instant background checks

All You Need to Know About Instant Background Checks 

An instant background check is useful for many different people from employers to those looking to donate to a charity or when starting with applying to new jobs. There are many instances where verifying someone’s or an institutions background can help you make a smarter and better informed decision.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a private investigator to uncover basic information about a person or business. There are several ways to perform your own instant background check with a little clever searching online and in public records.

Find out all you need to know about performing an instant background check with this extensive guide explaining where to look and what to look for.

How Long Does an Instant Background Check Take?

The term instant background check is somewhat misleading since we might not receive all the answers instantly. Depending on the type of information we are searching for and the service package that we are using, the entire process could take less than a minute up to several days or weeks.

When performing our own background checks using readily available software and websites such as Google and online databases we can get the results much quicker. Certain screening providers also have the software for instant background checks done within a few minutes. This faster solution to background checks is very useful when dealing with a long list of people that need to be verified or when there is a time limit at play.

When a background check is referred to as an instant background check then it is generally concerning a digital background check with fast results, either on the same day or withing a few days. Background checks that involve accessing non-digitalised records and so take several days or weeks to receive a reply are not considered part of an instant background check.

When to Perform a Background Check

 As mentioned, there are many different reasons why an instant background check is important. Below are just a few examples of when verifying a person’s or business’ past could be useful and how to best go about it in each case.

It is important to know that in certain cases only a verified third party, a professional screening agency, is allowed to perform background checks. This is stipulated by the Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you are a landlord or business it is wise to check up on these regulations and make sure that the chosen screening company abides by the applied regulations.

1. Hiring a New Employee - Pre-Employment Background Check

Employment background checks are very common. Most people that apply for a new job will be subject to an instant background check but current employees may also undergo a background check when given cause.

The employer is only allowed to perform a background check on their current employees or job applicants when they receive permission from the person to be investigated. This consent must be a written agreement and has certain time requirements.

The consent form must make clear that the background check is to be performed, why it is done and that the job applicant or employee has a right to a copy of the uncovered information. The person being investigated must also be informed that if the uncovered information negatively impacts their employment situation they have the right to dispute the decision.

The employer must provide the candidate or employee with a pre-adverse action notice that explains what was found in the background check and why this has led to them either not being hired or a change in their current work situation. That person then has 5 working days to present an argument against the decision.

The information analysed during a pre-employment check can include a wide variety of the person’s life and can go back several years. Commonly researched aspects are the person’s job history, medical history, education, criminal record, financial health and any additional information that might be necessary when it concerns a specialised job.

There are time constraints on how far back a pre-employment check can go. In the United States the overall limit is 7 years but there might be differences between states on specific aspects of the background check.

How long the entire process takes depends on how deep the employer goes. There are ways for companies to get an instant background check done within a few minutes or they might outsource it to a third-party in which case it can take a few days.

The most efficient tactic for HR is performing an instant background check on the first shortlist. The fastest way is through accessing data and information online. Then, once the candidate list has come down to a final decision it is best to perform a more thorough background check using professional services.

2. Entering the Job Market  - Self-Background Check

Besides performing a background check on others, it can be just as worthwhile to do a self-background check. A self-background check is especially useful when job hunting. Consider it cleaning up your digital footprint before a potential employer finds something you don’t want them to find.

There are several ways to perform a self-background check. If you know where to look and what to look for it is possible to do it yourself. However, the smarter option is hiring a screening service to do pre-employment background check on you.

Having a professional third party do the research makes it more realistic. They know what the Human Resources team looks for and are much more likely to uncover things that we might overlook ourselves.

Another benefit of having a professional do the job is the efficiency. Most of these screening companies have their own software in place which can offer the search results in less than a minute, in some cases. Chances are that their research is much more thorough and accurate than when we do the check ourselves.

There are four main aspects to research during a personal background check. These are a criminal record, credit history and verification of education and past employment. The more extensive pre-employment background checks might also include an online footprint, particularly on social media.

Most of these records are accessible for free. Public records and national databases are online and can be used for free. Each major credit company is required to offer at least one free credit report each year so if you are smart you can get 3 credit checks for free annually. Finally, a social media check is of course free of charge.

The records that might have a fee are court records, especially those that are not kept digitally. However, this may depend on the specific courthouse. Certain educational institutions will also charge a fee for requesting a new copy of transcripts or degrees.

When using a professional screening service, the fees vary greatly depending on the chosen company and how expansive the package is that you selected. The cost could range anywhere from $20 to $100. However, it is worth it.

Once all the data and information is collected, it is time to find any discrepancies or mistakes. Make sure that whatever is found in the records corresponds correctly to what is provided in your CV. Employers are easily displeased when they find out that elements of the CV are a lie. In most cases the employer will dismiss the applicant if they discover a lie.

That is also why it is very important to check whether there are any differences between what is on public record and what is on the CV. It might be just an innocent mistake and it would be a shame to miss a job opportunity over something minor.

3. Deciding on a New Tenant

hire a private investigator

A quick background check when considering a new tenant can save us from many different kinds of problems. An instant background check can verify whether the potential tenant is reliable enough to make rent, whether they have a criminal record and whether they would be a nuisance to the neighbours.

An online tenant screening service can get you results within minutes and most of these services are very affordable. However, a landlord does require the permission of the tenant to perform an instant background check so get this permission in writing first.

The elements that should be included in a tenant screening is their current employment stability, their employment history, their credit report and financial history, their housing history including any evictions and whether they have a criminal record. Besides the above information, it is also wise to call their past landlords and current employer to verify the information they provided themselves.

When calling the past landlords, the goal is to find out whether they are a trustworthy tenant. This includes whether they have paid their rent on time, whether there was any damage to the building during their stay or after they left and whether there were any complaints of disruptive behaviour by the neighbours.

When verifying their current employer the acceptable questions are more limited. It is not acceptable to ask about the tenant’s exact salary, for example. This phone call is more to verify whether the tenant receives a consistent income and whether their current employment is secure.

Landlords may also want to ask questions regarding the tenant’s lifestyle. Examples are whether they have pets, whether the tenant plans on living with others and whether they are smokers. The question on pets and smoking is there so the landlord can estimate any costs related to clean up.

Do note that these questions may not be discriminatory in any way. Landlords are not allowed to make their decision to deny a tenant based on ethnicity, disability, religion or gender.

4. Making a Donation

 Making a donation to a charity is a kind and altruistic act but how do we know if the charity is legit? One of the biggest concerns about donating money to a charity is whether the money actually goes to its intended purpose.

There have been several instances of charities turning out to be a scam or subject to fraudulent practices. With some charities it is also unclear how much of the donations is actually used for organizational costs and salaries. These are all considerations we should make before placing a donation.

Fortunately, there are several ways to perform an instant background check on charities. There are several watchdogs that monitor charity activities and openly release their research to the public. So, finding out whether a donation truly goes to the right cause is easy enough to do.

There are three websites to consult when verifying the legitimacy of a charity. The first website is the national tax authority since not for profit organizations fall under a different tax bracket. The second website is charity navigator which evaluations millions of charities. The final important website is guide star which offers several analysis tools and services for evaluating a charity.

Another way to verify a charity is to do a quick online search for media stories and reviews. Chances are that if there is anything fishy going on that there were media reports about it. Reviews are another option but as with any type of review, it is difficult to verify whether it is genuine.

5. Choosing New Vendors

Many large companies make use of vendors but this also puts the companies at risk. Vendors should be reliable business partners and a lack of competency or fraudulent behaviour would also reflect badly on the company that hired them. That is why business should always undergo their due diligence when planing to enter into a new business2business contract.

An instant background check on a potential vendor reduces the company’s liability as the results would point out any risks and threats. It would also bring up any legal or financial issues that the vendor might be facing which in turn could become an issue for the company hiring them.

Another reason why companies want to perform background checks on a vendor are to see whether the vendor matches the brand identity of the hiring company. In today’s economy of very aware consumers, it is important that every element in the supply chain adheres to the same values and principles. Consumers can easily catch on when a company markets themselves as sustainable while one of their suppliers is involved in unsustainable practices. This damaging to the brand and so the entire business.

As with any instant background check, the potential vendor must first be informed of the due diligence process and the vendor must give their permission in writing. If a vendor were to refuse to give their consent then the hiring company would have their first sign that the vendor is unreliable.

There are a few key documents to be verified when vetting a new vendor. These are their insurance, their licensing and the legal status of their employees. The insurance is a safety precaution for both the hiring company and the vendor while the licensing shows whether the business is legit and experienced. Their employees must have legal residence and a valid contract which also shows that the vendor works under fair conditions.

The records that a hiring company would want to check are whether the vendor is going through any legal issues or have ongoing court cases, their financial health and whether there is any criminal record of the vendor and its employees. If any undesirable files pop up it is a bad sign for the partnership.

Another instant background check that the company should consider is finding the vendor in the better business bureau listing. The Better Business Bureau is a community that sets standards for its members and offers training for their further improvement in trustworthiness and transparency. It is also possible to leave complaints about a business on their website. The BBB also tracks business scams and reports on them.

How to Choose the Best Screening Provider

 As mentioned, hiring a professional background check agency is the more efficient and precise option. However, there are strict laws surrounding background checks so it is important that the service that we hire also adheres to these regulations. Essentially, we need to do an instant background check on the service provider before hiring them.

The first step when researching a screening provider is checking whether they are legally recognized. In the United States, a screening company must be registered with the National Association of Professional Background Screeners or NAPBS. Members of NAPBS are audited every 5 years by an independent third party. In Europe, the company must be compliant to the Privacy Shield Framework.

The next step involves evaluating their service quality and there are several ways to do so. The first check is looking through the services that they offer. The company’s website should offer a full list of their services which should include the following:

 There might be more services on offer depending on the specialisation of the screening provider. For example, for business2business checks it might also involve looking into the legal compliance of the business or their financial health. For a pre-employment screening they might offer drug tests.

When looking at the list of services, consider whether the company provides all the necessary background checks that are required for your intended purpose. For example, the background check requirements for a human resource department are different to the background check for a new tenant.

Besides the services on offer it is also important to check the turnaround time. Depending on what the background check is used for, there may be a shorter or longer turnaround time. Some screening providers offer both an instant background check and background checks that require more time so decide which is more appropriate.

Another element of service quality is the candidate and customer experience. Both the person or business being screened and the person or business asking for the screening should have pleasant experience. The screening providing should remain transparent throughout the process.

Finally, there is the matter of cost. Most screening providers offer different packages so there is bound to be one that best suits your needs. Many also offer one-time instant background checks so it is not always necessary to commit to a long term deal.

How to Do an Instant Background Check Online

Screening providers are great when you are short on time or have a lot of potential candidates to work through. However, in some instances performing our own instant background check using free online databases is already enough.

Here is a quick guide on how to perform your own instant background check completely free of charge. The aspects to be checked will vary depending on the type of background check so the following steps are for a more general check.

Step 1: Acquire Consent

 There must be grounds to perform a background check and the person or business being screened must give their written consent in most cases. Written consent is required when the background check is being done for;

Transparency is very important when screening a person or business. Be aware that the person or business being investigated has a right to a copy of the findings and must be given time to offer explanations.

Step 2: Get Their Details

For an accurate instant background check, the personal details are required. Ask the candidate for the following:

It is also necessary to request their written permission to verify their credit history, education history and employment history. Note that even with their consent there might be limitations to which information the respective institutions are allowed to release. Check with the local authorities which pieces of information are allowed to be requested.

Step 3: Verifying Their Identity and Known Addresses

Verifying a person’s identity is easily done with an online search. The fastest way is to enter the given social security number into the official Social Security Number Verification Service which is free and accessible online. All it requires is user registration. The SSN Verification Service provides members with a complete history of any known aliases, their date of birth and known addresses.

The known addresses are especially important. This tells you which states should be checked when performing a criminal records screening. It might also reveal any discrepancies between the information that the person provided and what comes up in the instant background check.

Step 4: Verify the Given Information

Depending on the purpose of the check, contacting the references in the provided information already offers a lot of information. For example, for a pre-employment check this would include contacting the educational institutions and their former employers.

Step 5: Check for a Criminal Record

 A criminal records may require looking into several databases, at least in the United States. This is because there might be records that are not registered at the national level.

The first database to check is the National Criminal Database which includes information from certain counties and the Department of Corrections (DOC). It also includes the sex offenders registry, fugitive lists and state level agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigtions (FBI) and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Step 6: Verifying Licensing

When it is concerning a job or a business endeavour, it is wise to verify the licensing that a person claims to have. Most sectors have their own regulatory body so check the database of the applicable authority. If the person is missing from the database it is likely that there licensing is false or expired.

For medical practitioners specifically, there is a public sanctions list called the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). Persons or entities mentioned on this list have been convicted of criminal offenses that deem them unfit to fulfil a medical position. Employers of persons on this list are also considered liable. The LEIE list can be found on the website of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services.

Step 7: Check Their Employment Eligibility

 Another element of performing a pre-employment screening is entering the candidate’s name in the E-verify system. The E-verify system matches the person’s Social Security Number to their the information on their Form I-9, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This is a voluntary program so not every person is registered within the system. However, it is a requirement under federal contracts and for certain business licensing.

Step 8: Get a Credit Report Copy

A person’s credit report is often asked for during tenant screening and is also common practice when applying for a loan or insurance. Requesting a person’s credit report requires written consent from the person being screened. When the credit history is the reason behind denying the candidate’s request or to not hire the candidate, the employer must inform said candidate of why this is the case. The candidate then also has a set number of working days to argue their case.

Requesting a credit report as a third party is not free, generally there is small fee of less than $20. However, every person in the United States has the right to ask for 1 free credit report from each credit agency per year. To save costs, it is possible to ask the person being screened for a copy of that free report.

The credit report offers information such as the person’s debt history, any outstanding bills in collections or bankruptcies, their tax liens and any civil judgments.

Step 9: Monitor Their Online Footprint

 Simply entering a person’s name into a search engine should already bring up several pings. It might bring up proof of their past employment, any published works and their social media accounts.

Social media accounts are an interesting source of information because they show the person’s life outside of a professional space. However, it is questionable how accurate the information presented is. Social media is often only a sliver of a person’s true personality and just as easily be a facade.

Depending on the type of social media account, to see their posts on the platform may require a connection. On LinkedIn, the profiles are public and can be seen by anyone. On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, users have the opportunity to set their profile to private in which case it is necessary to become a connection first.

However, there is a loophole. When a social media user with a private account is tagged in a post by someone with a public account, that post could still be public.

Overall, social media is not the ideal source of information for concrete findings. Generally, it only leaves space for inferences which would not hold up easily during an official screening process. Plus, screenings cannot be discriminatory in any way and a social media search does lean towards that.

International Background Checks

It is more difficult to perform an instant background check when the person it concerns is a foreigner. Just like in the United States, screening processes are subject to legal regulations. When starting a background check on a foreign national it is important to have it very clear what the regulations are in that foreign country and whether there is already an international agreement on screening in place.

In such instances, it is best to consult a third party screening provider who has experience with international background checks, even if it comes at a fee.

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