What is a Background Check? Definition, Types, and Websites

close Eve-Carrie

Updated · May 12, 2023


Online Education Specialist | Joined October 2021

Eve is a lover of everything technology. Figuring out how software works and creating content to she... | See full bio


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Have you ever wondered whether you truly know someone and contemplated doing a background check? Sometimes suspicions lead to nothing. Other times, discovering someone’s true identity could end up saving our businesses, loved ones, or ourselves from bad situations.

If you’d like to ascertain that a person is truly who they say they are, then a background check gives you all the answers you need. But what is a background check? And what kind of information does it show?

What Is a Background Check?

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a background check is an act of investigating a person’s past activities to confirm their validity. It can help you learn about histories relating to marriages, criminality, employment, finances, and more.

It gives you peace of mind knowing that you’re employing, doing business with, marrying, or leasing out your property to an upstanding citizen.

Types of Background Checks

There are different kinds of background checks you can conduct depending on your needs. Here’s a list to help you pick the one that suits you best.

Employment Background Check

When a position needs to be filled fast, we sometimes forget to do our due diligence. However, one negligent hiring could lead to serious liability if the worker ends up hurting your staff, stealing from you, or wrecking company resources. And let’s not forget the costs of getting a new hire.

Therefore, a background check for employment is paramount for businesses to be on the safe side. It shows a potential employee’s education, work, criminal, medical, social media usage, motor vehicle, drugs, certifications, and credit histories.

Depending on your state, you’ll get an applicant’s information dating back up to ten years.

To carry out the check, you’ll need their SSNs, full name, past and current addresses, as well as their date of birth.

But what happens if a good employee suddenly starts engaging in criminal activities? Apart from carrying but background checks for employment during the hiring process, you can also do them on a semi-annual or annual basis.

However, note that you’ll need to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to carry out this verification lawfully. Following FCRAS’s regulations will save you from statutory and civil penalties.

The rules companies must follow before doing background checks on employees include:

  • Give a written disclosure notifying your new hire that you intend to carry out an employee background check and that findings could affect your decision.
  • If the result leads to them not getting a job in your company, issue them with a pre-adverse notice. It includes a summary of their FCRA rights and a copy of the report.
  • Wait at least five days after issuing the pre-adverse notice before taking drastic action due to the findings.
  • Issue a post-adverse notice with the name and contacts of the credit reporting company. It should also contain a statement explaining that the agency had nothing to do with the decision not to hire on your behalf.

Another way employers can do background checks is by looking up phone numbers so that they can verify the phone numbers given on a job application. One way they can do this is through paid or free reverse phone lookup. They can also use social media to know more but they don't typically appear in background checks.

Criminal Record Background Check

This type of background check displays a person’s criminal record. It can flag sex crimes, embezzlement, fraud, felonies, and other illegal activities.

While many people confuse criminal checks with general checks, there is a difference. A criminal check searches for an applicant’s participation in unlawful activities, and a general check includes work and educational information.

E-verify Background Check

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) manages the E-verify digital program. It screens workers to check their eligibility to work in the United States.

It’s not a mandatory check for every profession, and most employers use Form 1-9 instead. However, state and federal subcontractors and contractors must use E-verify according to the law.

Not understanding the ins and out of this check can lead to some serious trouble. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • You should only run an E-verify check after hiring an employee.
  • It’s also critical to note that you MUST do it within three days of hire.

Universal Background Check

Universal background checks surround the purchasing of firearms to ensure no guns end up in the wrong hands. Statistics show that the number of deaths from gun violence in 2021 as of March is 7,000+. Therefore, it’s vital to properly verify buyers if you sell guns or need to fill a position requiring applicants to use firearms.

But only 22 US states require gun dealers to perform a universal background check on their customers. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICBCS) under the FBI handles this work and operates in 29 states.

However, not everybody who sells guns is a federally-licensed gun dealer. So you can imagine the number of slip-ups that happen in this complicated process, and unfit people end up owning dangerous weapons. That is especially common online or on flea markets.

Additionally, some sellers may be too lazy to get the necessary background check information. Others might not fully grasp the danger that lies in selling firearms without appropriate verification. A universal screening could ensure that all private purchases run through proper regulation.

Motor Vehicle Records Check

If a job position requires applicants to operate company vehicles, driver background checks are crucial. They show names, date of birth, traffic violations, expirations, DUIs, license revocations, suspensions, and restrictions.

The best thing about this kind of verification is that reports are instant in almost all the states, except Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, and Pennsylvania.

OIG Background Check

OIG is an acronym for Office of the Inspector General. It’s a subsidiary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and has 1,600+ auditors and investigators.

An OIG check is a must for employers in healthcare. It aims to protect HHS recipients from fraudsters and mismanagement. Examples of bodies it regulates include:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Every month, the department updates a list of entities that have any interaction with the above institutions. That means contractors, subcontractors, and employees of companies whose services are payable using Federal healthcare.

OIG advocates for pre-employment and periodic screening, ensuring the continuous integrity of all healthcare programs.

Professional Licenses Background Check

What is a professional background check?

It’s a check to verify an applicant’s educational qualifications. It’s not uncommon for people to lie on their resume, which is why an employer needs to confirm if a candidate does possess proper accreditation.

Companies that carry out the screening contact institutions to establish if the applicant indeed attended the school and received the qualifications they claim to have. They also confirm if the certificates are still valid or have restrictions.

International Background Check

While a person’s record may be clean in one country, they may have a criminal history in another. That’s why international background information can come in handy when hiring nannies, other professionals, or leasing your property to new tenants.

Depending on the country, it could take between two to ten days. But in some countries, where there’s a high degree of secrecy, results could take weeks or even months.

Here are things that the screening can reveal:

  • Education and employment details
  • Professional searches
  • Criminal information
  • Credit histories 
  • Driving records

This verification also combs watch lists to see if there are any warranties or alerts issued against your applicant.

Personal Background Check

It’s common knowledge that employers, landlords, or financial institutions do background checks. Therefore, it’s normal to want to know more about the information they read about you. Or perhaps to catch any misinformation that could paint you in a bad light.

This verification gives you the chance to correct any false offenses or negative financial information against your name.

Here are some things that you can find out:

  • Signature forgeries
  • Arrests that didn’t have any charges
  • Incorrect SSN
  • Fake claims of unpaid credit cards or loans
  • Bad check arrest warrants
  • False license suspensions
  • Name misspellings
  • Purported criminal offenses that you didn’t commit
  • Multiple entries of one charge

Credit Background Check

In simple terms, credit checks show how responsible an applicant is with money. They are essential in positions of employment that require one to deal with cash. Lenders and landlords can also benefit from the reports.

Here’s the kind of information that you can be able to view from this check:

  • Tax liens
  • Civil judgments
  • Bankruptcies
  • Payment history
  • Credit inquiries
  • Collections records

Note that you will not be able to view credit scores using this report. You also must notify the person whose credit information you want to check for and obtain written consent from them.

Fingerprint Background Check

This type of check is also known as an identity history summary. It’s a pre-employment background check and is compulsory for law enforcement, airport, public school, hospitals, casinos, finance, pharmaceutical, real estate, or fire department workers.

You can check fingerprints against the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to find a person’s criminal details. The results are accurate since they come from reputable government agencies.

What Does a Background Check Show?

Background checks show everything that a potential employer, lender, landlord, or even spouse would want to know about an individual. It’s incredibly important to make sure businesses hire the right people, landlords rent out their properties to the right type of tenants, and banks lend money to people that will pay it back.

So, what can a background check reveal?

It depends on the type of background check, but the most common ones cover:

  • Employment history
  • True identities
  • Criminal records
  • Driver history
  • Certificate confirmations
  • International crimes and felonies
  • SSN verification
  • Credit histories
  • Public records
  • Dismissed charges

Your social media can also reveal information about you

There are plenty of websites that you can use to conduct an online background check, and here are some excellent examples:

Truth Finder

TruthFinder is a background and people search site that allows you to look up loved ones you have lost contact with. You can also use it to verify people in your life, such as coworkers, neighbors, and business partners.

It offers reverse phone, address, or social media lookup to help you locate people. It even has a family tree builder (you can also use a DNA test kit to build one) and dark web scan to help you check for lost credit cards, SSN, passwords, or usernames.

US Search is another solution that gives you details of individuals in the US, such as household members, address histories, phone numbers, criminal background, or home value.

If you don’t know a person’s full name, the site gives you the option of using their phone number or address. You can also search for people’s social media profiles if you want to know what they post or how many aliases they have.

Instant Checkmate

Instant Checkmate is a leading service you can use if you want to get a background check online. It allows you to search public records to obtain details like civil judgments, photos, social media profiles, criminal records, actual age, and more.


If you’re looking for a solution that has a vast repository of information, Intelius is your best bet. It has 20+ million records and can help you check your personal background, look up people, and do criminal checks.

If you’ve ever received annoying phone calls from numbers you’re not familiar with, this service can help you find the owners.

The best thing about this website is that it updates its database regularly. And searches are anonymous, so people will never know that you looked up their details.

People Finders

People Finders offers information after searches using names or addresses. It also has reverse phone lookup to help you establish the identities behind phone numbers.

Only have an email address? You can also do reverse email lookup using the site.

Wrap Up: What Is a Background Check?

The information above explains what a background check is and delves deeper into screening types such as international, employment, fingerprint, and OIG.

Checking background is not only for employers since individuals can also investigate information about themselves. In addition, there are many sites such as Intelius, TruthFinder, or People Search with databases covering different details about people.

Note that you must follow the FCRA rules when doing background checks. Otherwise, you could end up paying hefty fines. Ensure that you have written proof that an applicant gave you the go-ahead to search their records. Also, notify them that the background report could influence your decision to hire them.


What shows up on a background check?

Background checks can reveal a lot of information about a person, depending on the test you decide to do. What does a background check show? It can include criminal histories, professional experiences, educational backgrounds, driving records, marital status, and SSNs.

What is a Level 3 background check?

A level 3 background check screens for employment details, criminal activities, education, and reference checks.

What causes a red flag in a background check?

Discrepancies in records could cause red flags, along with criminal records and derogatory marks. Errors could occur due to misinformation and end up appearing on public records.

What are employers looking for in background checks?

Employers want to verify that a potential employee won’t cause trouble in the future. They also want to ensure that they’re employing the right person for the job with proper qualifications and experienceWhat is a background check? Check out our full article for more information.




Eve is a lover of everything technology. Figuring out how software works and creating content to shed more light on the value it offers users is her favorite past time. When not evaluating apps or programs, she's busy trying out new healthy recipes, doing yoga, meditating, or taking nature walks with her little one.

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