Background Checks: What You Need to Know


Background checks are required in many instances. These are necessary to authenticate a person’s identity, personal information such as date and place of birth, civil status, and education, as well as check on the person’s credit history, employment history, health history, and criminal record, among others. There are various types of background checks used in different cases.

Credit Screening

You must be ready to undergo a credit background check if you apply for a credit card, an auto loan, a home mortgage, and any loan. You may also have to undergo this when applying to rent an apartment. It generates a credit report showing your debt-to-income ratio, credit payment history, unpaid bills, tax liens, civil judgments, bankruptcy, and credit inquiries. However, it does not include your credit score, although a loan service provider will routinely ask for that.

Employment Screening

When you are applying for a job, you must expect this type of background check. For instance, federal or state laws can require this when you are applying for certain jobs in law enforcement, public transportation, fire departments, education, childcare, and health care, among others.

Furthermore, there is an E-Verify check that the law requires for certain federal contractors. In 22 states, this is required for some private and public employers. This means checking if the applicant is authorized to work in the U.S.

A 2019 study by HR Research Institute shows that among all employers, 96 percent conduct background screening. Unless the law mandates the check for a certain job, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the employer to first obtain the applicant’s consent in writing and inform the applicant that information from the check will be used in the hiring decision.

The employer will also ask for your personal information, address, and Social Security number. The employment check will cover your educational background, work history, license verification if applicable, certification verification if applicable, medical history, drug screening, motor vehicle reports, credit history, criminal record, and social media posts, among others.

employment screening

Checks on professional licenses and certifications are required in certain fields. These include education, health, banking, accounting, finance, real estate, home contractors, and home services for plumbing and electricals.

In checking for criminal background, they will search for your name in federal and state criminal databases, global and domestic watchlists, country criminal courts, and sex offender registries. This also includes passing your fingerprints through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). You will have to go to a government organization or an authorized fingerprint business to get your fingerprints inked or scanned. The AFIS will provide information on naturalization, federal employment, military service, and criminal history. It will also bring to light any aliases.

Universal Background Checks

This is specific to the purchase of firearms. Federal law requires all licensed firearms dealers, importers, or manufacturers to do a universal background check through the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) before ;selling to a buyer. Some gun insurance companies provide background check services to firearm dealers they cover.

The NICS combines three national databases and covers information about a person’s criminal history, mental health history, and civil orders such as restraining orders related to violence. It also includes screening for people who are in the U.S. illegally.

USA Today highlights two loopholes in the law. The first is that it only applies to licensed sellers. Hence, unlicensed ones such as private sellers need not conduct a background check on their buyers. The second is that if the licensed dealer does not receive the result of a background check within three working days, the sale can proceed without it. Two bills passed by Congress in March attempt to close these loopholes.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 or H.R. 8 requires unlicensed sellers to sell firearms only through licensed dealers required to do the background check. The Charleston Loophole Bill extends the background check period from three to 10 days. If the result is not back by then, the buyer must request the FBI to finish the investigation to get authorization to purchase.

OIG Screening

The law requires all healthcare programs federally funded to screen applicants through the list of excluded individuals and entities (LEIE) or sanctions list. This is under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and is on the OIG website.

People on the list committed crimes related to healthcare. These include felony convictions due to healthcare-related theft, fraud, other types of financial misconduct, and controlled substances. It also includes fraud and other violations of Medicaid, Medicare, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and other state-funded healthcare programs. Finally, it includes cases of patient neglect or abuse.

Personal Screening

You can vet your own screening through service providers of background checks. This will show you what results potential employers or other screeners will see. If you find errors, especially in credit reports, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Screening, after all, can go both ways.

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