Who is Watching Your Children? Why ‘National Background Checks’ Do Not Exist

February 3, 2016 - 2 minutes read

The case of a nanny accused of stealing from a Boston couple has refocused our attention on the necessity for quality background checks.  Whether it’s the people we let into our homes, or even our country, we expect background checks to protect us from criminals and people with evil intent.

The problem is no background check is perfect. The usefulness of the information collected depends on two important factors – the thoroughness of the investigators and the accuracy of the information in the record.

The ubiquitous online services are little more than search engines, and are not for anyone serious about discovering details of an individual’s background.  Other services overpromise, such as making claims to a “national background check.”  The reality is no such thing exists.

The FBI is the only agency that maintains a national criminal database, and it is available only to law enforcement agencies. Even that database is flawed, capturing about 55 percent of all the records across the country.

What are your best options for background checks?

  1. Select a firm with direct access to individual state criminal records databases. Not all states are openly available online.  In Massachusetts, for example, a firm must be authorized by the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services to search the Criminal Offender Record Information system.
  2. Use a firm with trained investigators who review the information for potential gaps or inconsistencies. Do not accept a computer-generated search labeled as a report if the results have not been analyzed by an investigator.
  3. Understand that not all information on a person exists online. Government offices, from town halls to courthouses, contain important paper records that should be discovered and interpreted.
  4. If it’s important enough to do a background check – new nanny, employee, etc. – its important enough to spend the money for a thorough, responsible search. In this case, you really do get what you pay for.

A quality background check will help us spot past behaviors that may indicate a reason not to welcome an individual into our home or organization.  A low-cost, automated search that promises more than it can deliver may result in preventable heartache and loss.