Article: Keys To A Successful Criminal History Records Check

In the absence of fingerprints and a nationwide repository of records, all criminal history records checks are based on name ("identity") and jurisdiction ("geography"). The first and most crucial step in conducting a thorough criminal history records check is to establish and verify the identity of the candidate and the geography of the search.

Despite what you may think, “identity” is not always straightforward.

A male candidate, for example, may have the same name as a relative, with only a suffix to distinguish between them (e.g., Jr., Sr., I, II, III, etc.) Or his real name may be Stephen Paul Smith, but he prefers to go by the name Paul Smith.

With female candidates, there are often maiden names involved. If recently married, most of her information may appear under her maiden name, suggesting an additional search to that effect. Also, she may have divorced and resumed the use of her maiden name. Or the female subject may have even had another name from a previous marriage. The point here is that it is important to determine what variations of the name exist—and when they occurred—to ensure proper identification and facilitate appropriate searches.

Identity and geography are first established by having the candidate complete and sign a release and then verify the information via a social security number trace through a credit bureau. Each time an individual applies for credit, the identity and demographic information he or she provides during the application process is in turn provided to credit bureaus that continually update the "header" information in their credit files. The bureaus also collect data on bankruptcies, judgments, liens and records from all levels of government.

In performing the Social Security Number (SSN) trace, we essentially tap into the "header" portion of the candidate's credit file and garner valuable information about them, including other names used, current and former addresses, employment information, status as an invalid or misused SSN, and so on. This information is then compared to what was provided by the candidate and discrepancies, if any, should be investigated.

When identity and geography are established and verified, we can then conduct the criminal history records check in the appropriate jurisdictions in accordance with the guidelines you have defined for us. Any criminal history record information gathered—be it dismissals, convictions, pending cases or any other “red flags”—will be reported immediately to the person you so designate. Depending on the scope of the investigation, our work can often times be done in as few as three to four days. Upon completion, a Final Report will be issued to you defining the scope and findings of our investigation.

Some Thoughts on Negative Findings

The presence of a “red flag” (offense) should not always result in automatic rejection, especially if the candidate has admitted to the offense. When establishing criteria for evaluating criminal history, motor vehicle or credit bureau record checks, you should consider what other factors should be taken into account. Examples of circumstances you may consider when evaluating an offense include:

  • Nature and seriousness of the offense
  • Circumstances under which the offense occurred
  • Age of the candidate at the time of the offense
  • Societal conditions that may have contributed to the nature of the offense
  • Probability that the candidate will repeat the offense
  • Candidate's commitment to rehabilitation
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