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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 Public Background Check

There may be several reasons you decide to conduct a background check on someone in your life. If you are an employer, you most likely hire an outside service to do this for you. However, if you simply want to check out a future spouse, tenant or business partner, you can easily find plenty of useful information through a public background check. Depending upon the type of information you begin with and the information you are searching for, you may conduct this type of check on a county, state or federal level.


County Background Check


If you know the county or counties where an individual has lived in the past, you may conduct a county background check at the local courthouse or through the court clerk's office in person or online. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, court and property tax records are all available on the county level, and can be accessed by anyone. Sensitive personal information may be protected, and you may not be able to access records for a juvenile, either.


State Background Check


A state background check may be in order if you only know the state or states where the subject has lived. Most states maintain electronic records available through the Department of Public Safety or Health, and may even have a dedicated Vital Records or Archives Office. You may start this type of search online through the state's official website.

Keep in mind that each state's record accessibility laws and regulations vary. Although they are required to comply with federal privacy and access statutes, they still may impose their own rules you'll need to follow. Also, these records do not cross state lines; this means that if an individual lived in more than one state, you need to conduct a check in each one of them. If you are unaware of this information, you'll need to search on a national level to ensure you don't miss any valuable data about the person.


Federal Background Check


A federal background check is ideal if you don't know in which state or states the individual has lived. This type of check will usually require you to start with the FBI records to search sex offender, most wanted, federal prison and escapee lists. You may also request a full background check if you have fingerprints and certain personal information. PACER also offers an online database of electronic federal court records. These include bankruptcy court, district court, and supreme court case information, charges and pleas entered, final judgment and sentencing, and any subsequent appeals.

Depending upon your reasons for conducting a background check and the information you're armed with, a public background check at the county, state or federal level will often offer the information you seek about an individual. If you're willing to put in a little extra time and effort, there is no reason you can't research someone for little to no charge using these public record resources.

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