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Have you ever applied for a job or taken out a loan? If so, you have most likely gone through a background check. They are used for a wide variety of purposes these days. Many government jobs require an in-depth background check, as well as any job dealing with large sums of cash or working with children. What most people don't know is that ordinary citizens have the right to obtain a background check as well. There are a variety of situations in which citizens could find the need for one, and many services exist that provide a thorough background check at a modest price.

You may wonder how the government can so accurately dig up information on criminals and terrorists. They do this by making a request to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC is the leading provider of government background checks in the United States. It is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The NCIC maintains records of criminal convictions, sex offenders, foreign fugitives from justice, people on parole or supervised release, active arrest warrants and protection orders, Secret Service alerts, and gang/terrorist membership information. The NCIC provides information to many government and security agencies. To obtain an NCIC background check, you must first obtain a consent form from the subject confirming that they agree to undergo the background check. This NCIC charges a small fee for this service. In addition, many state governments compile information on all criminals into a database. This information is generally only available to law enforcement but may be released with consent from the subject of the background check.


TIP: The Freedom of Information Act allows citizens to obtain federal criminal records, although you may only obtain the records of yourself, deceased individuals, and living individuals who have given their consent for the records to be released.

However, a great deal of information can be obtained for free. Counties are required by law to provide criminal convictions and traffic violations in a database. Some counties have created a computerized database which is accessible online for free. For other counties without such resources, you may have to visit the county courthouse in person. The same authorities will provide county auditor records. These will show you which properties have been owned by which person. They are not always searchable by name, so you may have to know the addresses of possible residences before you can confirm ownership by a certain person.


TIP: Be sure that you are obtaining a real background check and not a "database search." Database searches are notoriously unreliable and usually full of outdated information. For this reason, it is unlawful to use database searches for employment purposes in many jurisdictions.

Many private firms can carry out quite a detailed background check. These will be composed of NCIC information (if the party gives consent) and public sources. This could be obtained for free or at a lower cost, but it will be extremely time-consuming to assemble a full profile from all of these sources. Depending on how valuable your time is and what information you are looking for, a cheap background check may do the job just fine.