What do free online background checks really tell you?

What do free online background checks really tell you?What do free online background checks tell you

We all find ourselves becoming online detectives.  There is so much information available via social media and other websites that provide arrest records, court records and public records.  It’s too tempting not to conduct your own investigation since these tools are all free.

There are so many situations in our dailies lives that prompt us to question people and send us diving online to conduct our own investigations.  Maybe you have a new boyfriend or girlfriend and you have heard about their troubled past. Or you are curious about your neighbors or future neighbors?  A red flag has gone up about a new relationship that your elderly parent might be involved with.  It is human nature to be curious and investigate.

There are also some really well advertised tools out there that give you a snapshot of what kind of records might be out there on someone.  They give you a glimpse of possible criminal records, create fear and then ask you to buy a full background report for $30.  The sites I am talking about are Intelius and Truthfinder.  These sites claim to be comprehensive in their research and make it look like they are accessing records and databases all over the place.

I want to point a few issues with these sites that hopefully give you better insight.  There is no such thing as a comprehensive national criminal search or database.  In order for such a database to exist every court at the state, county and federal level would have to make their records available online in real time without any access fees and this just isn’t the case.  The records that these sites show you are typically matching on name only.  This means if the person you are investigating has a common name you will likely get a lot of records that don’t pertain to your subject.  Additionally, the filters on the preliminary, free searches don’t search on a date of birth.

In almost every county and state courthouse throughout the United States criminal records are indexed by name and date of birth.  One other very important thing I want to point out is the fact that in many jurisdictions TRAFFIC violations are filed in the Criminal courts.  This means that you might see a subject with five (5) potential criminal cases and when you get the complete record you find out the records are all for speeding and other traffic violations.

Once you click the button and pay the thirty dollars the records that come up are not verified and many times it is difficult to determine if the records pertain to your subject and what the underlying charges are.  Keep in mind that if your subject has an alias or maiden name these searches won’t pick up on records under alternate names.

I know many of us can’t help ourselves and want to play detective because it is so fun and you can find yourself going down rabbit holes, but please understand the limitations of free and low-cost background research tools.

I wanted to conclude by providing a pro tip.  If you have someone that you want to profile the best way to research any criminal activity would be to go online to the courthouse in the county or counties where the person has resided and search criminal records.  In many counties these searches are free and in others they charge you $5.00 or less.

Happy hunting!

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.