More and more people are making use of online background checking service these days for all sorts of reasons. And as their popularity grows, so too does the number of sites offering a background checking service. Competition is a good thing in any market, but it does come with a few pitfalls too, especially online.
With this surge in public interest, a number of free services have popped onto the market, leading many users to ask why they should pay for something that they can get elsewhere for free. Unfortunately, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. In fact, there can be serious risks involved with handing your information over to a free site.
So, should you use free background checking services? Below, we’ll cover the general pros and cons of cost-free companies, then show why you should prioritize value for money over spending as little as possible.
What Is a Background Checking Site?
Essentially, background checking sites are research services. More specifically, they have developed the technology and methods needed to comb through the public domain in order to produce a comprehensive look into a person’s background. Your search subject can be anyone living in the US, from an odd neighbor to a long-lost family member to a flirtatious coworker. Background checking sites can provide a compelling insight into a several facets of a person’s life, including their financial history, employment history, criminal records, address history, social media presence, education, and more.
Because most of this information has now been digitized, background checking sites can run these searches automatically. It requires some quite high-tech research software to scour through the millions of different data sets that are available, but the best sites can now run these checks in just a few minutes while still delivering impressive accuracy and detail. Several companies even offer premium search upgrades, which parse everything from the deep web to physical (non-digitized) archives.
How Much Does a Background Checking Service Cost?
Subscription fees between different background checking sites can vary considerably. Affordable sites start at just under $10 a month, with premium services commanding $30 or more. This range excludes lower-quality websites that are more likely to waste your time or mishandle your personal information. The industry standard dictates unlimited searches for users paying a subscription fee, as well as price proration for multi-month subscriptions.
Generally, the best background checking sites neither charge too much, nor too little. Overpaying does not guarantee a superior service, while opting for free sites to save a buck can end up counterproductive. More on that below.
The Limitations of Free Background Checking Sites
If you are thinking about using a free background checking site, please first take these issues into consideration:
Free background checking sites will never be able to offer access to the comprehensive array of data sources available through paid services. Yes, even the best sites source data from the public domain, but still charge you for the trouble. Why? Open sources are not necessarily free sources of information, and even established companies must pay fees to access many archives. Your subscription service will cover this cost for you.
A free service, on the other hand, is more likely avoid paying those access fees altogether. This means that their results are often restricted to local data, along with the few federal sources which can be accessed for nothing.
Paid-for background checking sites have developed advanced search methods and technology to scour the massive body of information in the public domain. The most relevant and trustworthy data sources are tapped in procuring the results in your final report. No site can guarantee 100% accuracy, but the best ones have given quality control some serious thought, and implemented effective solutions to weed out irrelevant, incorrect, or outdated information.
Free sites generally have no such infrastructure in place, and must make do pulling data from cursory, surface-level research. This increases the likelihood of returning flat-out incorrect results. The issue is particularly pronounced when searching a subject with a common name.
Poor Customer Service
Because you are not paying a fee, there is no incentive for a free background checking site to try and deliver high-quality customer service. And most don’t; free services often have no helpdesk or support service at all. Any complications you may experience running your search or making sense of the final report are yours to deal with alone.
With reputable, paid background checking sites, you’ll get the peace of mind of knowing your subscription is backed by a team that cares about the outcome of your search.
The Risks of Free Background Checking Sites
As well as compromising on the level of service and results, there are also a number of risks that are involved in using a free background checking service. Whenever any online service becomes popular, there are always dodgy characters who will try and exploit that popularity for their own financial gain. Sadly, that is also the case with background checking, and users should be aware of the following potential risks associated with free services:
Harvesting Personal Data
Data is a valuable commodity these days, and hackers will take advantage of any opportunity to get hold of it. There are some fraudulent free background checking sites which have been set up for this purpose. They will harvest your personal data (along with that of your search subject), and sell it off to the highest bidder.
Sure, this data set might be as simple as names and contact details. But, do you really want to risk things like passwords or credit card details? Needless to say, this type of site should be avoided at all costs, though it can be difficult to tell them apart from more well-intentioned services.
Installing Malware on Your Device
It’s common practice for background checking sites to offer downloadable software, which makes it easy to manage and review your search results on demand. However, unscrupulous developers will load this software down with malware, which then runs amok when installed on your device. The range of consequences can be vast, and malware could open your device up to being hijacked by hackers, being used as part of a bot net, or being harvested for personal files and data. This is clearly to be avoided at all costs.
Acting Upon False Information
Another risk that comes from using a free background checking services stems from the higher chances of obtaining incorrect data. People are often running background checks because they suspect someone of having a criminal background or being a threat to a loved one. If the data they return wrongly confirms that, people can end up making unfounded accusations which can have severe personal and even legal ramifications. Mistakes on the other end of the spectrum, where you’re led to underestimate a legitimate threat can be disastrous as well.
With free services, this desired high level of accuracy simply cannot be guaranteed. Proceed at your own risk.
What Is the Best Background Checking Site?
Unless your finances are really tight, we would suggest that, rather than seek out a free background checking site, you instead consider the best site for your needs. Given the importance of running a background check, and the risks and compromises involved in free services, those few dollars a month are almost always a sound investment. And really, you will be surprised at how affordable these services actually are.
We have tested all the main background checking sites while considering extensive customer feedback in order to form this list of core criteria, for which only the best background checking sites and can provide. Those criteria are:
- Thorough Research – The best sites will access data from the widest possible range of sources to give you as much information as possible.
- Fast Results – The best sites procure results fast, with a basic report available in just a few minutes. More comprehensive profiles can be delivered in no more than a few days.
- Accurate and Comprehensible Reports – The final report is the fruit of your efforts, so it should be clear and easy to understand, while presenting a comprehensive array of search data.
- Search Customization – In many cases, you won’t know much about your search subject. Will just a name be enough? With premium sites, powerful search technologies can return impressive results with precious little starting information.
- User-friendly dashboard – Most services offer a dashboard where users can manage their searches, but the quality of these can vary significantly. The best sites offer a dashboard which is easy to learn, simple to navigate, and offers clean, visually pleasing design.
- Mobile apps – With more people than ever using mobile devices to connect to the internet, it’s a nice plus when companies offer their own dedicated apps for Android, iOS, or both.
- Good Customer Support – Background checks are not a precise science, so you might need to ask questions about your information and results. The best services offer high-quality customer support, which can be accessed outside office hours through a number of different mediums.
Based on these main criteria, there are three background checking services which are head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest right now. None of these sites can guarantee a 100% accuracy rate on their checks, but user experience suggests that they come pretty close to that, with each having many thousands of satisfied customers already.
TruthFinder isn’t the cheapest option on the market, but it provides a tremendous bang for your buck. They offer their services in two payment tiers, so you can match your investment to your needs. At the basic rate, TruthFinder sorts through millions of different data sources ranging from criminal records to sex offender registers, driving records, personal information, data about known relatives, and more. At their premium level, they will also include information on education history, voter registration records, weapons and other licenses held, and more. As a separate add-on service, TruthFinder can also conduct a deep web research service, which scours more online sources more thoroughly than any competitor.
The Truthfinder final reports are well-presented and simple to read, despite the wealth of data it offers. Their online dashboard, too, is well-designed and easy to use. Truthfinder does only offer an Android app available at present, but iOS users can still use the dashboard on their mobile browsers. Customer support is open 24/7, and available on a toll-free number to boot.
When you visit the homepage of Instant CheckMate, you’ll be greeted by a ticker which reads well over 1 billion. That number represents the sheer volume of searches carried out by CheckMate, and stands as a testament to the longevity and popularity of their service. Research is offered at two tiers of payment. The first uncovers data such as criminal records, sex offender registers, marriage and divorce records, details of relatives, address history, and social media information. The premium subscription delves into hand-fetched court records, weapons licenses, financial history, drivers licenses, and more official information.
Like our other recommendations, CheckMate delivers terrific final reports, which are full of information yet really straightforward to read and understand. Their dashboard, too, sports an intuitive interface that makes managing your searches a breeze. Or, access your account on the go with CheckMate official Android app. Rounding out the package is an exceptional customer support line, which is open around the clock and perhaps the most responsive out of all our recommended sites.
Last but not least is Intelius, a trusted background checking site with more than 50 million searches successfully completed. Your subscription allows you to make an unlimited number of searches, which can delve into data sources like criminal history, contact details, address history, financial history, property records, educational history and many more. This wealth of information is distilled into a single clear and relevant report.
Like most other top-tier services, Intelius offers a smartly designed online dashboard from which you can freely manage your searches and reports. For access on the go, you can also download dedicated software applications for your iOS or Android device. Whenever you run into trouble, you can usually solve the problem with Intelius’s troubleshooter tool. We do wish they were a little faster to respond via other channels, but this is overall a small complaint about an otherwise incredible service.
If you are going to run a background check, you want to get it right. Unfortunately, most free services cannot always offer that guarantee. Instead, you run a greater risk of getting inaccurate results (and thus an incomplete picture of your subject), having your personal data stolen, or even having malware downloaded onto your device.
Given that the best paid-for sites only charge a few dollars a month for their reputable and comprehensive research services, it is our view that using a free background checking site amounts to a false economy. They should only really be used by those who really cannot afford a paid-for service, so long as the results are taken with a large grain of salt. Otherwise, you will get far better value for money by spending just a few dollars to utilize one of our recommended sites..
Have you ever used a free background checking service? How did you find the experience? What problems did you encounter? Were you satisfied with the results of your search? We always appreciate the thoughts and opinions of readers, so why not share them with us using the comment box below?
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. NordVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.