of Corrections, Department of Motor Vehicles, state police and courthouse records databases to determine if the individual has a criminal background. Most states offer a majority of records online, so you can simply search them from the comfort of your own home.

The criminal records you can often access online include sex offender records, court records, warrant and arrest records, and even driving records. You may not be able to access every detail within them, but you will know if the individual has been charged with criminal or drunk driving offenses in the past. These can be very important if you are planning on hiring the person to babysit or otherwise care for your personal property and family.

To begin this type of search, start with your state's website and navigate to the judicial or court section to see if court records are available online. Some locales may require you to submit a formal written request and pay a processing fee in order to access them. Keep in mind that criminal records do not cross state lines, so you'll need to check for them in every state the person has lived in the past. This is why you'll need an extensive address history to start your search. You'll also want to access the FBI and PACER sites to search records from federal databases.

If you begin your background check with the correct types and amount of information, the process of gathering and confirming general and criminal records about a potential employee or tenant can save you money and time in the long run, as well as provide the peace of mind necessary for your business and personal life.

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