The criminal history check is a key component of the background check for many employers.
Eventually there might be a single source for all criminal records across the United States that all employers
can access either directly or indirectly via a practical process, but for now such a source does not exist.
For the foreseeable future, employers need to get familiar with options such as those described below for
having their criminal history checks performed.
CrimFromSSTrace (AKA Criminal Search Jurisdictions derived from an SSTrace)
is a search of vast public databases for where and when, a Social Security Number
has been used (and even what names have been used with it).
This often yields a very long list of addresses that most vendors embed directly in the background checking results, making the
results many, many pages long and tough to read. The employer is then supposed to scan through these pages to determine
which locations are appropriate for a local criminal background history search. Some more helpful vendors have someone
do this on their client's behalf via a loosely defined set of rules.
MeSH has substantially improved this process. First, the long list of SSTrace results is consolidated by MeSH via a proprietary
algorithm into a concise table that is effective for making business decisions. Second, MeSH has other proprietary algorithms
which use client specific settings to pull from this table local regions in which to perform criminal history checks.
This provides MeSH clients with control over an automated and objective process. This is the type of approach that employment lawyers want
companies to have in their background checking policy to reduce liability.
Nationwide Criminal Commercial Database
This search has the advantage of being instantaneous and relatively low cost, but it has limitations. It searches against a
commercially compiled database of criminal offenses from many places throughout the US and abroad, but many jurisdictions do not
make all or even some of their data available for this purpose so the search can be very limited in many areas. In others, there
is a timing and a data integrity issue so the FCRA has determined that use of a "commercial database" cannot be used to take adverse
action (and thus any records derived from this search must be verified via the original source). In addition, it is difficult to
defend against a claim of negligent hiring if a record is missed because it's well known that records are missing from the database.
Also note that although the database does contain a National Sex Offender Search and an OFAC search,
these are not direct searches via a government source and thus it can miss records and can produce incorrect records for these sources as well.
So why use it? Is it of any value?
There is value. The value is that you might find a criminal record that did not appear on another search and then you
can verify it via a direct search of the government source in that locality. However, due to its limitations, we recommend you do
not solely rely on this search, and search via the CrimFromSSTrace method above, as well as any known jurisdictions.
Federal Criminal Searches
The terms "Federal" and "National" are often confused when talking about background checks and so below is how MeSH and many other
background checking vendors use these terms:
- Federal: Crimes against the Federal (or United States) government
- National: Crimes against state and local government across the entire United States (Nationwide)
MeSH accesses the Federal court records via a centralized federal government database. Unfortunately, this database often does not provide
identifiers beyond name. This creates an issue with assuring that a case belongs to an individual. Although MeSH has many
techniques available for eliminating matches, there can be delays as many of the courts will only respond to written,
mailed-in requests and thus there can be extensive delays. MeSH does offer options to restrict the geography of the search in such
cases and MeSH will report the results accordingly.
MeSH can provide you with international criminal searches. However there are many limitations on international criminal
records as countries outside the US do not have the infrastructure for keeping criminal records and providing practical
methods to access these records.
The FBI Search
Only a small percent of employers are permitted to access the FBI national database, and so this is not an option for most employers.
Even still, supplementing these searches with additional criminal checks is recommended.
According to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS
“the FBI database is not considered reliable as a single source for background screening purposes. Even for those entities that
are required to use the FBI’s database, it is recommended that other sources be used to supplement the FBI search. Even the FBI acknowledges
that its NCIC database is limited, noting that it contains only about 50 to 55 percent of all available criminal records…” [NAPBS.com].
The FBI stated itself that the checks:
“may not meet employment requirements”[FBI.gov].