6 Misconceptions About the FBI Fingerprint Background Check

6 Misconceptions About the FBI Fingerprint Background Check
Senior Director of Marketing

In theory, it would make logical sense that a background check based on biometrics such as fingerprints would result in a highly accurate investigation. Background screening experts agree, however, that the FBI fingerprint background check should never be considered a “gold standard” in employment screening. If your healthcare organization currently conducts fingerprint background checks, you’re likely doing so because of a legal requirement. But there’s quite a bit of confusion around and strong misconceptions about the quality of fingerprint based checks. So before you decide to rely solely on the FBI fingerprint check, consider the following 7 misconceptions before making any changes to your program.

#1 - The FBI Database is All-Inclusive, Accurate, and Complete

Contrary to popular belief, there is no single national database containing complete and up-to-date records cataloging all criminal history. Employers should be mindful of this reality when selecting the components of their employment background packages. The FBI database is a repository, and like any other database that relies on information that must be reported to it, even the FBI database is not completely accurate and up-to-date.  Both a 2006 report by the Department of Justice and a more recent 2015 study by the US Government Accountability Office cited significant inaccuracies in the FBI database. If a state or county fails to report arrest records or a court disposition then that data will not appear on the FBI Identification Record. This reliance on arrest and court records, coupled with the passive collection system can lead to a large number of incomplete files.

#2 - Every Arrest Has Fingerprints

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Depending on the jurisdiction, some lower level offenses and even certain misdemeanors may not be fingerprinted and would therefore not be picked up by the FBI database.

#3 - Fingerprint Background Checks are Investigative

Actually, a fingerprint search only reflects information received by the FBI from states and municipalities. It does not mean a thorough investigation was conducted.

#4 Any Employer Can Conduct FBI Background Checks

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the FBI fingerprint background check is that screenings performed through their database can only be done if the employer has legal authority under statute.

#5 - The FBI Database Was Created for Background Screening

This is false. The FBI database was never intended to be used for employment-related background screening. The database was not designed to fulfill this purpose, so employers should be wary of relying too heavily on this screening.

#6 - Fingerprint Background Checks are Efficient

With employers focusing on meeting fast-paced hiring goals, conducting a fingerprint-based background check may not be the most efficient and timely screening option. Unfortunately, FBI results are contingent upon the consumer having his or her prints taken by an approved vendor and are at the mercy of FBI processing times.  

In summary, the FBI fingerprint background check is not recommended for healthcare employers as a sole source of criminal history screening. Depending on state laws that may affect specific healthcare positions, you may be required to conduct FBI screenings by statute. But this still leaves your organization at risk of not conducting a thorough and accurate search. In a recent statement, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) indicated how utilizing the services of third-party consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) can provide employers with a more thorough investigation: “Unlike fingerprint checks that are not investigative by nature, NAPBS member background screeners offer thorough investigations into an applicant’s background using multiple sources including county, statewide and federal court records, educational records, and commercial databases.”

PreCheck Background Screening Resource Kit