A background check is a prepared report with information about a specific person. The report can include information on their identity, location, education, or past employment. It can also include elements of their financial history, like their credit score and previous bankruptcies, and criminal history, like past arrests and convictions. Often, a background check is used to confirm that someone is who they say they are. There are many web-based companies that provide background screening services. These companies will look up the name you provide on several public and nonpublic databases, such as court records, social media accounts, credit reporting agencies, and phone listings, and prepare a comprehensive report for you, depending on what you want to know.

Almost anyone can request a background check. If you’re renting an apartment, you may want to know what is in your roommates’ past. Perhaps you want to know whether the red flags you noticed on your last date have a basis in fact. An employer who is looking at many applicants to fill a high-profile position will want to make sure they are selecting the right person. A background checking company can help with that. There are restrictions on what certain users can do with this information. Employers who want to use background checks to make employment-related decisions need to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That means they can’t request background checks from just anyone; they need to use a company that is a “consumer reporting agency” as defined by the FCRA. Since the information contained in those reports is sensitive, the government wants to make sure reports are used responsibly and that consumers have a way to fix any incorrect information. Read up on FCRA-compliance if you are one of these users.

However, almost everyone else—whether you’re checking up on your date or looking for a long-lost relative—can use any background check company, even those that aren’t FCRA-compliant. When deciding which company to use, measure the price against the kind of information you are looking for. For example, many companies offer one price only for a full report that might be infinitely more thorough than you need. The best companies allow clients to customize their results to target only what is required. Also, consider how long you will need the service. If you are an employer who is doing a lot of hiring, a monthly subscription is your best bet. If you are interested in doing a one time check, go with a company that provides a one time fee.

When you request a background check, you are most often required to provide your personal information—full name, credit card number (for payment purposes), address, phone number, and email address—to create an account for viewing the report. Be aware that some companies may sell this information to third parties, such as direct marketing groups, telemarketers, and advertisers. Read their Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy before submitting any personal information. Additionally, if you are or might be the subject of a background inquiry and you don't want information about your background to be available to the screening companies, you can attempt to opt out of their databases. Search for the company name and "opt out" or "removal" to find a link.


Top 10 Companies

#1
Our Partner
9.0 / 10
  • The most accurate and updated information
  • Background checks, criminal records, reverse phone lookup, and more
  • 24-hour people search pass
  • IdentityProtect with 7 day trial
  • Search billions of public records
  • Over 50 million background checks provided
#2
Our Partner
9.0 / 10
  • Mobile app for iOS and Android devices
  • Court runners retrieve county court records in person
  • Up to 1,000 reports per month with subscription
  • Live customer assitance 7 days a week
#3
Our Partner
9.0 / 10
  • Searches public records nationwide
  • Background checks for screening dates and finding old friends
  • Social media searches
  • Not FCRA-compliant; employment and tenancy purposes forbidden
#4
Our Partner
9.0 / 10
  • A+ with the BBB
  • Search for anyone
  • Reverse phone lookup
  • Uses hundreds of millions of public records
  • Uncover arrest records, contact information, online profiles, and more
#5
Our Partner
8.9 / 10
  • Residential history and phone number information
  • Social media investigations
  • Criminal and civil court records and sex offender data
  • Real estate records
  • Professional license searches
  • Social Security number verification
#6
Our Partner
8.9 / 10
  • Instant background check
  • Records updated every 24 hours
  • $1 trial
  • Search people, phone numbers, email, etc.
  • Data from over 10 billion public records
#7
8.7 / 10
  • Accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners
  • Advisors help employers with FCRA compliance
  • Reports back within 1–3 business days
  • Electronic consent form
  • International criminal background check
#8
8.6 / 10
  • Access to over 20 billion public records
  • Three-month, six-month, and twelve-month subscription plans
  • Address history, social profiles, marriage/divorce, criminal records, bankruptcies, liens, judgments, and lawsuits
  • BBB-accredited
  • Search results compiled in one document
  • Info on 250 million US adults
#9
8.0 / 10
  • Clients include business in the professional athletics, finance, retail, healthcare and property management industries
  • Complies with Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
  • Three screening packages: customer ID verification, employment screening, and tenant screening
  • Website includes resources relating to background checks for HR professionals
  • Pay-as-you-go pricing
  • Instant price quote based on customer needs
  • Offers a wide range of background information
#10
7.8 / 10
  • 168 years of detective experience
  • CrimAlert checks employee criminal records automatically
  • Media search looks through two years of paper and electronic files
  • FCRA-compliant consumer reporting agency
  • Background Check Now lets employees request and purchase background checks and forward employers the results
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How We Compare Background Checks

Company Reputation

25%

Broadly speaking, data about the reputation of a background check company can come from two sources: the company’s customers and the subjects of the background checks the company performs.

Background checks are usually commissioned by institutions, such as businesses, organizations, schools, and landlords. Since decisions based on the results of background checks may have a direct bearing on the health and safety of a store’s customers and vendors, on an organization’s financial viability, on a school’s enrollment, or on a landlord’s ability to collect the rent, such customers should be interested in a background check company’s reputation.

Reputation here includes the company’s reputation for thoroughness, timeliness, and accuracy, as well as the usual data on customer service, the company’s experience, and its business practices. This last is done by consulting the BBB, which focuses on compliance with its code of conduct, and TrustPilot, which is more of a crowd-sourced review site.  We also look for publication of the company’s actual identity and address. After all, it doesn’t seem fair for a company to know all about you and you to know nothing about them.

Since some aspects of the background check business are federally regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA), we include information about whether the company is classified as a consumer reporting agency subject to that statute. We look for accreditation by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), which sets standards for regulatory compliance, business practices, research, and data verification. We also look for news accounts of lawsuits and regulatory actions brought by or on behalf of consumers or people adversely affected by the conduct of background check services.


Screening

25%

Screening—finding out information about people—is the core service that background check companies provide. Criminal records are often at the top of the list for screening, but screening companies also provide credit reports, information on civil suits, divorces, traffic violations, and bankruptcies, address verification, residence history, employment history, and social media usage. We consider which aspects of a person’s background are screened for, as well as how the results of a background investigation are presented, whether customers can see a sample report, and what additional screening services are offered.


Pricing

25%

Since the information delivered by different background checking firms should, in theory, be the same from company to company, we expect companies to compete aggressively on price. We examine each company’s subscription plans and report options, as well as the availability of a free initial report and volume pricing plans (if they exist). 


Customer Service

25%

Another way background check companies attempt to differentiate themselves in an industry that sells very similar services is by providing different levels of customer service to its clients. Some companies offer an 800 number with 24/7, or extended, calling hours. Companies may also give customers multiple ways of contacting them, such as through email or live chat. A few of background check companies offer a mobile app, while others offer their corporate clients assistance on compliance with the FCRA and other applicable laws. 


What's important to know about Background Checks?


What does a background check include?

Background checks generally include all or a combination of the following items: a criminal background check with county criminal record search of felonies and misdemeanors, federal “nationwide” and “statewide” criminal records check, national warrants, sex offender registry check, global homeland security search, and international criminal records check. Background checks typically also include education verification, employment history check and employment eligibility verification, license verification, professional reference checks, and motor vehicle reports. Finally, some background checks also include a copy of your credit report and drug screening.

What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that governs how consumer reporting agencies collect personal credit information in order to sell to third parties. It specifically details how these agencies can collect and use this information. Under the FCRA, consumers are entitled to a free credit report once annually, as well as under certain other specific situations. The FCRA applies to all background checks as well; regardless of whether or not they include a credit report pull. Under the FCRA, the entity requesting the background check must get the subject’s permission in writing, provide them with a copy of their rights, and furnish them with any specifics within the report that may have negatively influenced their decision.

Who can request a background check?

These days, there is no shortage of online background checks that use county and state public records to obtain their information. This material, including criminal records, is freely available to anyone. Background check companies just charge you for doing the legwork and conveniently presenting it all in one format. In years past, this would require searching multiple public records in many different locations across the country. Anyone can do a background check on anyone else without the subject’s knowledge. However, if you are conducting one for an official purpose like a job interview or a rental agreement, there are strict restrictions as laid out in the FCRA. You will need permission from the subject and must only use FCRA-compliant background check companies.