What is Included in a Background Check 

Background checks are done for a variety of purposes, but most of them cover the same basic information. Whether you’re applying for an apartment lease, trying to get a mortgage, interviewing for a new job, under consideration for a top secret security clearance, or adopting a child, much of your personal history will be scrutinized. Employers, supervisors,  adoption agencies, and military recruiters all need assurances that you’re a good risk before they move forward on your application.

Other aspects of background checks depend on the type of application and the sensitivity of the accounts or information that you will handle if approved. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) law requires employers and others doing background checks to get the applicant’s permission before doing credit checks as well as governs the process used if an applicant is rejected on the basis of the information discovered.

 The basics

  • Identity: The first thing a background check does is to establish your identity. Using your birthdate, name, and social security number, officials cross-check information to make sure none has been falsified.

  • Previous addresses and employment: Confirming that the information you’ve provided is complete and accurate requires a few phone calls.

  • Criminal history: if a person has a criminal history (one in three American adults has some type of criminal record), the business, landlord, or other decision-maker weighing the application will want to consider its implications. However, 35 states have adopted a law that limits the use of criminal records in hiring, meaning that potential employers may not consider a person’s criminal record until a job offer is pending, and the offense must be related to the person’s ability to perform the job. Any business or organization that has a strict policy against applicants with criminal records could run afoul of discrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employers are discouraged from considering a criminal record unless it has direct implications for the position in question or would impact the safety of other employees or customers. Also, arrests that do not result in convictions should not be considered when weighing the application.

In-depth Background Checks

If a position or a situation (such as adoption) is of a sensitive nature, a more thorough background check is completed. This sort of check is often done for those working as a police officer, with children, the elderly, or other vulnerable populations, or for those handling accounts or information that requires a high level of trust. The applicant must give permission for the following to be reviewed. These checks begin with the basics, above, and usually, include most or all of the following:

  • Credit: Using one of the major credit reporting agencies, it’s common for prospective employers or those evaluating individuals for adoption, advancement, or a position in a sensitive industry to ensure that the applicant is trustworthy and has an acceptable financial history. The standard may include no defaults on mortgages or loans, no auto repossessions, an acceptable debt to income ratio, and no financial irregularities. Bankruptcies are not uncommon, as about 1.5 million are filed each year, and those that are more than 10 years old should not be considered in a credit check.

  • Driving: Those who may operate an employer’s vehicles or machinery may be subject to a review of his or her driving record for excessive numbers of accidents, traffic tickets, or license suspensions. Some employers have a limit of one moving violation per year, after which the employee may face work-related restrictions on motor vehicle use. Other potential employers or agencies may check a driving record to determine trustworthiness or for insight into personality and habits. In the latter case, multiple infractions could cause disqualification.

  • Medical: By law, employers may not ask about disabilities but can make a job offer contingent upon completion of a medical evaluation as long as other employees are subject to the same restriction.

  • Social media: If an applicant’s political views, weekend activities, and opinions about controversial topics might impact his ability to work with the public or to contribute to a positive work environment, it’s likely that his social media accounts will be reviewed as part of the application process. Those who are racist, misogynist, use bullying language or who stalk may be considered a negative influence on the workplace. In addition, photos of excessive drinking, risky behavior, or drug use is likely to negatively influence a potential employer or supervisor’s opinion. Social media is also likely to reveal affiliations with niche interest groups that may not mesh with the atmosphere of the workplace, or may point to inappropriate viewpoints on things like child pornography that an adoption agency would consider disqualifying.

Single Scope Background Check

The most scrutiny an individual’s background is likely to experience is for a high-security position, such as with a government agency that handles top secret information. The minimum time period for these records is 10 years, but the scope of such an in-depth background check is flexible and may include older records. Many of these sorts of positions or clearances require re-authorization every few years, during which time the information required could change. Information includes the basic information listed above as well as the following:

  • Spousal records: an F.B.I. check on the individual’s spouse or significant other;

  • Neighbors: authorities interview personal references as well as casual acquaintances like neighbors who know of the individual’s living habits;

  • Local authorities: along with the individual’s official criminal record, police records from the towns where the candidate has lived are reviewed for any issues that did not result in an arrest or conviction;

  • Civil records: Bankruptcies, divorces, and other civil lawsuits such as evictions or business disputes are researched and examined for patterns of behavior that may be incompatible with the standards and expectations of the agency;

  • National security check: a thorough vetting of the individual’s fingerprints and other data is done through all relevant national security agencies to establish any links to people or events of interest in international circles.