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How to Perform a National Criminal Background Check Online

Checking someone’s criminal background is often the first step in granting a variety of licenses, sending out a job offer, or even renting an apartment. Getting a national criminal background check is a fast and straightforward way to find out if someone has been arrested, and if so, what crimes they were accused of. It’s a standard part of the hiring process for a number of companies, and you can run one yourself using a number of reliable online background check services.

There are multiple ways to check on someone’s criminal background. The best is to join a service that scans national databases that include arrest, criminal, and often sex offender registries. The best background check services deliver all of this information in a single convenient package, allowing you to perform a full national criminal background check from the comfort of your own home. Some even allow you to search right from your iPhone or Android device.

Below we’ll cover all the details about how to run a national criminal background check, including what you can expect to find on these checks, and which services offer the most information for the lowest price.

Basics of criminal and background checks

Criminal background checks are par for the course as far as many are concerned. Even if you have arrests on your record there’s no reason to worry about a potential employer or landlord looking through your history. Here’s what you can expect from a basic public and criminal records search through most online companies.

Criminal records

Most arrests are made available via public records. Data from correctional facilities and police precincts is easily scannable by most online background checking services, and it reveals records that include names, dates, and charges. Any convicted felonies will show up on criminal records, as will most major misdemeanor crimes. Small infractions such as parking tickets usually do not appear on criminal record searches, though this is never a guarantee.

Sex offender registries

Many background checking services include sex offender registries across the United States. Instant searches generally require both a name and date of birth match for a record to display, but the good news is they include information from all 50 states going back for years.

Civil records

Background checks usually include financial information such as bankruptcies, tax liens, lawsuits, and court judgments. Warrants out for the individual’s arrest will also appear on any background or criminal records search, along with FCRA, DPPA, and GLB complaints.

Personal data

Criminal background checks also include information about the person in question, everything from their name to recent physical addresses, spouse names, business and property ownership, etc. Common aliases also show up on background checks, as do phone numbers and date of birth.

Types of criminal background searches

There are multiple types of criminal record databases in many different countries. The United States alone keeps separate records for federal, state, and local crimes. Most of the time these databases do not communicate with each other, meaning you should run multiple types of background checks to get the information you need.

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National Criminal Database search

Many background check companies offer search results culled from the National Criminal Database. This draws from hundreds of millions of records across jurisdictions in the United States, including counties, DOC offices, courts, and offender registries in well over 3,000 counties.

The main purpose of running a National Criminal Database search is to cast a wide net to see if there are any hits on the person in question. It can point to other criminal searches that can be narrowed down by looking through other databases, making it an excellent starting point for any kind of criminal background checking.

Federal criminal search

Federal records are kept separate from public and state-level records. These jurisdictions cover federal crimes such as fraud or embezzlement, along with many infractions that cross state borders or that are committed on federally owned land. It does not include records kept at the county level or FBI/Department of Justice records.

Federal searches use the U.S. government’s criminal record system and are used for a specific type of research. Only some background checking companies include this service, but unless you suspect someone of being a federal criminal, there’s no harm in skipping this type of search.

State criminal records search

If you’re searching for someone in the United States, it might be worthwhile to check into running a state-specific criminal search. This will scan databases not available in federal or national searches, including correctional facility information and arrest records. This is especially useful in states that do not require county data to be reported larger databases.

FBI and Department of Justice records

One type of record that isn’t made available to the public includes databases maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI. This information is restricted to authorized law enforcement personnel and is never included in online background checking services.

What’s on a national criminal background check?

Getting a criminal background check run on yourself can reveal a lot of information.

National databases store a variety of content relating to your criminal and arrest history and are often used to determine employment eligibility. If you or someone else runs a criminal background check on your identity, expect the following information to show up:

  • Non-convictions from arrests, warrants, court summons, dismissed cases, and other judgements that failed to lead to a conviction.
  • Felony and major misdemeanor crimes associated with your identity that occurred in any state in the U.S.
  • Arrests from any state in the U.S. extending through your entire adult (and often juvenile) life.
  • Major changes to your credit history, such as bankruptcies.
  • Times, dates, and a list of charges relating to any arrests.

National criminal background checks can include other information, and certain pieces of data may be unavailable depending on where the individual has lived. A lot of this has to do with jurisdictional laws governing the methods of data storage. If you’re in California, for example, most county court data stays within the county, making it unavailable to national searches.

Cannabis and gun information

The legalization of marijuana has started spreading across the globe. Countries from Canada to Venezuela have started decriminalizing both recreational and medical use of the plant. States within the U.S. have been slow to follow suit, however, which is why some employment agencies still request drug tests before hiring new recruits.

Unless you have been arrested for drug possession or distribution, cannabis use will not be a factor on your background check. Only arrests and criminal uses are relevant as far as this is concerned. However, separate drug tests may be conducted in addition to running a criminal background check. For more information, see our article on cannabis background screening.

Gun background checks are also separate from national criminal background checks. As is the case with cannabis, nothing gun related will show up on a standard background check unless you were arrested for illegally carrying a firearm or other gun-specific crimes. Find out more in our featured guide about how to run a gun check report.

Do you have to submit to a criminal background check?

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the legality of background checks and national criminal data searches, especially when it comes to employer screening. While the laws vary state by state and country by country, the general idea is this: anyone has the right to search public records and obtain information about your identity, including yourself.

If you are asked specific questions about a criminal history, you are not required to answer. There’s nothing stopping interested parties from checking databases to uncover the information themselves, however, sometimes even without your permission.

Finding the best background check services online

Whether you’re about to run a background check for a job or just want to see what information is kept about you on public records, it’s a good idea to join a background checking service that can scan and collect the data for you.

But what should you look for in a reliable background check service? There’s a lot to consider, and some factors are more important than others, especially when it comes to getting criminal data. We created the list below to help you refine your search to discover only the top background checking services online. We used the same criteria to make our recommendations in the next section.

  • Accuracy – You need to be able to rely on the data you receive. If a service doesn’t include updated information, your search will be pointless.
  • Criminal databases – Which criminal records does the background checking service include in each search? More is always better.
  • Design – Does your background check service deliver information in an easy to understand format, or is it nearly impossible to read?
  • Speed – You need a service that delivers information instantly or you’ll be waiting forever to finish the recruitment process.

Online services to check criminal backgrounds

Below, we cover the best 4 background checking sites for looking into criminal backgrounds:

1 – Instant CheckMate

Instant CheckMate is a fast and reputable records searching service that lets you run online background checks with just a few clicks. Use it to comb through arrest reports, criminal records, known aliases, financial history, previous jobs, and even educational backgrounds, all in a matter of seconds. Information is delivered instantly through an easy to use web interface or on mobile apps for convenient access anywhere you go.

Using Instant CheckMate to run a background or criminal check is as straightforward as typing in a name and location. ICM sources its data from real public records and organizes everything into detailed but straightforward reports. Enjoy unlimited searches with every subscription plan, and if you ever need help with a search or feature, 24/7 customer support is always on hand.

SPECIAL DEAL: Join Instant CheckMate at a unique discounted rate with our exclusive bargain. Search through criminal records, phone numbers, physical addresses, and so much more, all in an instant.

2 – TruthFinder

TruthFinder offers incredibly deep and detailed background checks and criminal history reports, all for a fair monthly price. You’ll gain instant access to everything from sex offender registries to driving records, arrest data, contact information, financial history, educational background, and employment records. You can also search through deep and dark web information or social media data to see what else shows up on a public search.

Most background and criminal record checking companies let you search thousands of public record sources, but few present the information in an easy to understand way. TruthFinder delivers the data you need in smart reports that anyone can read in an instant. No need to stare at complicated spreadsheets for hours on end, just run a check and your data is available, nice and easy.

DEEP DISCOUNT: Our exclusive deal with TruthFinder offers sizeable discounts on new subscriptions. Sign up today and enjoy unlimited background searches and full access to public criminal records.

3 – Intelius

Intelius delivers accurate and easy to understand information gathered from countless public sources, including criminal databases. Subscription plans offer just the right set of features you need, including instant access to background checks and unlimited searches through countless sources such as sex offender registries, criminal background databases, and more. As soon as you join you’ll be able to look through arrest reports, social network data, financial information, educational backgrounds, and much more, all from the convenience of your own home.


National criminal background checks comb through a variety of local and national information sources to gather as much data about a person as possible. While these searches are far from comprehensive, they do offer a reliable means of pinning down arrest and criminal reports for certain people, letting you hone in on more detailed reports as efficiently as possible.

Are you experienced with national criminal background checks? Share your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comments section below.

Got a good story about running a background check on yourself? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

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