Personal Background Check: What Can It Reveal About You

Who Needs a Background Check ... and Why?

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Just as your personal credit report tells all about your credit history, a personal background check allows potential employers, landlords and law enforcement officials to learn more about your overall history. In fact, today's rules say that your records can be checked for everything: whom you've worked for, where you've lived – even whether or not you have a criminal record.

Why have personal background checks become the norm?

With personal information so readily available – on everybody – the world has adopted a "better safe than sorry" attitude. With worries over large-scale financial scams and random acts of terrorism on everyone's mind, no one wants to take any chances. Today, most companies conduct employee background checks on potential job candidates as well as current workers; this, in turn, also protects the employer from negligent hiring practices. And that means "hiring on instinct" is coming to an end.

While there are some exceptions, virtually everyone is subject to a personal background check. Since today's technological advancements make it so easy to check millions of records at once, employers now routinely ask prospective candidates to undergo complete background checks that may include:

  • Criminal background checks. Your records can be thoroughly checked for any and all criminal activity. Criminal background checks are not new; the Internet age has just made them much easier to conduct.
  • Credit background checks. Like any bank, lender or credit union, a prospective employer is allowed to see your credit report. Federal law requires, though, that the three major credit bureaus provide them only with a "credit header," a shorter version of your credit report that DOES NOT include your credit score.1 Full credit background checks require your written consent beforehand.
  • Online background checks. Employers will often hire online background-check companies to search multiple public records databases and then cross-reference any information about you.
  • Police background checks. Similar to a criminal background checks, local authorities can simply punch your name into a computer and see everything on file about you – records of any arrests, corporate affiliations and even your voter registration information.
  • Tenant background checks. These days, prospective landlords need to know that you can be trusted – not only to pay your rent on time, but that you aren't hiding anything in your past. Many landlords will use an online background check service, or they can simply ask you for a copy of your credit report.

Can other information can be included in a personal background check?

Yes. There are varying degrees of background checks, from minimum checks that may only ask for your Social Security number to detailed checks that require extensive personal information.

Here, for example, is a brief look at some of the information that may be contained in a detailed employee background check request:

  • Bankruptcy information
  • Credit history
  • Driving records
  • Drug test records
  • Education records
  • Medical records
  • Military records
  • Past employers
  • Personal credit reports
  • Vehicle registration

Even though prospective employers have a right to obtain large amounts of your personal information, the Federal Credit Report Act (FCRA) has established standards for employment screening. However, these rules ONLY apply to background inquiries done by an outside company. Organizations that run background checks through internal channels can require you to disclose an unlimited amount of personal information. It all depends on the specific company that's looking into hiring you.

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