How to Do a Background Check Online

There’s a lot on the line when you take someone into your confidence. Whether you’re hiring a babysitter, asking someone to be a volunteer, or renting an apartment to a stranger, there’s too much at stake to take good will and verbal promises at face value. Background checks, which can include everything from criminal records to an individual’s financial background, are important for ensuring safety and confirming that you’re not putting yourself or others in jeopardy. 

The internet makes it possible for anyone to perform a background check, or you can hire a company that specializes in the field. Whichever route you choose, it’s important to compile as much information as possible and formulate a comprehensive picture of the individual (or individuals) in whom you’re placing your trust. 

Federal vs State Background Checks

Most employers do a state background check but there are subtleties you might be interested in when doing a Federal background check online as well. We’ve put together some guide for each state’s background check process, as they differ slightly:

California Michigan
Texas Georgia
New York North Carolina
Florida New Jersey
Illinois Virginia
Pennsylvania Washington
Ohio Massachusetts
DC New Mexico
Wyoming West Virginia
Vermont Nebraska
Nevada Idaho
New Hampshire Hawaii
North Dakota Colorado
Indiana Alabama
Arizona South Carolina
Tennessee Louisiana
Missouri Kentucky
Maryland Oregon
Wisconsin Oklahoma
Minnesota Rhode Island
Connecticut Montana
Iowa Delaware
Mississippi South Dakota
Arkansas Alaska
Kansas Utah

Performing a background check online: Criminal records

This is probably the most important information when it comes to making a decision about someone you don’t know well. There are several free online search resources that can tell you whether someone has a criminal record. In addition to Complete Check,, and can provide you with detailed information if an individual has a criminal offense on their record. 

Sex offender data

The national sex offender registry is your first and best option for a sex offense background check. It’s free to the public, and it’s essential if it concerns an individual who will be working with or responsible for children or other vulnerable groups. Always perform a background search on people who will be serving as nannies, babysitters, scouting leaders or volunteers with at-risk people. In some cases, it may be easier to hire a third party to compile a sex offender background report, especially if you need more extensive information. 

Credit reports

A credit background check generally isn’t necessary unless there’s some financial aspect to the role an individual will play. Most credit checks don’t provide detailed information regarding specific accounts, but do include an overview of your payment background, debt ceiling and available credit. (Remember, it’s illegal to run a credit check without the individual’s permission.) 

Social media

Think of social media as a kind of “bonus” resource for people who need a more nuanced, well-rounded picture of an individual. A social media profile and associated content can tell you what other people think of prospects, and whether they conduct themselves professionally and interact respectfully with others. However, social media background checks are far from foolproof. For example, much of the information available on Facebook contains personal information that a human resources manager is prohibited from considering when making a hiring decision. Consider having someone not directly involved in the hiring process research and report on a candidate’s social media profile, which will add a layer of objectivity to the vetting process. Prohibited information includes:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion 
  • Political ideology

Employee background checks: Facts for a fee

There are plenty of background check companies that will do the work for you for a fee. It’s a good investment: According to a CareerBuilder survey, the cost of bringing the wrong person into your organization can be as high as $17,000, which is quite a bite for a small company just trying to get off the ground. Still, about 75 percent of employers don’t conduct background checks on all of their employees, despite the fact that there are several options available.

Professional searches

A professional search firm checks official sources of personal, criminal and credit information, providing you with useful information at an affordable price. It’s information that can save you from exposing a negative or abusive individual to clients, other staff/employees, or sensitive information. A professional third-party search can provide you with an individual’s:

  • Identity verification
  • Criminal data (including sex offender and federal watch lists)
  • State and county searches
  • Previous addresses
  • Prior employment (as available)
  • Full credit report

Sometimes, it’s necessary to form an actionable, three-dimensional picture of the individuals you propose to bring into your midst. Resumes and reference checks are a good start, but they don’t tell you how trustworthy a potential babysitter might be, whether you can trust a prospective tenant, or how well an employee might fit into your company. If you’re doing it yourself, there’s plenty of good information to be found through search engines. On the other hand, considering the consequences, it’s understandable that many businesses turn to professional search companies for help in hiring new employees.