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10 Reasons Background Checks Miss Criminal Records


There are many possibilities, but most often we can trace a missed record to one of the following. Please take note that with a little extra care, most of these are avoidable.

  1. The subject’s name wasn’t spelled correctly.  Criminal records are filed alphabetically by last name, not by Social Security number.  Depending on the search method, even a minor deviation in spelling could cause a researcher to miss a record that belongs to your subject.

  2. First name variations.  A good researcher should recognize that a record for “Robert Smith” likely belongs to your subject whom you reported as “Bob Smith.” But if the search is being conducted by a computer, it will depend on how the filters are set. 

  3. An incorrect date of birth can cause a computer to by-pass even an exact name match.  For example, the state of New York will only report a record when the name and date of birth match exactly. 

  4. The record is under a former name.  Marriage is probably the best example for why names might change but there are others as well.  If your subject has a record under a maiden name, chances are you won’t find it if you’re searching under their married name alone.

  5. The subject has purposely misreported personal identifying information. People that don’t want you to find a criminal record may purposely spell their name differently or report an incorrect date of birth.  Whether a typing error or fraud, the results can be the same. 

  6. You relied on an inexpensive, instant database search.  These searches cast a wide net and often find records in jurisdictions you would otherwise not have searched.  That’s we refer to them as “safety net” searches. They should not be relied upon as a primary search. See # 7 below.

  7. You aren’t searching in the right places.  Contrary to popular opinion, there is no one source to search for criminal records.  Best practice is to search at the county court* in all jurisdictions where the subject has resided for the past 7 years (minimum). 

  8. You didn’t search the federal courts. Many serious criminal charges are heard in federal court.  Searching county courts, statewide repositories and instant databases will not yield results from cases tried in federal courts. They keep their own records and they must be searched separately.

  9. Some records cannot be reported to you by a screening company, also known as Consumer Reporting Agencies or CRA’s.  For example, an arrest that did not result in a conviction that is over 7 years old cannot be reported per federal law.  Many states have more restrictive laws.

  10. You’re using the wrong background screening company.  It does make a difference.  One primary difference is education!  If your screening company isn’t willing to take the time to help you understand the various searches (and search methods) available, talk to another CRA. 

*Depending on the state, it may be acceptable and even advantageous to search statewide rather than at the individual county level.  Use caution as some statewide repositories are not up to date and may not include records from all counties in the state.