What Is a Background Search?
An online background check service meticulously scours all corners of the web to gather information about the person you're searching for. Most of the records the services have access to are records you could theoretically find yourself, but it would take you weeks, if not months to get the info you need.
Background check services can flip through millions of files and produce a detailed report for you in under five minutes.
Online background checks go beyond just criminal records – they can dig up credit history, employment history, financial records, and other information that shows the life someone has lived and also confirm their identity.
How Does a Background Check Work?
If you need to, you can conduct a basic background check on a person by searching the web. This can provide basic information, especially if you can access a social media profile, but there are still numerous details that can be difficult to find.
With dedicated background-checking companies, you will receive this information in a detailed report. These reporting agencies are able to access in-depth information via government databases and other sources that are difficult or impossible for the public to access.
Most background checks include verification of a person’s identity, along with information such as their criminal record, education, employment history, and credit history. However, the exact information you receive can vary depending on what sort of check you request.
One important factor to note is that if background check reports seem a little expensive, it’s because many databases aren’t free to access. This cost, naturally, gets passed on to you. Some companies offer unlimited searches for a monthly fee, which can be a good option if you need to conduct multiple checks.
Information Included in Different Types of Background Checks
There are several layers of background checks you can run from very basic information to really detailed criminal background checks.
Usually, the depth you go into with your reporting will depend on why you are doing the background check. For example, if you are just trying to spy on an ex-boyfriend, you might not dig as deeply as if, say, you were doing a background check for employment at a high-level security firm.
The most common types of background checks companies run today include:
- Criminal background checks
- Background checks for employment
- Universal background checks
- OIG background checks
- E-Verify background checks
- Credit background checks
Social Security number trace
- Personal background checks
- Professional licenses background checks
- International background checks
Social media scans
Most will contain general information about the person, including phone numbers and addresses associated with the person along with age and date of birth.
It will also contain more detailed information, such as criminal and arrest records, employment history, and education.
A few more items that can be included in a background check are:
- Civil records
- Marriage licenses
- Other types of licenses (professional)
- Driving history
- Sexual offender registry listings
- Military records
- Weapons permits
- Social media profiles
- Wikipedia pages
- Personal websites
And more, depending on the background check company and policies you’re working with.
Where Does Background Check Information Come From?
Background check information comes from different sources, depending on the type of report you ordered. There is no single source for criminal background checks. The national criminal database is composed of records from:
State court support agencies
State sex offender registries
Federal security agencies' court records
Database searches like reverse phone lookups, use public records and phone books to generate reports. This information can be outdated or wrong at times.
The most accurate background checks, and often more affordable background checks, are made on the state or law enforcement level.
Why Would You Use a Background Check?
With the permission of the person in question, companies considering applicants for employment or a loan often carry out checks to cover all their bases and make sure the person won't be a liability for the company.
In addition to employment background checks, on a more personal level, many are using background checks to screen potential childcare professionals. Before trusting someone with their children, many choose to screen potential babysitters or nannies. Some landlords may also opt to do a consensual rental background check on potential renters.
When considering using a background check, it's important to take into consideration the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which is a federal law that regulates the collection of consumers' credit information and access to their credit reports via consumer reporting agency.
Employment decisions, rental screening and credit-based decisions cannot legally be made using a background check service that isn't FCRA compliant.
How To Choose a Background Check Company?
When choosing background checking companies, first ask yourself what kind of check you really need and for what purpose. If you need a criminal histories background check, then a company that specialized in reverse phone lookups may not work.
See if the background checks include personalized results and if they are experts in your field (like transportation, education, or the military).
Make sure that the background check company is legal and accredited. A legit company will also be responsive when it comes to customer service. Since the company may handle sensitive data, find out the security standards and if the information provided is encrypted.
One of the most important factors to look for in a background check company is how safely and easily it will be to access and download the report.
How Much Do Background Check Services Cost?
So you’ve gone down the rabbit hole, and now you’re wondering how much a background check costs. With all the services out there you can run a cheap background check for roughly $10.
The actual price you pay for your report will depend on how much information you want in the report, how many reports or checks you plan on running, and how frequently you want to use the service.
For example, if you’re doing this for business (i.e., a background check including information for employment purposes), the best background check companies will usually offer monthly plans to make continuous checks more affordable.
Good companies like BeenVerified offer single month memberships for as little as $26.89 and 3-month memberships for just $17.48 a month for unlimited reports and more.
But even if you want to just run a single check, you can find affordable options. One-off checks are available for approximately $20 a piece. And considering most people don't even know how to do a background check for themselves, a service that can pull all that information for you in minutes is well worth the few bucks you'll pay.
The type of report you want will also determine the price. For example, a county criminal record could cost you just $5, a state criminal background check will cost you roughly $13-$20, and a more advanced national criminal package could run you over $70.
And of course, prices will vary from one background check site to the next. Here’s a list of some common checks that are run and their prices:
- County criminal records: $5-$20
- State criminal records: $8-$20
- Federal criminal records: $8-$15
- Sex offender status: $0-$10
- Records of terrorist activity: $0-$5
- Motor vehicle records: $3-$10
- SSN verification: $0-$10
- Education verification: $7-$15
- Employment verification: $7-$15
- Professional license checks: $7-$15
- Credit background check: $5-$12
Depending on what type of information, how often you want to run a background check, how many different people you want to run background checks on, etc.
it may be worthwhile for you to pay for a monthly membership because it will work out to be cheaper for you at the end of the day.
Are Free Background Checks Legit?
The short answer: not really. Free background checks are usually never 100% free, and the information you get isn’t the most reliable of background check apps and sites. You see, free background checks scan all public records for matching data.
Some look through the deep web while others link phone numbers or emails to social media accounts and magazine subscriptions.
There are many free background check sites that will make you register before seeing a report on the person you want to know more information about. It’s not guaranteed that this data aggregation will be accurate.
Other sites that advertise themselves as free are only free to search but downloading the report or accessing more details will cost money.
Legitimate background checks get information from places public records can’t reach. Though they may cost money, paid reports provide extensive and downloadable reports.
What Are The Levels of Background Checks?
There are more types of background checks than you may think. Recognizing the differences can help with ordering correctly and better understanding the results.
Level 1: Identity verification (Name, addresses, phone numbers, DOB, SSN, etc.)
Level 2: Criminal background checks (via the local police or federal authorities)
Level 3: Credit history and score checks
Level 4: Motor vehicle record
Level 5: Educational and professional background checks
Level 6: Fingerprint checks
Level 7: Verify legal work status in the US
Purchasing a Background Check Service
Searching the internet yourself may work for people you already know a bit about, but it may not work as well for a potential date, for example. If you really want to get an extensive and well-organized report, you’re going to need to use a paid background check service. When you consider costs, you may find it's not as expensive as you thought.
Paid background searches can help you find out about any skeletons that a new neighbor may be hiding, and they can also help you find out if there’s anything about you that can potentially be unearthed and used against you.
A word of caution, though – the Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits the use of background checks for employment decisions or tenant screening unless you inform them beforehand, and they agree in writing. Most paid background check companies state this on their websites.
How Long Do Background Checks Actually Take?
It’s a mixed bag when it comes to background check delivery times. The time it takes to complete a background check can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Fast background checks provide downloadable reports that you can analyze right away.
If you need to order an identity history summary report from the local police department, it can take a week. Things get a bit more complicated if you need fingerprints analyzed by federal authorities due to slow processing times.
What Things Would Make You Fail a Background Check?
A failed background check can happen for a variety of reasons, from a criminal history or bad credit score. Those looking you up can find red flags on social media like risky posts. You can also fail a background check if you provide fake information.
If you served in the army, a dishonorable discharge can seem like a negative on relevant screenings.
If you're worried about passing a background check, you can always run one on yourself. This way, you will be ready to bring up any questionable information with the profiler and have an honest discussion about your past. It's worth saying that a failed background check won’t always end in the worst case scenario.
How Often Do Background Checks Fail?
A majority of employers use background checks, including a person’s criminal record, to make hiring decisions. While this may be discouraging if you have a record, it’s important to note that most employers will still hire applicants with prior convictions. They are likely to proceed with caution, so be sure to make a good first impression.
Similarly, other blemishes on your record aren’t usually deal breakers. Just make sure you’re honest with your potential employer, as they will likely find out if you’re twisting the truth when conducting a background check.
Can You Do a Background Check on Someone You Are Dating?
Though it seems shady to run a background check on your date, it’s actually a great idea. Doing so can prevent catfishing and other shady situations. According to the FBI, over 20,000 people lost about $1 billion in romance scams just in 2021 alone.
By running a background check on the person you’re dating, you can find out their criminal history through the local police or on the federal level. A background check will also uncover if they are on any sex offender registry.
Background checks scan all corners of the web and come up with interesting information, including social media profiles, to give you a clearer picture of the person you’re interested in.
Overviewing The Background Check Industry
Background checks have been a staple in most screening processes for job or visa applications, especially in the United States.
The industry has gone through some serious changes in the past five years. More than two years ago, background checks were common practice. During the pandemic, the industry experienced a great decline, especially with millions of people resigning from their jobs or becoming unemployed.
As the pandemic began to settle down, the industry bounced back with amazing growth expected earnings of $4 billion in 2022.
What To Look for in a Quality Background Check Service?
Report Information Accuracy
Inaccurate reports not only stand in the way of you meeting your needs, but they can also set you up for expensive liabilities. The best background check services will have a reputation for accuracy and professionalism that will help you make an informed decision.
It’s good to cast a wide net, but not all background checks are the same. You may want to be more specific and focus on employment history or financial records, and you need a company that can really narrow down the results to what you’re looking for.
A top background check service will have different levels of background screenings so that you’re always getting the information you need for your situation.
Ease of Use
You're not a private detective, and you shouldn't need any professional or tech know-how to navigate a background check site. The best background check websites should be easy-to-use and provide information in a format that is simple and clear.
The best services provide you with the easiest method possible and the fastest turnaround time.
Top background checks will have a strong customer support team that knows the ins and outs of the field, and will be able to answer whatever questions you may have. If for some reason your search keeps running into walls; they should be able to tell you why.
Furthermore, record search companies should be focused on getting the best results for their customers, and not trying to upsell searches that may not be relevant to what you need.
A paid search is a great way to find the information that you need but may not be able to find on your own. With most paid companies, the information will be collected and sent to you in a format that is easy to read and well organized.
Our Methodology in Reviewing the Top Background Checks Sites
Top10.com's reviews on background check sites are based on objective facts. We do our research via the background check provider’s site, trusted 3rd party sites, customer reviews, and use of the product through free trials, or through paid use in some cases.
Reviewers will try the signup process, make customer service queries to check response times and perform any other possible function within the review period.
For the rest of the information, we check out what the brand says about its own product offering, taking into any complaints or compliments, ratings from independent agencies like the BBB, and trusted journalistic publications.
We compared these key features when looking at background check services:
Ease of use
More Background Check Sites We Reviewed
This list of top ten background check services is made up of partners that chose to work with Top10.com. We’ve reviewed tons of brands when researching background check platforms, with new sites and apps being regularly reviewed.
Interested in learning about some other background check sites that don't appear here? Check out our in-depth reviews of some of these big names in identity reporting:
The Bottom Line
In today’s technological world, tons of information is available online. The hardest part is getting your hands on the right reports. Background check sites and apps can make it less of a hassle to get peace of mind.
It’s difficult to hide certain skeletons in the closet with background or identity checks. By screening potential employees, dates or other new people in your life, you can avoid sketchy situations altogether. You can even use tools like reverse phone lookups to stop scammers in their tracks.
Not only can you run a scan on others, you can also background check yourself. Because the internet is such a huge place, you never know what kind of data is out there. By checking yourself, you’ll get yourself ready for important interviews and protect your profile.
Note: Some or all background search services featured on this site are not subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 USC 1681 et seq., ("FCRA") In order to make decisions about consumer credit, employment, insurance, tenant screening, or any other purpose that would require FCRA compliance, make sure you choose the appropriate service for you. Be advised that only consumer reporting agencies may provide consumer reports. This is applicable, but not limited to, a background search, credit background check, criminal background check, and/or driving record.