Skip to main content
Join Now
Magnifying glass set on a resume.

< Back to All

The Hidden Dangers of Free Online Background Check Services

October 8, 2023

In this day and age it is hard to believe, but there are still so many employers who either don’t run employment background checks on applicants/employees, or they use free online systems without considering the pitfalls of relying on these free sites.

Even when using a state system, such as ICHAT, you might not get the most up-to-date information. How can that be? Afterall, that is a state system, right? Various records are “owned” by state courts, while others are at the county or federal level. While you may find some federal information at the state and/or county level, not all information from the federal level is communicated to the states and counties, which is why a separate federal check is available. In addition, not all counties report to the state, and the state may not communicate back to the counties. Even when the various courts do share information, there is no guarantee on how long it will take to get the updated information.

It is for those reasons that both state checks, where available, and county checks are run concurrently. The county check is typically the most up to date, but not always. If federal information is not shared with the state and county, your applicant/employee could have records that you won’t know about if you don’t check at the federal level.

When you check directly from on online system, the information is going straight to you without any type of validation process. Even when it appears on the surface that a record does belong to your applicant, there could be information in the court files that shows otherwise.

Examples of issues with free online systems are documented in a settlement between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and two “people-search” services. The FTC listed in its complaint that the service was making millions of dollars on their business which was engaged in illegal activities and deceptive marketing practices. The FTC governs the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and the FTC stated the companies were in violation of the FCRA by:

  • Making claims that their reports are the most accurate available, but the information they provided was from third parties whose disclaimers stated that they do not take any action to verify the information is accurate.
  • Reports have listed criminal/arrest records for people who do not have such records, or only have traffic violations which are minor, not criminal.
  • The companies did not follow any dispute procedures to investigate or correct any of the information that was not correct. Instead, they stated that the end user could “remove” or “flag as inaccurate” the information in question.

Users of these services assume that online companies can be trusted because of the type of information they provide. This is a false assumption that can lead to costly problems for employers.

Employment background checks are important for many reasons. End-users have the responsibility to know what is required of them in using information for employment decisions and ensuring that they are obtaining the information from a legally compliant source.


By Susan Chance, courtesy of SBAM-approved partner, ASE.


Click here for more News & Resources.

Share On: