Why Fingerprint Checks Aren’t As Accurate As You Think

September 18, 2019
Checkr Editor

There’s been a flood of conversation about the use of name-based background checks vs fingerprint checks in the media recently, particularly in the context of the ridesharing industry. But while fingerprinting has long been considered the gold standard of identifying criminal records, the approach has drawbacks that many employers aren’t aware of.

Below, we’ve outlined three key reasons why fingerprinting falls short and why companies should rely on name-based checks instead.

What are fingerprint searches?

If you’ve ever watched a crime TV show, you’ve likely seen detectives quickly running someone’s fingerprints through a futuristic computer to identify and nab a criminal. However, as exciting as that does sound, in reality, those complete databases don’t exist. The searches returned in an FBI Identification Record only contain information tied to arrests, federal employment, naturalization, or military service (times when an individual would have been fingerprinted). This means there’s a large percentage of people who’ve never been fingerprinted and are out of the system entirely.

What are name-based searches? Meanwhile, name-based searches use personally identifiable information (PII), including the person’s name, date of birth, social security number, and driver’s license number, to search for criminal history and other information. Since they use PII, they can look more broadly for information using national and local sources. How do fingerprint searches stack against name-based searches?While both name-based searches and fingerprint-based approaches have their pros and cons, it’s widely accepted among background check experts that name-based searches are the preferred method of conducting background checks for employment-related or tenant screening purposes. The primary exception is for industries and locations that require fingerprint checks by law, and even then, they should be used to supplement, not replace, name-based searches. You should consider the following when comparing fingerprinting to name-based searches:

1. Comprehensiveness

A fingerprint search only reflects information received by the FBI from states and municipalities. When you use the FBI database, you’ll find information collected when a suspect was arrested and fingerprinted, which doesn’t apply to 100% of the information in a background check.

2. Accuracy

According to research by the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), FBI database information can take as long as 24 days to report, and court disposition information can take over a month. This means that information in the FBI database may not be as up-to-date as information from a CRA. And unlike pre-employment background checks, FBI records are not affected by consumer protection laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). They often lack personally identifiable information (PII), such as full name and date of birth. If this PII is missing, it becomes difficult to ensure the FCRA’s standard of maximum possible accuracy of records, which increases litigation risk.

3. Turnaround time

For pre-employment background screenings, turnaround time is essential. As you support your candidates’ placement and onboarding schedules, you generally don’t want to wait any longer than necessary for sources to return information. But another often overlooked difference between name-based and fingerprint background checks is access to fingerprinting facilities. Because name-based background checks don’t require the physical submission of biometric data, they introduce much less friction into the onboarding process. As a result, FBI fingerprinting can take longer than name-based checks—which on average take three to five days to complete—in some cases, even weeks. So while fingerprint checks may be used in certain industries, they shouldn’t be your only source of information. Name-based searches return more comprehensive data than fingerprints, are completed faster, and ensure the maximum possible accuracy of records. To learn more about fingerprint checks, visit our help center.

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