What Is a Background Check?

There are 7.9 billion people on Earth.

Each of them hides a secret.

Do you want to know what that secret is?

Stalking jokes aside, everyone deserves to know whether their future business partner, employee, or tenant is trustworthy.

Luckily, today, numerous reliable online background check companies can run the full scan for you within minutes.

  • But, what is a background check?
  • How does it work?
  • And what are some of the best online background check services?

Let’s find out!

What Is a Background Check?

A background check is a safety and precautionary measure. Most companies and individuals use it to determine a person’s identity and trustworthiness.

Whenever someone new is joining the company or team, they potentially pose a threat to it. However, you can reduce the risk by learning about that person’s education, recent employment, and existing or non-existing criminal records.

That is exactly what an advanced background check does.

It investigates the targeted person’s past actions and activities to promote a safe working environment for everyone.

Additionally, most background check companies offer various other services like email lookup, reverse phone lookup, address search option, etc.

But, how do background checks work?

Traditional background checks are complex, time-consuming, and tedious tasks that only professionals could handle.

Luckily, nowadays, almost anyone can do a background check fast and effortlessly.

Most background screening services providers have developed fluid and straightforward search engines. What is more, you can perform all the actions on the go, accessing the company’s website or mobile app,

All you need to run a background check is some of the candidate’s basic personal information, such as:

  • Full name
  • Address (past and current)
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number (not always required)

In most cases, you’ll also need the person’s consent whose checks you want to perform.

Types of Background Checks

Since there are all sorts of motives for conducting a background search, different search models must follow.

And so, there are four main levels of background checks, based on their extensiveness.

Let’s look into each of them!

Level 1

The most basic background check, known as Level 1, concentrates on local jurisdiction exclusively. Usually, this is the subject’s current residence area.

Level 1 background check is most often name-based, although sometimes fingerprints are inspected too.

Most pre-employment background checks fall under this category. The aim is to verify the essential personal information of the potential employee. Unfortunately, not everyone is truthful in their applications, and even the slightest discrepancies at this stage could raise red flags to employers.

Level 1 also includes employment history authentication since this can be a deciding factor for some job positions.

Finance and insurance fields still require fingerprint checks. However, lately, this is merely a supplemental procedure, as the name-based search is more accurate, time- and cost-effective.

Level 2

Level 2 background check extends to state and national jurisdictions. State and federal databases are undergoing inspections to rule out any possibility of previous crimes and felonies.

The level 2 employment background check is necessary whenever someone is applying for a position that carries responsibility and demands trust. These include child care, work with the elderly, and other sensitive groups.

Sometimes employers decide on this type of check even after hiring the person or whenever they feel like there is a need for a criminal history check.

Level 3

Most large business owners and corporations prefer running a more comprehensive background check when making hiring decisions. Therefore, Level 3 is the most common background check level.

It analyzes:

  • Candidate’s education
  • Employment history
  • References
  • Criminal records
  • Pre-employment drug testing (if needed)

The checks begin at the local level by investigating potential felonies in district court documents. Next, the company will reach the county district court to conduct a criminal record search. Finally, it’ll take the background investigation to state and federal levels to eliminate every possibility of criminal history.

Notably, arrest records and conviction proofs exist only in federal databases.

Level 4

And finally, a full background check, or Level 4, includes everything from the Level 3 plus:

  • Social media research
  • Bankruptcy records

Whenever hiring external executives or promoting somebody from within the company, performing a Level 4 background check is advisable.

Ultimately, Level 4 background checks are the best background check option available.

On which level of background check is written consent required?

To be on the safe side, you should always acquire the written consent of the person you are planning to check on, even for Level 1 checks.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) obliges you to inform every individual whose personal information you’re about to check about your intention. You can do that by giving them a separate piece of paper that doesn’t contain any other text, except the screening information.

Aside from this, you require a signed consent to a background check whenever hiring a third party or outside agency to perform the research for you.

Even if you are personally doing the background search in your company’s name, most institutions won’t allow you access to their database without the subject’s written consent.

And then again, there is the ethical side of the whole process. Each of us undergoes this kind of screening process at least once in a lifetime. Wouldn’t you like to have a saying in it?

How to Do a Background Check — a Step-by-Step Guide

Your screening method will mostly depend on the background check purpose.

It’s possible to do some background checks alone. But for others, you’ll require help from specialized screening agencies.

Luckily, a wide range of such companies exists today.

Whether you are looking for reliable tenant screening services, a thorough employee pre-promotion examination, or your future nanny’s criminal record check, it’s all equally possible.

But let’s go into the most important steps for a legal and accurate background check.

Step 1 — Learn your state background check laws.

Aside from the federal FCRA requirements, each state has different laws that protect personal information and public records.

Some states have limitations regarding which data you can look into, and others have rules regarding that data usage.

For example, the FCRA allows the gathering of reports from the past seven years. However, some states don’t permit employers to take into account any arrest that didn’t lead to a conviction during that period.

Another example — the state law of Massachusetts prohibits criminal background check conduction during the initial job application. Meanwhile, in Illinois, an employer has to disregard any information about the credit history of a job candidate during the hiring process.

So before checking other previous illegal activities of other people, make sure you’re not doing an offense yourself.

Step 2 — Inform the person in question about the check.

As we’ve mentioned above, you should always get consent to perform a background check before proceeding with it.

Although many screening agencies offer the possibility of doing checks without informing the person, this shouldn’t be your practice.

Sometimes a single written page that notifies the applicant about the screening practice should suffice. But to fully protect yourself and the person in question, try to get their signature as well.

Step 3 — Research the available agencies.

This could be the most tiring and time-consuming part of the employee background check and hiring process, but it’s completely worth it. Once you find a screening agency or company that you can trust, everything else quickly sorts out.

Your preference should be with accredited Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) that pay for legal access to various databases.

However, if you opt for a non-accredited company, make sure you at least verify its legitimacy.

Next, during your research, try to make a further selection by eliminating the companies whose specialized services don’t align with your exact needs.

Finally, look for recommendations. Those are often very helpful.

Step 4 — Pick and contact a background check agency.

Have you narrowed your choice? Then it’s time to make the final pick.

Numerous background check sites offer free contact options to meet your concerns and provide clarifications. Use this opportunity to get to know them better. Ask about their license, references, business models, and similar.

If you get any negative answers, or you just don’t feel convinced, move to your next option.

The right agency for you is waiting just around the corner.

Step 5 — Request an official background report.

After hiring the most suitable background check services provider, you can relax and let them conduct the investigation.

Always ask for a written report of the candidate’s civil lawsuits, arrests, sex offender registry, and similar records that can affect their future employment. Having everything in written form, and preserving it for a while, can make your life easier in the long run.

After this, the only thing left to do is hire the most suitable candidate based on the background check results.

Best Background Check Services

So, what is a background check? You should already know the answer, as well as the standard course of action if you want to investigate someone’s history.

Now, let’s look into some of the best online services available!


If you are looking for a beginner-friendly, quick, and confidential background check online assistant, Intelius might be the right choice for you. It’s equally successful in looking into criminal records of your potential business partner and in your long-lost friend search.

Perhaps you just want to find out who is behind the number that called you? Intelius is the fastest in discovering this.

Get a free trial, and check this and many other practical features. For more details, check out our Intelius Review.

Pros Cons
Instant access to extensive reports Not FCRA compliant
Great interface Not cheap
Education history and social network viewer Automatic monthly subscriptions
Multiple plans and packages available


For those who always wondered:

Can I do a background check on myself?

TruthFinder offers you this option and more!

With access to public and private databases, impressive self-monitoring tools, and an abundance of data, TruthFinder remains on top of the game.

Not only that, but now you can claim, correct, and hide any suspicious record to prevent identity theft.

For more details, have a look at our TruthFinder review.

Pros Cons
Unlimited universal background checks Not FCRA compliant
Ideal for frequent use Not cheap
Impressive information collection ability
Self-monitoring available


USSearch is an ideal screening platform if you’re looking for an affordable personal information search. Finding information like family members’ names, previous addresses, real-estate, and criminal history is USSearch specialty.

On the flip side, the interface is not as developed as with some competitors. But easy-to-find and up-to-date data search compensate for it.

For more details, check out out USSearch review.

Pros Cons
Affordable subscription Not FCRA compliant
Free background check results Outdated interface
Contact information available No single report option
Up-to-date information


This is the perfect solution for anyone who needs a certified and reliable background check for employment. What separates GoodHire from the rest of the companies on this list are the FCRA compliance and detailed monitoring.

By subscribing to GoodHire, you get access to:

  • Federal background checks
  • State and global courts data
  • Hard to find reports such as healthcare sanctions
  • Professional license authentication
  • Reference verifications and more
Pros Cons
FCRA compliant Special charges for some countries and states
The most complete background check Additional charges for specific searches apply
Instant results for identity verification No individual add-ons purchases without the full background check
Monthly monitoring available
Healthcare sanction reports available


Whether in need of a simple contact information search tool or a full background check report (including criminal and property records), PeopleFinders finds your people.

An email, phone number, or sometimes even name will suffice for a complete person’s identification.

PeopleFinders will present you with a whole list of possible matches with no additional charges. Besides, it offers the age and names of family members, which can help you speed up things.

Not many companies offer these additional features for free.

For more details, check out our PeopleFinders review.

Pros Cons
Affordable Not FCRA compliant
Straightforward website usage No social media coverage
Highly functional mobile apps
Single reports available

Key Takeaways

Nowadays, every corporate management puts their future employees through various verification background checks.

These mostly consist of education, previous employment, and criminal record investigations.

Background checks are not always the cheapest, but they can save you a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run.

It’s estimated that one poor employment decision can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Certified background checks could prevent this.

Luckily, numerous online companies offer this service at an affordable price, making it available to small businesses and even individuals. Now, you can know at all times who your employee, tenant, or babysitter really is.

So, choose your screening company wisely, and create a safe environment for you, your family, and your colleagues.


What information is needed for a background check?

The information needed for a background check typically includes the person’s full name, address, birthday, and social security number.

How long does a background check take?

Thorough background checks usually take from 3 to 7 days. However, some cyber background check companies promise full service within a few minutes.

What does a background check show?

A personal background check can show everything from education and work history to federal criminal records. Different background agencies offer different types of screening.

How far back do background checks go?

Most often, background checks go up to seven years. Some go up to 10. However, the universal limit does not exist. It all depends on your state’s law.

What is a level 1 background check?

Level 1 background check is the most basic level of screening. It concentrates mostly on essential personal information and local jurisdiction offense records.

What is a level 2 background check?

Level 2 background check is the same as level 1, except it extends on the state and national jurisdiction.

What is a level 3 background check?

Level 3 background check is a fairly comprehensive screening method. It includes criminal record investigations and pre-employment drug testing.

How does a background check verify employment?

A person or company who does your background check usually verifies your employment by contacting your previous employer.

What does an employment background check consist of?

An employment background check usually verifies a person’s previous education and work experience. After that, criminal records, credit history, use of social media, drug screening, and similar may follow. So, what is a background check for employment? It depends on the company’s policy. So, it’s a good idea to discuss the matter with your prospective employer.


A human nature explorer disguised as a linguist. Maybe if I have traveled less and in fewer directions, I could’ve been an expert in one particular field. Instead, I’m just a passionate researcher, reader, and writer. The subjects that I always gladly cover are mostly from the world of finance, sociology, and psychology. My flying experience (both as a cabin crew and a pilot) taught me never to disregard the human factor. For that reason, I write all my articles in a way that every human can relate to in one aspect or another. In my free time, I am an animal lover (sometimes during work hours too).

Latest from Danka

ZenBusiness vs LegalZoom Rocket Lawyer vs LegalZoom How to Buy Slack Stock Understanding the Crypto Tax Rate

1 Comment

  1. Looking for my husband he’s in jail out of town working Alfred wellen jr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *