Each day thousands of online background checks and public record searches are conducted via the World Wide Web. However, few people realize that the efficacy and accuracy of these searches is often seriously lacking. If you need to find a missing person, check public records or you need to conduct an online background check, this article will help you understand the types of information available and the reliability of information found through online records searches.
Who Uses the Internet to Conduct Public Record Searches and Background Checks?
For most people there are two general options for finding important information, records and people. The first is through a traditional Professional Private Investigators. The second is by using online records or people locators. Because online services offer seemingly easy, immediate and cheap information, many people start their search using this method. These people and entities that use online background checks or records searches are varied: lawyers, banks, credit unions, process serving companies (without skip trace abilities), collection agencies, large employers and of course private citizens. The reasons for needing this service are equally diverse: collection skips, witnesses in civil and criminal proceedings, missing heirs, Child Abductions and people who need to be located quickly for health and welfare, family emergencies and so on.
When it comes to Online Record Searches and Background Checks, Avoid “Cheap” & “Instant”
Ultimately, the best piece of advice is to shy away from those online background checks and public records sites that reference low prices and immediate results. That’s because many of these sites use a computer algorithm to search through the public record sources that are already available to you as an individual. These online services may also purchase outdated information in bulk. The cost to purchase such information is low and easily available precisely because it is not current, which means that the information as provided to you, the consumer is likely not relevant.
You should be concerned with anyone offering an important service such as online “background checks” instantly. Instantaneous results for such critically-important information is usually not possible while still being safe and accurate. What this means for you is that you will not get the information you need. Many of these online background check companies are offering cheap and fast results but NOT good results. You can read a previous blog post of ours about this exact subject here:
These types of online information services might help to locate your high school friend who never left your hometown, but they will not find the criminal record for your potential house-sitter or an elderly parent’s care giver. Nor will they find someone who has relocated in the last few months.
I cannot say how many times we answer the telephone at Surette Investigations to hear “we paid $39.99 online…” and yet they are now calling us to find this person or record for them. Worse yet is that there are sites who offer this service for $1.99 – really! – $1.99! You cannot buy a cup of coffee for that amount, so why would anyone reasonably expect to get good information or find a missing relative for a similar amount?
We recently had one customer who went to three different online services costing them more than what it took for us to ultimately locate their subject.
Many people think that we all have access to the same internet that therefore anyone can do their own detective work. However, this is not reality and there are too many pitfalls for the typical consumer to safely and effectively utilize most online records and background check services. For instance, there is a website that lists phone numbers with fictitious names and addresses. If you are unlucky enough to trip over this web site you may not even know you just received fabricated information.
As another example, there is also a website that purports to identify sex offenders in your neighborhood, but actually provides false names and locations.
Of course, to be fair there are legitimate sites that offer these services but you may not find those. Some of these online background or records check sites run you through a process that may last 10 minutes and involve multiple screens before they finally reveal the cost. They are hoping that you simply pay the fee because you do not want to go through that process on another similar site.
The point is that if you do not know where to look for good information you are likely to end up with bad information.
Yes, professional private investigators utilize the internet, but did you know that they also have propriety databases that the public does not have? The proprietary databases we as professional investigators use are not available to these web-based search, records and people locator services and websites. The skills we as investigators possess and the clear advantage we provide over these websites is that we have the ability to process the raw information from multiple sources, aggregate them and then present them in a comprehensible manner to a client. Professional private investigators also have the ability to go a step further than electronic searches and actually verify the data they are giving to you because we have the ability to leave the internet and step into the real world for information.
For instance, consider this situation; you go online and pay $39.99 to find someone and the site gives you bad information. You have no recourse, no one to talk to about it and so you simply move onto the next online service or hire a professional investigator. If that private investigator gives you bad information, you are likely on the phone or in their office immediately demanding resolve.
Why is that?
It’s because when you deal with a real person, you gain accountability. You expect (and generally receive) a lot more from a professional investigator, so why would you balk at paying more?
Still not convinced?
Try looking in the fine print of the user agreement or other Terms of Service for most online records searches or background check services. Most of these agreements will come straight out and tell you that the accuracy of the information provided cannot be and has not been verified in any way and so therefore cannot be trusted for professional purposes.
Here is the actual text from one such site, although most feature a similar disclaimer:
This Background Check service is not FCRA compliant. You may not use Instant Checkmate service, or the information it provides, to make decisions about consumer credit, employment, insurance, tenant screening, or any other purpose that would require FCRA compliance. This is applicable, but not limited to, a Background Search, Credit Background Check, Criminal Background Check, and/or Driving Record. Instant Checkmate is not a consumer reporting agency and does not, and cannot, provide consumer reports. These terms have special meanings under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 USC 1681 et seq., (“FCRA”), which are incorporated herein by reference.
What about Nationwide Criminal Records Searches Online?
Want to check out a potential mate and need to do a nationwide criminal records check?
A nationwide criminal records check does not exist and any reputable investigator anywhere in the country can tell you that, yet the internet is full of sites offering precisely that service. The same reasons for not using online “Locate” services apply here as reasons for not using online nationwide criminal records checks. Here are a few verifiable facts for you to digest concerning nationwide criminal records checks;
- Many states do not have online reporting requirements.
- Some states have specific requirements to get a statewide check (Example Massachusetts CORI) and these online records services do not meet those requirements.
- Statewide checks that do have online reporting have a fee. (Example, Maine 31.00, New York $56.00, Georgia $13.00.) I have named three states with mandatory costs that total $100.00. The time and requirements to get these records vary as some require mail in forms, but imagine getting the reports from all 50 states…the cost would be prohibitive for most)
- You cannot get misdemeanor records/convictions without going directly to the issuing district court, and district courts do not report online so you will never have access to those records using an online service.
Professional investigators can skillfully guide you – in person, via video chat or over the phone – through the entire process of how to conduct a legal, comprehensive and fruitful criminal records search based on your specific needs. They can also help you find a loved one using traditional detective work that does not exist in the online environment, and they usually have contacts and networks built-in to quickly produce results. If you’re serious about the information, records or people you need to find, there just isn’t another effective option to consider.