Your Background Screener Isn’t the Tech Guru From Your Favorite Crime Drama, and 7 More Dispelled Myths


You’ve seen this show before. The Detective walks into the open floor plan office shouting “I need everything you’ve got on [insert name here] NOW!” The Smart Tech Guru types a quick prompt into their computer and within 10 seconds, up on the seven-monitor display, is the entire life of their target neatly laid out. It includes their financial, criminal, and civil history, and maybe even some juicy details about the circumstances surrounding their most recent divorce or what they like to eat for lunch.

There are quite a few common myths in background screening. It’s now up to us to reel you back into reality by dispelling a few of them. We asked our team about the most common misconceptions they encounter. Here are our top eight:

MYTH #1: Background checks are only for pre-employment.

Fact: Background checks are an essential part of your ongoing workplace safety program. Re-running background checks at least once every couple of years, if not annually, can significantly reduce your risk. Many companies are even opting for continuous criminal monitoring programs now.

MYTH #2: A single criminal background check reveals someone’s entire criminal history.

Fact: A candidate’s criminal history lives in a variety of databases, including county records, state records, and federal databases. You can’t access each of these individual databases in a single sweeping search (remember our Smart Tech Guru?). And each of these sources houses different records, so it’s important to work with your background screening partner to determine which combination of criminal reports will accomplish your screening goals.

MYTH #3: All background checks can be found online.

Fact: Many records are still kept on paper. That’s right – actual, physical, tree-based paper. Courts, schools, and previous employers throughout the United States (and the world) have not converted their paper records into an electronic system.

MYTH #4: Criminal background checks take 48-72 hours.

Fact: The turnaround time for criminal background checks varies widely. Because of the already-dispelled MYTH #3 (all reports can be found online), this means in some cases, a court clerk must physically retrieve a paper record from offsite storage to verify a criminal background on your candidate. Some courts even require records requests to be made in person. Due to court backlogs, this process can take days or even weeks to complete.

(Learn more about the myth of the “Instant Criminal Background Check” here.)

MYTH #5: A criminal record automatically disqualifies a candidate.

Fact: Except for cases where the law prohibits you from hiring individuals with certain criminal offenses to perform certain jobs, you can hire candidates even if they have a criminal background.

Many employers will develop a set of standards they will or won’t accept in a candidate’s criminal background to ensure hiring practices are consistent across the board, while being mindful of the EEOC's three "green factors." Legislation like Fair Chance, Ban the Box, etc. also impact how to structure your criminal background check policy.

MYTH #6: Criminal databases are all the same.

Fact: Criminal databases vary significantly depending on the source of information (county, state, federal, global, sex offender registries, etc.). Comprehensive background screening programs use a variety of these sources to paint a more complete and accurate picture of the individual. Learn about the variety of available criminal databases on Page 3 here.

MYTH #7: All criminal reports can be conducted with just a social security number.

Fact: Your social security number is actually just a tax identification number, so not all court/criminal records even contain SSNs. We rely on names, addresses, and a date of birth to conduct criminal background checks, and if a record does include an SSN, it serves as a bonus layer of certainty that the returned record is about your correct candidate.

MYTH #8: Candidates can avoid having a record show on a criminal background report by leaving off the address where the record will appear.

Fact: Nope. At PreCheck, we use other investigative tools to determine a candidate’s address history, even when an address is *ahem* accidentally missing from a candidate’s application.

Sorry, we’re not your favorite crime drama’s Smart Tech Guru.

But you can contact us for a comprehensive criminal background screening program fit for your dual monitor setup.