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Why FBI Background Checks Aren’t Always Reliable

Before deciding to recruit a candidate, the majority of businesses conduct some type of background investigation. Employers do this to determine whether the applicant possesses the knowledge and expertise necessary to complete the job’s requirements successfully and to get a sense of the person they are employing.

Organizations should take care to ensure that any new personnel does not constitute a threat to their coworkers, clients, or the organization itself. A pre-employment background check offers the control and regulation that many firms are required by federal and state legislation to have.

Many people think FBI criminal background checks have top quality and standards when it comes to employment background checks. Data, however, demonstrates how FBI background checks aren’t very effective. Read on to find out more.

What Is A FBI Background Check?

Applicants for jobs with federal agencies, local law enforcement agencies, or independent contractors that handle sensitive material for the government typically have their backgrounds checked by the FBI.

The FBI background check would incorporate a thorough criminal record check against its national database, including information on previous arrests and convictions, traffic infractions, and parking citations.

Additionally, a fingerprint check is performed against the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) of the FBI, the databases for sex offenders and terrorist watchlists, as well as other databases.

How FBI Background Checks Work

An FBI background check’s main goal is to reveal a job applicant’s criminal past. The findings of an FBI background investigation frequently include all publicly available federal felony and misdemeanor convictions. It includes criminal charges like incarceration, convictions, bankruptcies, blacklisting, arrests, and arrest warrants. Background checks also look into credit history, driving history, and drug history.

The background investigation will reveal the fundamentals of the charge on the applicant’s record, together with details of the conviction and any ensuing prison or jail term.

What Does The FBI Look For In A Background Check?

Fines and Citations 

Depending on the type of citation and how the information was handled, a legal citation or fine may or may not be recorded in your background check. For instance, the majority of parking charges are handled locally and would not show up on a nationwide check.

An FBI background check may reveal a fine that was part of a felony sentence.

Credit Reports and History 

Most FBI background checks do not automatically include credit history. However, if your potential employer also does a credit check, they would see your most recent credit reports. Bankruptcy is public information and might show up on a background investigation.

Convictions for criminals

Background checks are typically conducted to look into an applicant’s criminal history. A list of all publicly available federal felony and misdemeanor convictions is part of an FBI background investigation. Basic details concerning the accusation, conviction, and any subsequent detention may be included in the check.

A background check will not reveal convictions that have been through expungement and pardons by a judge since they are not a part of your official criminal history. Any pending warrants will also be seen on the background check.

Non-Convictions for Crime in the Past Seven Years 

Your criminal history also includes recent arrests that did not result in a conviction, in addition to any criminal convictions. These non-convictions are recorded in your criminal record for seven years before being removed.

If you were placed on probation rather than found guilty of a crime, this probation will be shown for seven years on background checks. This kind of parole violation that has legal repercussions is viewed as a conviction.

Housing Background 

An FBI background check might provide your employer with a general idea of your home’s past even though it technically does not provide a full housing history. Any contact information, such as addresses and phone numbers that you provided in an official capacity, such as on tax forms, may be included in the check.

Personal Information

  • Legal name
  • Birth date
  • Marriages and divorces
  • Driver’s license
  • State ID number
  • Other names (criminal aliases)
  • Tax liens
  • Property owned

What Can The FBI See In A Background Check?

The following details are often revealed by an FBI background check:

  • Bankruptcies
  • Criminal convictions, incarceration and charges
  • Outstanding warrants
  • Addresses and phone numbers used on tax forms
  • Arrests not resulting in conviction (this data remains on one’s record for 7 years)

The information shown above, though, can be misleading or inaccurate. Public records hold a bulk of arrests, so a background check may reveal them. If the claim is rejected or if the defendant is not guilty, some jurisdictions can even limit access to some arrest records, while others may delete or overlook information.

FBI background checks may reveal the following arrest data:

  • The person has been detained, is facing criminal charges, and the matter is still pending.
  • Arrest and exoneration: Charges were dropped, and the person was not guilty despite being charged and arrested.
  • Conviction and arrest history: The person was detained, accused, and adjudged guilty.

What Does FBI Name Check Include?

The FBI name check is a background check procedure for local and state and local law enforcement agencies within the criminal justice system, components within the legislative, federal agencies, executive, and judicial branches of the federal government, intelligence agencies and foreign police.

When performing an FBI Name Check on a person, the FBI’s Central Entries System Universal Index is searched for any instances of the person’s name, as well as its close pronunciation permutations and variants, in any of the records kept in the Universal Index.

The Name Check also entails retrieving and analyzing the pertinent paper and electronic information from nearby FBI offices and from other law-enforcement organizations if any such incidents are discovered.

The Reality Of FBI Background Checks

Most Americans believe that an FBI background investigation resembles the job of a private investigator who conducts a thorough investigation to ensure that no information is missed. However, FBI employees do background checks almost exclusively in the office and rely entirely on online information for their findings. Actually, the FBI has access to the same amount of data as most criminal background check businesses, if not less.

FBI Background Check Takes Too Long: The FBI runs background investigations and fingerprint checks. You will typically have to wait four weeks for an FBI background investigation to be finished, though this does happen occasionally.

An electronic background check request from an employer will come with a biometric card. This will take up to 5 days, and the mail service carrier will also play a role.

The employer may need to wait an additional week or so if they ask for the form to be returned via mail. If your prospective employer mails in a request for a background check, it will take two to four weeks to complete, not counting the time it takes to send and receive the form.

Flaws Concerning FBI Search Results

The Justice Department acknowledges that over 50 percent of the background check records are insufficient and don’t include the case’s resolution. According to the NELP (National Employment Law Project), over 1.7 million employees need FBI background checks each year containing inaccurate or incomplete information, which causes 600,000 employees to suffer because it prevents them from finding jobs.

The FBI investigation relies on people’s records who have had their fingerprints taken most of the time. However, many crimes are prosecuted across multiple states without the use of fingerprints. You exclude all records not fingerprinted by depending solely on fingerprint searches.


Even though criminal data may be essential for a background check for employment, it is not necessarily current or correct. Although it was a wrongful arrest or something that was addressed inside the seven-year timeframe, an arrest without a conviction may appear on an FBI background check, endangering the reputation of the job applicant.

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