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Online DIY Background Checks Are Risky


Introduction to DIY Online Background Check Services

In an increasingly digital world, online background check services have become a go-to solution for employers, landlords, and curious individuals. These services promise a quick turnaround on personal history checks, delivering extensive data ranging from criminal records to employment history. As convenient as they are, one critical element often missing is context.


The Mechanism Behind Online Background Checks Online background check services operate by scraping data from various sources. They compile information from public records, databases, and sometimes even social media. However, the complexity of understanding the subtleties and narratives behind each piece of data often exceeds the capability of algorithmic processing.



stack of files
Online DIY background checks are limited and provide no context

The Limits of Public Records In Background Checks


Accessibility Issues

While public records are, by definition, available to the public, accessing them is not always straightforward. Various jurisdictions have different rules about what is accessible and how. Some records can only be obtained in person, while others are scattered across multiple databases, requiring a significant time investment to compile a full report.


Potential for Incomplete Data

When individuals opt for DIY online background checks, they usually depend on the data that's readily available through internet searches or databases that aggregate public records. On the surface, it may seem like they're getting comprehensive information, but the reality is often different. The potential for incomplete data is a significant pitfall of DIY background checks for several reasons:


Selective Databases:

Not all databases are created equal, and each may have a particular focus. For instance, some might concentrate on criminal records while others on credit histories. Rarely does one database offer a complete view of an individual's background across all records.


Record Variability:

Public records vary in what they offer. Court records from one state or county may not include the same level of detail as those from another. Some records might include full legal proceedings, while others only list the final judgment.


Updating Frequencies:

The frequency with which records are updated can lead to significant gaps in data. An individual could have a recent incident that hasn't yet been entered into the public record, which means it would not appear in a DIY check.


Limited Scope:

Most DIY background checks only cover criminal records within a specific jurisdiction and may omit history from other states or countries. Similarly, they might not include other types of checks such as education or employment verification, which are crucial for a comprehensive background screening.


Exclusion of Informal Data:

Background checks that professionals conduct might also include references from past employers or landlords that aren't part of the public record. These sources can provide additional insight into an individual's character and reliability.


Accessibility Challenges:

Even if records are technically public, they may not all be digitized or indexed in a searchable way. Some older records require manual searching at a local courthouse or government office.


User Error:

The person conducting a DIY check might not know all the relevant search terms or databases for a particular type of record, leading to incomplete research and missed information.


Because of these factors, DIY online background checks may provide a fragmented view of an individual’s history, increasing the risk of oversight and subsequent issues. This is why many organizations and individuals rely on professional background check services, despite the allure of instant results promised by online DIY tools. The professionals understand the complexities of sourcing data and have the means to cross-reference information for a more complete and accurate picture.


Misinterpretation of Data

The interpretation of legal documents and public records requires expertise. Without the proper background, you might misinterpret what you find, leading to incorrect conclusions about an individual’s background.


Varied Sources and Contexts

Background information can come from a multitude of sources, including court records, financial history, property ownership, and online footprints. Each type of record requires context to understand fully. For example, a court record could show a case was dismissed, which a layperson might misinterpret as a sign of prior criminal involvement without recognizing the individual was actually found not guilty or the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence.


Legal Jargon and Complexity

Legal documents are rife with terminology that can be confusing. Terms like "nolle prosequi" or "adjudication withheld" are not self-explanatory. Without a clear understanding of such terms, a person might misjudge the significance of a record, leading to incorrect assumptions about a person’s criminal history.


Educational and Employment Verifications

Verifying education and employment history also presents challenges. Transcripts, diplomas, and resumes need to be checked against official records from educational institutions and employers. A DIY check might overlook the nuances of accredited versus non-accredited institutions or fall for fraudulent claims of employment at companies that are difficult to verify.


Contextual Understanding of Data

The data's meaning often depends on its context. For instance, multiple residences in a short period might seem suspicious in a background check, but there could be straightforward explanations such as work relocations, study requirements, or personal family circumstances.


Distinguishing Between Similar Names

One of the most common areas of misinterpretation arises from identifying information. Without the tools or expertise to distinguish between people with similar or identical names, a DIY background checker may attribute the records of one person to another, leading to damaging consequences.


Cultural Awareness

There is also a need for cultural sensitivity and awareness. Names, addresses, and other personal information must be treated with an understanding of cultural differences in naming conventions and living arrangements.


In sum, the interpretation of data gathered in a DIY online background check demands a level of expertise that goes beyond just reading off a screen. It involves a discerning eye, attention to detail, and a considerable measure of legal and procedural knowledge. This interpretation is necessary to form an accurate representation of a person's history. Otherwise, the consequences of misinterpretation can be unfairly detrimental to the subjects of such checks, influencing job prospects, personal relationships, and more. Thus, the potential for misinterpretation is a strong argument for the use of professional background check services, especially for decisions with significant consequences.


The Danger of Outdated Information From Background Checks



Case Study 1: Employment Opportunity Lost

Situation: John, a software developer, applied for a job at a tech startup. During the hiring process, the startup conducted an online background check using a popular DIY website. They discovered a criminal charge related to property damage from over a decade ago when John was in college.


Outcome: The charge was actually dismissed, and John had no criminal record. However, the startup misinterpreted the old data as a conviction. Due to the perceived criminal history, they decided to go with another candidate. John lost the opportunity and, upon learning why, had to engage in a lengthy process to correct the misunderstanding.


Lesson: This case underscores the importa