What Is Background Information?

Background information can include a person’s criminal, financial, or behavioral past, and is commonly used to evaluate prospective employees, tenants, or volunteers. The data might come from public records, court documents, personal interviews, the media, and other sources that reveal a person’s history. Some background information is available via the Internet, through resources that identify convicted sex offenders, property records, and bankruptcy filings in some regions.

Laws in some areas require a background check on job applicants who work with children or the elderly. These searches look for prior instances of abuse, neglect, and similar offenses that make them unsuitable to work with children or the aged. A background information check may reveal the applicant misappropriated a client’s money in the past. These investigations might also show the potential employee was denied a license to operate a child care or elder care facility and prior problems as a caregiver.

Large firms might use background information to evaluate future employees, especially in executive positions. They might employ a private investigator to look into the applicant's work history and why he or she left former employment. Background information services typically interview former coworkers and friends to obtain information considered private. These investigators typically examine the applicant’s educational background to confirm information on a resume.

Background information about financial matters commonly comes from property records and some court documents. Investigators might find a lien or court judgment placed on a job candidate’s home through a property search. Foreclosure information is another tool to obtain background information about finances, along with bankruptcy records. Job candidates with financial problems might be more prone to embezzle money or commit fraud, making them risky in a position of trust.

Criminal records may provide a wealth of information. A history of drunken driving arrests might illustrate a problem with substance abuse, while domestic assault arrests might indicate a volatile temper. If a person possesses a conviction for theft or fraud, his or her honesty might be questioned.

Some background information probes include searches of professional and regulatory agency records. For example, complaints against a doctor or lawyer accused of professional misconduct commonly become public information. Licensing boards may suspend a professional license or impose a probationary period on a professional’s ability to work.

Attorneys commonly use background investigations to judge the credibility of expert witnesses who testify at trial. Information might uncover a conflict of interest that taints a person’s testimony. An investigator might also find instances where prior statements in professional articles, the media, or previous court testimony contradict testimony in a current case. An expert witness’s education and membership in professional organizations is typically part of a background check.

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