What is a Criminal Background Check?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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A criminal background check is a process of searching to determine if an applicant has a criminal record. This is to ensure that information provided by a potential employee is accurate. Once a background check is conducted, employers have access to any pending or past criminal convictions of a potential applicant. These records are located in databases maintained by the (FBI) Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department of Public Safety, or any other agency that deals with such information. If an employer discovers that an applicant lied about their criminal history, the employer may refuse to hire the applicant or terminate employment if the person has already been hired.

Criminal background checks have become so commonplace that anyone who wants to find out private information about another person can do so quite easily. A simple internet search provides an almost endless list of online companies that offer criminal background check services for a fee.


When an applicant consents to a background check, she must provide her legal name, any previous names, her social security number, her present address, and all former addresses she has used throughout her adult life. This will allow the employer to discover whether or not an applicant has a criminal history, no matter where the applicant has lived in the past. The disadvantage of conducting a criminal background check is the fact that some states differ on how they define what constitutes a felony. Some states may classify one crime as a misdemeanor while other states may classify that same crime as a felony. It becomes more difficult to receive an accurate criminal background check if the applicant has lived in several states.

Despite the fact that most companies perform background checks on applicants, there are some industries where a background check is required by federal or state law. People who want to work with children, the disabled, or the elderly usually need to undergo a criminal background check. Those who want to become police officers, fire fighters, or correctional officers must receive criminal background checks as well. Other people who undergo these investigations include anyone who wishes to hold a public office or potential employees whose jobs involve having access to sensitive or confidential information.

If an employer does not routinely conduct this type of investigation and an employee commits a crime that harms coworkers, customers, or others, the company could be held liable. For this reason, most employers pay companies to research applicants’ histories. The high rate of crime in modern society and the constant fear of terrorism have made criminal background checks an inevitable part of life.


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