6 Dangers of DIY Background Checks

Karen Axelton
May 13, 2024
4 min read

Background checks can help employers make informed hiring decisions and mitigate risk. Using a low-cost or free people-search website to perform your own background checks may seem like a quick and easy way to save money. However, using online people search sites can deliver incomplete or inaccurate information, expose you to legal liability as these sites are generally not meant for employment purposes, and cost you qualified candidates.

Keep reading to learn six risks of using people-search websites for background checks—and the benefits of partnering with a qualified third-party provider instead.

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Whether you conduct background checks in-house or use a third-party provider, you must follow all relevant federal, state, and local laws regulating background screening. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs how employers can gather and use information from background checks in making hiring decisions. A web of state and local screening laws may also impact your background check process; hiring in multiple locations can be especially complex.

Using data from people-search websites for background checks may expose your organization to legal liability because many of these websites explicitly state the information they provide cannot legally be used for employment-related decisions. You can safeguard your organization by working with an FCRA-compliant consumer reporting agency (CRA) that supports compliance with local, state, and federal hiring laws.

2. Limited search scope

People-search websites typically comb a variety of public records and other publicly available information to generate their data. These may include court records, criminal records, property records, social media sites, Census or voter registration records, address and phone number information, and data purchased from data brokers. However, the information people-search sites collect is often incomplete.

People-finder websites typically search only digital public records, but in many jurisdictions, criminal or court records are not digitized. In addition, state laws may restrict public access to court records, criminal records, and other documents typically used in background checks. For example, state criminal records are open to the public in Wisconsin, but in California they can only be accessed by law enforcement, certain employers and regulatory agencies, or the individual involved. 

For comprehensive background checks, consider partnering with a qualified CRA with access to network of data sources, to ensure accurate and up-to-date results including federal, state, and county court records, credit reports, and more.

3. Unverified information

Data from people-search websites may be outdated or inaccurate. Typically, these sites use algorithms to search online public records and aggregate data, but do not use human review to verify its accuracy. How often a data source updates its records, the search criteria used, and individuals’ privacy settings may all affect the accuracy of search results. A recent academic study found at least one error in each of 101 criminal records reports purchased from people-search sites. Records for people with the same names and birthdates are often combined, creating errors.  

When conducting criminal background checks, FCRA-compliant background check providers use a wide variety of reliable data sources and employ human review to deliver the greatest possible accuracy. Employment screening providers also give candidates the opportunity to dispute data they believe is inaccurate or outdated. People-search sites, in contrast, typically make it difficult for individuals to dispute or remove inaccurate information.

4. Discrimination claims

Most people-finder sites search social media profiles for information about individuals. However, laws in many states limit employers’ access to employees’ and candidates’ social media accounts. Using information from social media in background checks may not only violates these laws, but may also expose you to workplace discrimination claims if you deny employment to someone in a protected class.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion, age, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, and pregnancy—many of which are revealed on social media profiles. Qualified CRAs won’t use social media when conducting background checks, helping to protect your business from legal liablity and reputational harm.

5. Biased adjudication

Employers must review the results of background checks against their hiring policies to decide whether a candidate is eligible for hire. If information in a background check report isn’t legally reportable, it could bias this adjudication process. Using people-search sites for background checks may show results that can’t legally be considered, such as records of non-convictions.

Sorting out federal, state, and local employment laws regarding what you can consider during adjudication is complex and prone to human error. If a candidate’s arrest record is reported, there may be an unconscious bias against them. Checkr supports fair adjudication through platform tools, like Assess, which reduces bias by up to 90% while drastically reducing the manual review process.

6. Candidate dropoff

Using an online people finder for background screenings can cause slow turnaround times. Manually requesting background checks from various people-search sites, monitoring progress, and compiling information is time-consuming and error-prone. Background check bottlenecks may prompt candidates to drop out, leaving key positions unfilled and negatively affecting your bottom line.

When you partner with a qualified background screening service, you can improve the candidate experience. Checkr’s data network delivers rapid results89% of all criminal checks, including county searches, complete in under one hour. Automated workflows and seamless integration into your existing ATS and HRIS platforms save your team time and effort, too. Our candidate-friendly workflows and support provide clear communication, visibility into the status of their screenings, and answers to their questions.

Get fast, compliant employment background checks with Checkr

DIY background checks using people-search sites can deliver inaccurate or incomplete results that expose you to legal liability, discrimination claims, and more. A qualified background check, like Checkr, can help you conduct comprehensive background checks with fast, accurate results, while mitigating risk. Checkr offers multiple background screening options with industry-leading turnaround times and built-in tools to support compliance for peace of mind. Get started.

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The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

Karen Axelton writes about business topics and best practices. She has written hundreds of articles on business subjects, including background screening, hiring and employment trends, human resource management, and the use of technology in the workplace. Her work includes educational articles, e-books, white papers, and case studies.

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