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how to do a background check on someone

Sometimes, it’s important to know how to do a background check on someone without them knowing. Whether a person wants to check the criminal history of a new coach, a youth pastor at a church, or a potential nanny, conducting a background check can provide peace of mind that the person is trustworthy.

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Finding public records on someone isn’t impossible, and when done for personal (not professional) reasons, it doesn’t require permission. But before using background check services to search for criminal convictions, job history, driving reports or credit information, users should know that there are many different types of background checks that can be performed, and there are some things to understand to avoid legal violations.1

All official background checks, such as those used for employment, residency, adoption or firearms purchases, require the consent of the person being searched. However, most of the information gathered in a background check report is all part of the public record. So, when conducted for personal reasons, anyone can learn how to do a background check on someone without them knowing and gain access to the same criminal history data, when done correctly.

How To Find Personal Records: Follow These Steps

In most cases, it is very simple for an individual to gather background information on someone without getting consent. To be on the safe side, everyone should know the necessary steps required to delve a little deeper into someone’s past, especially if the person is close to any loved ones.

Identity (ID) Verification Background Check

Identity verification is part of life, but when learning how to do a background check on someone without them knowing, it can be tricky. During an official background check, the process is much easier because the person has likely provided a government issued identification card (driver’s license, green card, visa, etc.) and employers and other institutions can simply perform a social security number verification check, or access official databases to verify the ID is correct.

However, when doing a personal background check, there are a few steps involved:

Step 1. Find the person’s full name (including middle name) and address.

There are a number of public record databases that can be searched to find a person’s middle name, date of birth, and address. Reverse lookup options for online background check reports can help, but it’s usually more accurate to search the partial name within the county where they live, using the comptroller’s office or county clerk’s office rather than using a free online background agency to find someone’s middle name. A free background check company isn’t always the most reliable for accuracy of the results.

For example, search Los Angeles County Clerk and choose the “.gov” link:

In this case, follow the link to the Clerk’s office website and choose “real estate” or ‘marriage’ records:

Complete the records request as outlined.

This method only works if the person being searched is a property owner or married, but there are other resources available that don’t depend on specific ownership or activity.

Step 2. Check social media accounts.

Probably one of the fastest ways to verify someone’s identity is to check online. People post all sorts of personal information to public social media profiles, and searching the name in any search engine will likely provide a number of potentials.

Step 3. Explore social media profiles and gather additional information.

The benefit of using online resources is that the background ID check can ensure that the person being checked is the same individual, hopefully with pictures and other confirmation.

Once the identity, address, date of birth and more is found and verified, criminal records can be checked and other background checks can be performed.

Criminal History Background Check Process

The FBI provides nationwide criminal history checks using the Criminal Justice Information System, but the request requires fingerprints. That doesn’t mean that a person’s criminal history can’t be checked without them knowing, it just means that the process will take more time.

Typically, the best place to find criminal records is at the local level, either the state police database or the state Court Clerk’s office. Both options provide access to criminal records, which are considered public unless the conviction has been expunged or sealed.

Follow these steps to know how to do a background check on someone without them knowing:

Step 1. Visit the state’s law enforcement and court clerk’s website.

Sometimes, both sites aren’t needed to complete the criminal records search, but it can be a good idea to use both, since the state court clerk may not have the latest arrest information, which a local law enforcement agency (like the county or city) likely will.

For example, search “Illinois State Police” and choose the official website link. Although all states will be different, Illinois offers “quick links” for criminal history searches, including sex offender registries:

Follow the link for criminal history services, and open the PDF “Background Check Guide.”

In this case, the process requires fingerprints, so instead, go back to the browser and search the Illinois Court Clerk.

A quick look through the site shows that to find criminal history and court documents by name in Illinois, searchers need to use the county court clerk option.

Step 2. Use County police and Court Clerk options.

For example, search Cook County Clerk of Courts:

Bingo. Now, simply enter name information and see results.

If this doesn’t yield results, also check the law enforcement site for Cook County (usually county’s are run by the sheriff’s office, while cities are run by police departments).

Once on the site, the following online services are available to search, using name information:

  • Incarceration records (current)
  • Animal Abuse registry
  • Sex Offender registry
  • Submit Records requests
  • Check Subpoenas

As a final option for finding criminal records, users can pay a service to conduct a background check on someone else, but steer clear of ‘free’ offers, which generally don’t offer the latest records and data.

Credit Background Checks

Credit background checks can help employers reduce the risk of fraudulent individuals being hired by an organization. Especially for roles where a person will be in charge of confidential or sensitive information from clients, a detailed vetting strategy is required.

However, this cannot be done without a person’s consent, because it requires sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers and more.

  1. Individuals and businesses alike must obtain permission and consent from the individual being investigated.
  2. Employers can use the Society for Human Resource Management to gather forms necessary to perform  background checks and credit reports.
  3. Using accounts, access either Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to legally obtain another person’s credit report (i.e. employment history, credit, tenancies, and debts).

Background Check for MVR Reports

A Motor Vehicles Report (MVR) is also considered public record, and can be requested by anyone, in most states, but there is not national database available.

Keep in mind that always checking the laws pertaining to personal information searches is a good idea, to avoid liability. Moreover, it is illegal to use public records to commit crimes, like stalking, harassment, and other violations.

The MVR report check shows the person’s driving history, license, past license statuses, vehicular crimes, traffic citations, unpaid summons and other information.

Step 1. Search “[State Name] MVR Search” in any browser.

The result will return an official state site, somewhere near the top, and this is usually the Secretary of State’s (SoS) office, Department of Motor Vehicles, or other “.gov” domain.

For example, the result for Illinois MVR reports, provides a link to the SoS’s office, driving abstract, with instructions for requesting the record.

Step 2. Follow the steps outlined for requesting another person’s MVR report.

Note: In many cases the request will require the Driver’s License number. Without the license number, many state’s won’t deliver the result, but there are some that will.

Step 3. Pay the stated fee and wait for the processing of the report.

This type of background check can be particularly useful when checking the safety record of a person who might be driving loved ones around.

Remember, none of these processes should not be used for professional reasons without consent. In other words, when performing a nanny background check, make sure to obtain written authorization before running any criminal history or driving record searches.

Professional License And Education Background Checks

While the process for obtaining official education records does require consent, there are many ways to verify professional licenses and education without formally requesting them.

LinkedIn (if the account has been verified) can be a great resource to use for initial background checks.

To get further confirmation, visit the school’s (or Schools listed) alumni list or admissions and records office and search for the person’s name.

Some things to find out if possible:

  • Name of the Degree or License
  • Years Attended
  • Date of Graduation
  • Accreditation Numbers

Fingerprint Background Checks

Fingerprint background checks require consent because the process to submit fingerprints to the FBI is very detailed and specific.

How To Steps:

  1. Submit a request online to the FBI via their online portal.
  2. Go to “Obtaining Your Identity History Summary” to submit the request, and follow the checklist exactly.
  3. Visit a USPS fingerprinting location to submit fingerprints electronically or visit a local law enforcement center (or pre-approved channeller) to obtain qualified fingerprint submissions.

Because of the process involved, FBI criminal data cannot be accessed without the person knowing.

E-verify Background Checks

The e-verify electronic background check provides information about a person’s legal ability to work in the United States. It can be performed without consent, without the information found on the IRS I-9 form.

How To Steps: Consent NOT Required

  1. Navigate to the E-verify website.
  2. Choose the Self-Check option.
  3. Enter the information using the quiz and questions provided.

Note: A Social security number is required in step 3.

Sex Offender Registry Check

The National Sex Offender Registry and subsequent state-based sex offender registries can be checked very quickly and easily, using a person’s name, and sometimes, address.

Step 1. Navigate online to the National Sex Offender’s Registry website.

This national database is free to use for anyone.

Step 2. Search the database using name or location information.

The options allow users to check a specific name or to search for sex offenders in their area. This feature can be particularly helpful for searching new locations for residency, school safety, and more. In addition to the national database, each state has it’s own offender’s registry.

Step 3. Search “[State Name] Sex offender registry, using a online search engine.

These search options make this one of the fastest background checks anyone can perform on another person without their consent.

Some states also have the option to enter a specific address (unlike the national site which only searches by radius). This is an advantage if the address is known.

Make sure to verify any offenders who appear in the results page, using their mugshot, which is included on the national site and many state registries. When conducting a background check, this search can also provide additional information about incarceration and probation status, depending on when the crime occurred.

Can You Run a Background Check On Someone Without Them Knowing?

The answer to whether someone can run a background check on another person without them knowing is yes. But the level of information available using manual methods can be time consuming and if a nationwide check is required, can end up costing a good amount of money in individual records request fees.

This deters many individuals from performing the check themselves. However, there are a number of reputable background check agencies that will search national databases, check for arrests and criminal records, and find personal information for a lump sum. These sorts of checks usually cost from $20-$50 each, but researching the company first can help prevent wasted time and money.

Regarding a background check, the necessity of consent depends on the types of background checks and the methods used.2 However, for the most part, all background checks conducted by employers or organizations require user consent. In fact, any check performed for official (or professional) reasons requires approval from the person being checked.

The following provides a quick break down:

  • Credit history – YES: If an employer wants to check a credit history report, they will need to have consent before they can see previous credit scores, financial issues, or fraudulent claims. Submitting a free credit report can be a good way to complete the process and perform a background check on yourself first.
  • Third-party agency – YES: Written consent from the future or current employee is also required if the employer is going to hire a third-party agency to investigate a person’s background.
  • Additional information – YES: Written consent is required for an employer to gain future information not included in other typical background searches, such as details on previous military service.
  • Signed Authorization – YES: In most states, employers are not allowed to conduct a background check on an individual without the potential employee signing an authorization form. If an employer conducts a background check without consent, this is breaking federal law.
  • No Previous History – YES: If an employer wants to execute a background check on a current employee who has given the employer no reason or cause for concern in the workplace, the employer will have to obtain consent before doing the check.
  • Adverse Action – YES: Employers must notify potential employees their background check information can negatively or positively influence their job application status for the open position.3 Employers must notify potential employees about the influence their background has on their employment status and acknowledge the influence.
  • Periodic Checks – YES: Employers must inform their current employees about the potential for periodic background checks and obtain consent before doing so.
  • MVR Records – YES: Individuals can get their driving records from the DMV, but other parties, such as organizations and businesses, must have consent from the person before conducting an MVR report.4

In some instances, employers and organizations can conduct a specific type of background check on a future employee or current employee without their consent, such as a pre-employment check, but this is rare, and depends on specific state law.

Although the majority of checks require consent, certified organizations, government institutions, or private individuals may have more leeway when it comes to consent for all types of background checks.

Personal Background Checks On Another Person

Doing a personal background check on another person does not break any laws, as long as the check is being used for personal reasons, and the information won’t be utilized to harass or harm someone else. In some instances, it can be helpful to learn how to do a background check on someone without them knowing.5 Just a few reasons include:

  • Checking out the history of a child’s coach, teacher or youth minister
  • Investigating someone who acts weird around a loved one
  • Discovering more about a child’s boyfriend or girlfriend

What About Credit Checks?

Regarding the credit check, the Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the limit of credit checks and limits who is legally authorized to check credit histories.6

However, certain situations do not require permission for credit checks, such as instances related to a grand jury subpoena, child support determination, insurance transaction, or some credit transactions. However, these special conditions don’t apply to a private inquiry on another person and are typically carried out by law enforcement agencies or the courts.

Can You Tell If Someone Is Doing an Information Check On You?

There is no way to tell whether or not someone is performing a personal background check on another.

But, finding out what a person can – and cannot – find out without permission is the best way to be prepared. To do so, conduct a personal background check on yourself.

Know Your Rights about Illegal Background Checks

If an organization conducts a background check on someone without their permission, this is illegal. If this occurs, the person being checked should consider consulting an attorney who specializes in criminal background checks and employment checks.

Individuals also have the right to challenge incorrect information or criminal history data that should have been removed from the public record.

Lastly, organizations that conduct a background check that is then used to terminate employment or reject an application are legally required to tell the individual and provide a summary of rights.

Will Someone Know If You Look Up Their Address And Arrest History?

In most instances, criminal court records are publicly accessible – meaning anyone can look up a person’s name and view their record and the person checked is not notified.7 However, sealed records and record holders keep certain records confidential from the general public.

In either case, the person being checked will not know that their information has been searched.

How To Run A Background Check On Someone Free…Like Run A Background Report On My Boyfriend?

There are a number of ways for how to do a background check on someone without them knowing, like a boyfriend. Follow the steps outlined above and also try the following methods:

Research Online

There are dozens of websites, search engines, and databases that can provide personal information on someone, especially if that person has more than one social media profile.

By searching a person’s name, search engine results will also provide news stories, and other instances, which can indicate previous incidents with the law, and more.

Public Records

Public records searches are also a good option, since it’s likely the basic information (name, date of birth, address, etc.) about the boyfriend or girlfriend is known.

Public records include criminal reports, arrest records, outstanding warrants, pending charges, dismissed or dropped charges, tax liens, police reports, convictions, and court records. These can all be searched manually, state by state, or a professional service can be used to check them all at once.

All official background checks require consent to avoid any legal issues and lawsuits, except in very rare cases when conducted by law enforcement and other governmental entities. However, individuals can learn how to do a background check on someone without them knowing and avoid any repercussions by using the public records options available or a reputable background check service.