Types of Background Checks

10 Types of Background Checks You Need To Know About

Last updated on May 9, 2021

Background checks are done to verify certain information about an individual and establish that they are who and what they claim to be.

There may be different levels of background checks that you would like to conduct. On a personal level, you might just want to make sure that new next-door neighbors don’t have any criminal history and that it’s safe to let your child go over there on a playdate. When it comes to national security, background checks are used to verify a person’s suitability to carry a firearm, while employers increasingly use background checks to make sure a person’s claims about their education and employment histories are true and they are a suitable candidate for the position.

All background checks work in the same way, but the type of information they seek to uncover varies depending on the situation. In this article, we’re going to look at 10 types of background checks, why they are performed, and what they can reveal.

The 10 Types of Background Checks You Need To Know About

#1 Employment Background Checks

Most of us will be exposed to this type of background check at some point in our lives and these are the kind of background checks that probably cause the most sleepless nights. If you’ve been honest on your resume, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, but any lies or half-truths are liable to be exposed, losing you the job opportunity.

Background checks done on job candidates examine the following:

  • Academic qualifications
  • Employment history
  • Criminal history
  • Social security number verification
  • Social media profiles

Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, prospective employers may also check on any driving violations or even request access to your credit rating.

Some of the biggest headaches for job candidates is the thought of employers scrolling through their Facebook feed and coming across images of any less than professional behavior. There’s nothing worse than a drunken college party coming back to haunt you! For others, wondering if their medical marijuana card will show up on an employment background check is enough to spark a serious case of insomnia.

One of the best ways of preparing yourself for an employment background check is to use an online background check service to see exactly what will show up in a background check. By performing a background check on yourself, you’ll be able to identify any potential problem areas and deal with them like, for example, removing those incriminating posts from your favorite social media site or correcting the title of your degree so it’s consistent with the one on your graduation certificate.

If you want a smooth employment background check experience, the best advice is to make sure the details on your resume are accurate and factual – any temptation to bulk up your resume or tweak your employment history to improve your chances will inevitably backfire if your prospective employer does decide to run a background check.

#2 Criminal Background Checks

Criminal background checks form a part of the employment background check process, with over 80% of prospective employers looking for any indication that a candidate could damage the company’s reputation or jeopardize the safety of its customers or other employees. This isn’t the only role criminal background checks play, however, and they are also used in other circumstances.

If you’ve applied to adopt a child, for example, the adoption agency will want to verify that you don’t have any criminal history that might put that child in danger. Similarly, if you want to join the military or purchase a firearm, you will also be subjected to a criminal background check.

The most thorough criminal background checks will investigate state, county, and national court records as well as sex offender registries. While a misdemeanor committed over a decade ago shouldn’t show up on a criminal history, it’s well worth mentioning it before the background check process begins.

Similarly, according to Bob Camire, head of human resources at New England Document Systems, “blue-collar crimes, like drug or alcohol-related offenses and motor vehicle issues, aren’t automatic disqualifiers unless the position is for a driver or safety-related position”.

If you are concerned that an incident from your past might rear its ugly head during a criminal background check, it’s advisable to use an online background check service like BeenVerified, for example, to do a bit of digging for you.

Although some services will charge extra for services like court running, where an individual physically goes to the establishment to review specific documents, it’s a lot cheaper and quicker than trying to do it independently.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most employers allow job candidates to explain anything that crops up during a criminal background check so being honest and upfront from the beginning is the best approach.

#3 Professional License Background Checks

This type of background check is like an investigation into your academic achievements or other professional qualifications. Certain industries are required to verify that an individual does have the necessary qualifications and is licensed to perform a specific duty. These industries include:

  • Contractors such as electricians, plumbers, and builders
  • Financial services, including accounting, real estate, financial planning, insurance, and banking
  • Educational institutes including administrators, teachers, and professors
  • Healthcare workers, including doctors, pharmacists, dentists, therapists, nurses, and counselors
  • Legal services such as lawyers and legal secretaries

In most instances, professional licenses are area-specific so prospective employers must perform this type of background check to verify that the candidate is licensed to work in that state, as well as a specific field. Professional licenses are verified by contacting the relevant agency or state and verifying both the type of license, who issued it, the date it was issued on and the date of expiry if applicable.

#4 Universal and ATF Background Checks

Anyone purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer or manufacturer is subjected to a universal background check to make sure they are eligible to purchase and own a firearm. This is sometimes referred to as an ATF background check as it is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and it’s responsible for licensing gun dealers.

Individuals are refused the right to own a firearm if they have:

  • Been convicted of a particular crime or misdemeanor
  • Committed a felony
  • An open arrest warrant pending
  • Been convicted of domestic violence
  • A history of mental health issues that disqualify them

Currently, the law allows for the private sale of firearms to take place without a background check being processed via the National Instant Background Check System (NICS), although there were some murmurings about extending the current law to include all sales, private or licensed.

Although it seems that most Americans are in favor of universal background checks being more, well, universal, it seems to be a sticking point for the current administration. According to several recent studies, “background checks would have a limited effect on gun deaths, whether homicides or suicides”.

Others, however, indicate that states where ATF background checks are already required for all gun sales “resulted in homicide rates 15% lower than states without such laws”. A researcher at Boston University’s School of Public Health, Michael Siegel, says, “The average firearm homicide rate in states without background checks is 58% higher than the average in states with background-check laws in place. As of 2017, only 13 states, including Massachusetts, had laws requiring universal background checks”.

Currently, universal background checks access three different sources to verify that an individual can be trusted with a firearm. These sources are:

  • Interstate Identification Index: anyone charged with a felony or misdemeanor has their fingerprints submitted to this federal system
  • National Crime Information Center: contains details of terrorists, fugitives, and individuals subjected to domestic violence protection orders
  • NICS Index: a collection of state, federal, and tribal data containing information that may disqualify an individual and that isn’t available elsewhere.

An ATF background check is performed in a matter of minutes and, in over 90% of cases, is completed almost immediately. In instances where this type of background check takes a little longer, because an individual has a long criminal history, for example, the FBI has just three days to complete the check. If the seller hasn’t heard back from them within this time, they can continue with the sale.

#5 Personal Background Checks

There are many reasons people perform these types of background checks, one of which, as we mentioned earlier, is to find out what information an employment background check might reveal. Other reasons for performing a personal background check with a service like BeenVerified or TruthFinder include:

  • Reconnecting with old school friend or a lost loved one
  • Checking out a possible roommate
  • Investigating an online date
  • Confirming the identity of an online merchant or customer
  • Discovering the truth about a new neighbor
  • Checking the new mom in your carpool doesn’t have any prior traffic violations

These services aren’t free, but they do dig up some information that it’s difficult to find independently, they also perform these background checks in a matter of minutes, when the same information could take weeks or even months to uncover on your own.

Although online background checks may not be as accurate as some of the other types of background checks we’ve discussed so far, but some, like TruthFinder for instance, produce reports full of the most accurate and up-to-date information available.

When performing a personal background check, it’s worth bearing in mind that some information contained in the report may not be 100% accurate or might be unverified. If you’re concerned about someone new in your life, however, and want more information to give you a better perspective, a personal background check is a great place to start. Just remember, you could find out some uncomfortable truths – about yourself or someone close to you – so make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected.

#6 Credit Background Checks

These types of background checks are usually performed as part of an employment background check and most commonly, in instances where the position demands a certain level of financial responsibility.

Having said that, a survey performed by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners indicated that out of the 95% of companies performing employment background checks, 16% also conducted some type of financial or credit check.

In some instances, just having a high level of debt could reduce your chances of securing that position for the simple reason that employers may feel that “if you are in financial distress, you may be susceptible to bribery.”

While credit background checks are usually done on candidates applying for a managerial position or one that requires some money handling, like a store clerk or accountant, you rarely see someone turned down on the basis of their credit report alone. On the other hand, if you’re up to your eyeballs in debt and apply for the position of chief financial officer, chances are, your application won’t be successful.

According to David Sawyer, president of the background screening company Safer Places Inc., credit checks are simply another way of verifying an individual’s identity and is more of “A security step than a financial issue”.

Before anyone can conduct a credit background check, they must first get the individual’s consent, which means they can’t surprise you by digging around in your financial history without your permission. A credit report usually includes basic information about the individual, such as name and address, and then details financial information such as:

  • Car loans
  • Mortgages
  • Credit cards
  • Late payments
  • Bankruptcies
  • Outstanding loans, including student loans

Should a potential employer decide to reject you based on your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) dictates that they must both notify you and include a copy of the report used in its decision-making process so it can be reviewed and disputed if incorrect.

#7 International Background Checks

Of all the types of background checks around, international ones are some of the most time-consuming and complicated. Each country has different rules regarding how personal information is handled and this can make getting access to the relevant information somewhat challenging.

International background checks are usually performed as part of the pre-employment screening process and generally only in instances where a candidate has spent a significant amount of time living or working overseas.

As there is no global database, prospective employers will have to check records in each of the countries the candidate lived in. The type of information depends on the employer, but most will target the same categories as a standard employment background check, namely, verification of qualifications and academic achievements, criminal history, work history, and credit reports.

It can be very difficult getting access to all the information required as some countries have strict privacy rules dictating who can access financial information, for example, while others will come up against a language barrier that effectively stops them in their tracks.

Few online background check companies offer international searches, although some credit reporting agencies offer this service to prospective employers. Because of their complexity, international background checks tend to take a little longer than domestic ones and experts say.

#8 OIG Background Checks

For many of us, these types of background checks are some of the most important, even though we will probably never be subjected to one. Within the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is responsible for maintaining a list of excluded individuals and entities (LEIE) designed to prevent individuals who have committed health-related crimes from working in any federally funded institution or program.

This is one of the few types of background checks that is done free of charge and many employers use the OIG background check process to make sure the person they’re about to hire hasn’t performed any health-related or medical crimes. Individuals are placed on the OIG’s exclusion list for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Patient neglect or abuse
  • Medicare or Medicaid fraud
  • Midsomer convictions relating to drugs and other controlled substances
  • The suspension or revocation of a professional license due to incompetence, poor performance or financial fraud
  • Defaulting on a health education loan

A healthcare employer that wants to guard against negligent hiring will usually perform an OIG background check as part of a more thorough background check that includes verification of both education and employment history, a social security number validation, and a professional license background check.

An OIG background check has its limitations, however, and an audit of the OIG LEIE list performed in 2011 revealing that the “OIG exclusion list was missing up to 61% of existing state Medicaid exclusions”. A review performed by the OIG also indicated that some states are “hampered by a lack of legislative authority” that prevents them from fully implementing the necessary background check requirements.

Experts are now recommending that all employers in the healthcare industry not only vet their employees before hiring them but regularly throughout their employment. The latest best practice recommends conducting monthly OIG background checks on all staff as well as monitoring all the Medicaid exclusion lists.

#9 Fingerprint Background Checks

These types of background checks are just glorified criminal checks, but rather than using your name to find out about your criminal history, it uses a fingerprint. The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) was launched 10 years ago and now contains over 70 million sets of fingerprints, most of which have been submitted by law enforcement agencies.

Like a criminal background check, a fingerprint background check is usually done in conjunction with other checks and verification processes. It is mandatory for candidates applying for a position at an airport, school, host rial, fire department or other government-run institution to undergo a fingerprint background check. In some professions, a fingerprint check is done before a professional license is awarded while casino workers, for example, are often subjected to a fingerprint check before employment.

Although many tend to assume a fingerprint check is more accurate than a standard criminal check for the simple reason that no two people can have the same fingerprints, there are still some weaknesses in this type of background check. While the IAFIS database includes information on anyone who’s legally bought a firearm, been fingerprinted in association with criminal activity, or applied for a job that required a fingerprint background check, it’s still surprisingly limited. 70 million sets of fingerprints sound like a lot until you consider the population of America is nearly 330 million, in which case, its less than a quarter of Americans’ fingerprints are stored in the IAFIS.

Furthermore, although fingerprints taken in connection with criminal activity are linked to the arrest records, these don’t include the outcome of the case which means the employer must dig even deeper to find out if a candidate was arrested but not convicted. Nevertheless, fingerprint background checks have their uses, but they’re not necessarily any more thorough than a name-based criminal background check.

#10 E-Verify Background Checks

This type of background check is done using a web-based system that enables employers enrolled in the system to verify the identity and eligibility of recently hired employees. While this is a voluntary program, federal contractors are required to use it to “electronically verify the employment eligibility of employees working under covered federal contracts”.

Some employers may be required to participate in the system if they are based in a state where legislation requires the mandatory use of E-Verify for business licenses, for example. Although E-Verify is like the mandatory Form I-9 process of identity verification, it goes a little further, requiring both a photo ID and a social security number for each employee.

There has been talk of E-Verify extending its services to include immigration status so businesses can be alerted should they have inadvertently hired an undocumented worker. Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, has been advocating such a move since he came into office, “citing examples of violence and crime committed by undocumented immigrants as a rationale for the program”.

A spokesperson for the American Business Immigration Coalition, Rebecca Shi, has her doubts that such a system would be effective, however, saying that those committing crimes “will not be penalized by E-Verify because they’re not the ones cleaning hotel rooms at Disney or picking strawberries in Plant City, Florida”.

As it stands, E-Verify is a fast and effective way of verifying your employees are eligible to work in the  US while the move to use it to clamp down on illegal workers is facing serious opposition from construction, tourism, and agricultural industries.


While no one would want to see someone with a history of domestic violence acquiring a firearm nor an unlicensed doctor securing a job in a government hospital, there are some concerns that some types of background checks might impinge on an individual’s right to privacy.

There are some legal requirements in place to protect what information a prospective employer can access about you, if someone did a background check on you and found private information that influenced their decision to deny you the job, it would be very difficult to prove in a court of law. For instance, if you don’t have the highest privacy settings protecting your social media profile, an employer could find information that they aren’t legally entitled to view, but makes them decide against employing you.

There are many different types of background checks and the 10 discussed here are some of the most common ones. Refusing a background check isn’t the best protocol, especially not if you want to be considered for a job, so running a background check on yourself is probably the best way of ensuring you know exactly what information is out there and what it says about you, in both a personal and professional context.

Now at least you know about some of the most common types of background checks, some of the controversies surrounding them, and the situations they are used in. Don’t forget, checking out a person using an online background check is perfectly legal and could help protect you and your loved ones. Why not give the best background check services a whirl and see what skeletons fall out of your closet?

Article comments