What Is a Background Check?

What is a Background Check?

A background check is the process of looking up someone's criminal, financial, personal, and/or professional records. Background checks are mostly used by employers, schools, law enforcement, gun retailers, and nonprofit organizations.

The most common type of background checks is used for employment screening. Generally, the purpose of background checks is to ensure candidates are trustworthy, law-abiding people who are eligible to work in the US.

What's in a background check will vary depending on who is running the check and why. For example, if you're applying for a job in finance, an employer will likely check your credit report, whereas that probably won't happen if you're applying for a job at a childcare center. A background check can include any or all of the following:

  • Criminal records — including county, state, and federal crimes, sex offender status, arrest information, and incarceration history
  • SSN validation and legal working status
  • Education verification
  • Driving records
  • Credit report — including bankruptcies and accounts up for collection
  • Personal and professional references
  • Drug test results
  • Military records
  • Employment history
  • Online footprint — including social media accounts

Background checks are subject to the rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which aims to protect consumer information. For example, the FCRA only gives creditors, insurers, employers, and landlords access to your background information. Your employer also can't access your private background information without your written consent.

In addition to the FCRA, California has its own set of laws that govern what can and cannot be included in a background check.

So, What Is a Background Check?

A background check is a review of your criminal, financial, personal, and/or professional records. There isn't a standard background check as the type of records looked at depends on who is doing the checking and why. In most cases, however, they will look for criminal records and SSN validation.

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