Fingerprint background checks are increasingly being promoted as the gold standard for criminal background checks. Everyone’s fingerprint is different, so the theory goes, so a fingerprint record check must be foolproof? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple in practice. In this guide, we will explain what information can show up on a fingerprint background check, how mistakes can still be made, and how you can check your own criminal records from the comfort of your own home.
Fingerprint criminal background checks, so we are told, represent a new gold standard for criminal history screenings. The media and various campaign groups seemingly believe these types of checks eliminate the risk of mistakes being made.
As a result, we have seen high-profile companies like Uber and Lyft coming under pressure to implement fingerprint background checks and quote a few big companies voluntarily doing so.
This increased profile has seen a growing number of people asking us about fingerprint background checks? Are they safe to submit to? What sort of information will they reveal? Can they make mistakes?
In this guide, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about fingerprint background checks, how they work, and what information they can reveal. We will also tell you why you should run a background check on yourself to prove the details of your criminal history are as you claimed. And we will recommend the best sites to use to do this.
What is a fingerprint background check?
A fingerprint background check is a check that uses your fingerprint data to match you to your criminal record.
Because everyone has a unique fingerprint, and fingerprints are taken any time someone is arrested for a criminal record, the theory goes that using fingerprints is the most effective way of accurately identifying a person’s criminal record.
In theory, it means that changing names or other personal details cannot help you hide from your criminal past. It should also mean that the chances of a false positive, due to having the same name as a convicted criminal or similar personal details, are greatly reduced.
However, the reality is not quite as clear cut as this. There is a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication about what information can be revealed by a fingerprint background and, perhaps more importantly, what can’t.
How does a fingerprint background check work?
If you apply for a job that requires you to submit to a fingerprint background check, you will be asked by your prospective employer to submit a copy of your fingerprints, either at the start of the application process or if you get through to the final stage of the hiring process.
In most cases, you will then be required to report to your local police department at an agreed time where your fingerprints will be electronically scanned.
The police will then use these scans to search for your fingerprints against their criminal records database. If you have ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime, your fingerprints will be stored on their system and details of your criminal history will then be passed to your prospective employer.
What they do with this information will depend on the individual employer and the type of job you are applying for. Some will dismiss your application out of hand if anything comes back. Others will look at the details of your record and decide if it precludes you from the role.
Most are also likely to check your criminal record against the information you have submitted in your application to make sure you have been honest with them about your criminal past.
What information shows up on a fingerprint background check?
The assumption most employers make about fingerprint background checks is that they will result in a more detailed and accurate check than other data-based checks. But this is not actually the case.
A fingerprint criminal background check will reveal all information about your criminal past that is stored on the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). This is the go-to database for fingerprint checks and is almost certain to be the source of any data that is passed to your prospective employer.
The IAFIS contains an estimated 70 million records, which sounds like an awful lot. But it is important to remember that the USA has a population of around 330 million people and approximately a third of all adults are thought to have some sort of criminal record. Given that many people have multiple crimes on their record it is not hard to figure out that there is plenty of criminal record information that will not be found on the IAFIS.
There is also the fact that the IAFIS also contains lots of records that are not related to a criminal offense. If you have ever been fingerprinted in relation to a criminal inquiry, even as a witness, your details will be on the system.
Your prints will also be there is you have ever applied for a job where fingerprinting is mandated by law (this includes people like healthcare workers and teachers). And if you have ever legally purchased a firearm, you will have submitted your prints and they will be on the system too.
When all of these non-criminal records are taken into account, it quickly becomes clear how much criminal information the IAFIS is missing.
To illustrate this even more clearly, the sort of database that a public background checking site is likely to scour as part of its more traditional checks is likely to contain something in the region of 500-700 million records. That’s almost ten times more.
Best criminal record background checking site
Over the past few months, our researchers have been testing all the top background checking sites to see which are best at returning complete and accurate criminal record data.
As a result of these tests, we are now able to narrow down the hundreds of background checking sites that you find with a Google search, to a top two. These two sites consistently outperformed all the other providers we tested and we are confident that readers will be impressed with their performance. Our top two recommended criminal record background checking sites are:
Instant CheckMate is a super-fast background checking service. In our tests, no other site could turn around a search faster. But those impressive speeds did not come at the expense of accuracy. Instant CheckMate was still able to produce accurate and detailed reports. It could even cope with wrong or misleading information. This combination of speed and accuracy is a real USP.
You can manage all your Instant CheckMate searches on their desktop dashboard or mobile apps. Both of these are well designed and simple to navigate. Customer support is decent and the user-experience with Instant Checkmate leaves you with the impression that the customer is at the heart of everything they do, which is not always the case with some sites.
Prices start at $34.78 per month but can drop as low as $27.82 per month for a three-month deal. This is a little higher than some of their rival sites but if you need fast results and want to be confident in their accuracy, you won’t go far wrong with Instant CheckMate.
TruthFinder offers one of the most comprehensive and detailed background checking services of any site we tested. As the name suggests, this site is focused on accuracy and this is reflected in its impressive algorithms, that can generate accurate information from a bare minimum amount of information and cope with an impressive amount of wrong or misleading information being input. The data it churns out is presented in impressive reports which are surprisingly easy to read despite their detail.
A one-month subscription to TruthFinder costs $27.78 or you can pay just $23.02 for two months. This is for their basic package that includes a full criminal record check including sex offender registers, driving records, and deferred adjudications.
If you want to pay a little more for their premium package, you will receive every record it can find. This even includes hard-copy records from county courts, which will be sourced by a runner. Managing Truthfinder searches can be done via their desktop dashboard or mobile apps for iOS and Android. Both look great and are easy to use. Prices are extremely reasonable too making TruthFinder another compelling proposition.
Can Fingerprint background checks lead to false positives?
In theory, your fingerprint is unique and a fingerprint background check should result in criminal records belonging to you, and only you, being returned as part of the check.
However, there is one problem with these checks and it lies again with the data being searched rather than the fingerprinting itself.
Fingerprint records are made every time you have been arrested. But the records do not specify the outcome of the case. There is no way for an employer to see whether or not you were charged, never mind whether you were actually found guilty or not.
The absence of this information means that if your prospective employer wants to find out more, they will have to do further research, This will usually involve running a regular background check. This does beg the question of why they would bother with a fingerprint check in the first place.
But the problem is that many will not do this additional research. They will see your record contains details of an offense and presume guilt without stopping to think that you might have been wrongly arrested or acquitted in court. This is a big problem with the promotion of fingerprint background checks as being infallible when they clearly aren’t.
How can you correct information that might falsely appear on a fingerprint check?
If you know that a job you are applying for will require you to submit to a fingerprint background check, and you know you have been arrested or acquitted of an offense that is likely to show up, what are your options?
The first thing you should do is checking your own criminal record to see clearly what information about you is held in the public domain.
The best way to do this is by running a regular background check on yourself. Public background checking sites are available for anyone to use. They have access to much of the same criminal record information as professional checking sites and more than most fingerprint record checks.
Importantly, a public background checking site will reveal more information about your record than a fingerprint check. Rather than just revealing that you were arrested for an offense, it will show the outcome of the case and whether you were acquitted or released without charge.
Running a background check on yourself is surprisingly straightforward. In fact, the toughest part of the process us choosing which site to use. But we can help you there too.
What to do if you have to submit to a fingerprint background check?
If your dream job requires you to submit to a fingerprint background check, you really have no choice but to do so. But if you know that check is likely to reveal some information about your criminal history and you are worried it might be seen out of context, you can take steps to address this issue.
By running a background check on yourself, using one of our two recommended public background checking sites, you can see exactly what information is held about your criminal past in the public domain.
Remember that professional background checks are governed by various laws and regulations. These explicitly state that employers cannot consider any criminal records that are more than seven years old. In some states, local laws have made this even less. So, if your record is older than that, you can be fairly confident your boss won’t find anything out.
If it is more recent, by running a background check, you have evidence to prove that your fingerprint record was related to a case that was dismissed or an arrest that never led to a charge. Being upfront about the situation and providing your prospective boss with the facts will prevent any misunderstandings further down the line.
If you were convicted of an offense, you will also have the opportunity to be upfront and honest about the fact and explain any mitigating circumstances.
Knowledge is power, they say, and if you know what your background check will show before your new employers do, you can manage the situation much better and increase your prospects of getting the job.
Fingerprint criminal background checks are increasingly seen as the new gold standard for criminal history checks. But as we have explained in this article, the opposite is the case.
Fingerprint background checks can easily result in information being missed and other data being revealed out of context. In this guide, we have explained why that is and what information you can expect a fingerprint check to reveal.
We have also given you some tips on how to approach a fingerprint background check, including running a regular background check on yourself first to enable you to control the narrative around any criminal record you may have.
Have you ever had to take a fingerprint background check? Did it reveal misleading information or cost you the chance of a job? What did you do about it? It is always helpful to hear the views and experiences of all our readers, so please do share yours with us today using the comment box below.