So, what really is a background investigation?
A background investigation takes on many shapes, forms and sizes, and is dependent on how far you want to dig into a person’s past, how much you are willing to pay for the investigation and the type of access authorized within the law.
￼Definition of a Background Investigation
A background investigation is the process of obtaining and collecting data from public, proprietary and other sources to determine:
1) if the person is who they say they are, 2) if the person has any adverse history and 3) the authenticity of the person’s qualifications and character.
A background investigation can take on numerous forms and the level of the information included in the background investigation is largely dependent on 1) access to information, 2) how much you are willing to pay for the information and 3) how far you want to dig into a person’s past.
Let’s break this down a little further.
Three Basic Questions in a Background Investigation
Is the person who they say they are?
A critical first step is to verify the basic details pertaining to an individual, such as a person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and address history. Additionally, confirming that the person is not on any government watch lists, a convicted sex offender or really a wanted terrorist.
Is there any adverse history?
In addition to reviewing state and federal criminal histories, adverse history searches can include a review of any civil litigation history, bankruptcy records, judgments, and liens as well as any derogatory news media articles. It may also include reviewing social media sites for references to this person.
Can we authenticate their qualifications and character?
This would include verifying the authenticity of professional details such as employment history, education history and professional licensing history, as well as uncovering any sanctions, disputes or complaints. This may also include interviews with colleagues, business partners or adversaries to develop information outside of the public domain.
Factors To Consider
The background investigation can take on several forms, depending on several factors.
What Information Do You Have Access To?
If someone working in the federal government is doing a background investigation for security clearance purposes, he or she has to have access to certain nonpublic information. The FBI background check on Steve Jobs, however, is an example of the need to access public information as well.
Similarly, when you purchase a gun, your name gets run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is a nationwide criminal record repository that is also not publicly available.
For an investigator or any background screening firm, information in a background investigation is gathered from public and proprietary sources. While it may also include a review of a person’s credit history or personal financial details, this data can only be obtained with specific consent.
￼How Far Do You Want to Dig Into a Person’s Past?
There is a big difference between a background check and a background investigation. While we will dedicate some more time to this in a future post, in general, a background check is typically a quick way to quickly verify the integrity of a person by inputting their name into one or more databases and passing the raw data along to the end user.
Typically the information in a background check is not vetted or verified. Information in these databases can be incomplete, incorrect or stale. More troubling, the databases are usually not what they say they are, especially with regard to key areas such as criminal records.
A background investigation is much more thorough and complete, and it includes scouring various public and proprietary databases, and analyzing and vetting the information for misrepresentations, inconsistencies, omissions, sanctions and false statements.
￼How Much Are You Willing to Pay?
I am sure you have seen various online services offering free or low-cost background checks. The reality is that most of the online criminal check databases and online background checks provide little more than a false sense of security.
A background investigation provides a much more thorough and accurate picture of an individual. Of course, with thoroughness, accuracy and depth, you are going to pay more.