With numerous online background check sites now available, one should question if the resources at your fingertips are accurate, complete and legal to use for your purpose.

Many of the options are inexpensive and fast but are not technically qualified to pre-screen employment candidates.  Large holes in the online research usually exist.  For instance, there is no national criminal records search in existence.  An investigator must search county by county at the courthouses for the information and must verify that they pertain to the specific person.  Usually with online searches you end up with a compilation of duplicate, inaccurate or irrelevant information which could be worse than having had no background check at all.  There is nothing confirming that the results pertain to the specific person you are checking.  If you fail to hire someone based on incorrect information, you can get yourself into some pretty hot water.

Using a licensed investigative agency to properly conduct a pre-employment background investigation will comply with the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Act guidelines.  Those investigations may cost a bit more and take several days to complete, but they will be conducted legally and can be used for employee background check purposes.

Most of the online background check websites do not comply with Federal employment regulations and cannot be used for employment purposes.  In many states it is required to have the applicant’s signed authorization to conduct such a background check.  Those online pay per search websites do not go through the proper legal channels to conduct such research.

Here is a general breakdown of the comparison between a professionally conducted background investigation by a licensed investigator versus conducting an online background check:


Professional Investigation Online Search / Database
Trained Investigator Compiled Data
Professional Data Analysis No Data Analysis
Vetted Results Usually No Scope For Context
Facts Checked & Confirmed Unverified Results
Legal Issues Covered No Safeguards
Court Admissible Cannot Be Used In Court or For Employment


Furthermore, professional investigators can point out similarities or irregularities by crossing referencing multiple sources of data and can find pieces of the puzzle often missed by untrained eyes.

Online ‘background checks’ are generally for entertainment purposes only.  Relying simply on online database results alone will have you walking on thin ice with risk of civil lawsuits and United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sanctions.

Some employers may be tempted to search a candidate’s social media profiles to learn about their character and judgment before hiring.  Keep in mind that this could be opening them up to liability and lawsuits.  One might learn from reviewing those profiles personal information such as the person’s familial status, religion, disability etc. which cannot be asked about in an interview for a job.  Once you know something you can be accused of considering that information when making a hiring decision and is therefore illegal.

Considered hassle a licensed investigator has to go through to obtain accurate data.  There is a complex licensure process to become a private investigator and it takes years of training and experience.  Not to mention that they have to stay up to date on the ever changing laws that govern background investigations.  It is highly doubtful that anyone with a credit card going to get that information through a quick, easy and cheap internet search.

If it sounds too good to be true (low cost, fast results, etc.) it probably is so buyer beware.  An accurate, legally conducted investigation up front will cost you less in the long run: financially, legally, as well as with your end results and reputation.