If you've been convicted, accused, or arrested for a crime in the past, chances are you would like to leave all that behind you. Increasingly, however, employers are running background checks not just on potential hires, but even on their employees. Leaving past mistakes behind may prove difficult for individuals who may already be listed in criminal databases.
In many cases, past offenders have the option to expunge or seal their criminal record from the public eye with the help of an experienced attorney. The first step to clearing your criminal record is finding out if your record is public in the first place by doing a background check on yourself. This can also prevent nasty surprises when looking for a job or housing.
What Constitutes a Background Check?
When employers or leasing agents run a “background check,” they're looking at a few different things. Background checks are not limited to convictions on your criminal records. Interested parties usually use a paid service that will perform a background check on any individual for a fee.
Using these services, any individual can easily access information in public databases all in one place. Online background check services are more comprehensive than a simple search on a search engine like Google, and will turn up quite a bit of your personal information you may not have known was available to the public.
For example, the popular background check site Instant Checkmate boasts that it searches more than just criminal record databases for those convicted of misdemeanors and felonies. It will also show arrest records (even if charges resulted in a non-conviction), sex offender registration, phone numbers, address history, social media accounts, licenses, and marriage and divorce history.
What Will Appear on My Background Check?
The information that appears on these databases varies widely from case to case. In general, if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, or if you are a registered sex offender, you can reasonably expect to turn up on a background check site.
Background checks can only access public information, so if you have had your criminal record sealed or expunged, it will not appear on one of these sites. Other information that might turn up includes marriage/divorce records, lawsuits, liens, bankruptcies, property records, former addresses, phone numbers, relatives, neighbors. Employers may also search for your education and employment history. Your driving record is also public, and an employer may check this if the job involves driving.
How Will Employers Use This Information?
Ideally, an employer should not discriminate against a potential employee unless any past conviction was recent, serious, or has a bearing on their ability to perform their job in a satisfactory way. For example, it is more than reasonable that a convicted child sex offender would be denied work at an elementary school.
Unfortunately, in a competitive job market, employers can afford to be picky with who they hire, and compromising information may result in an employer's choosing another candidate. For example, even though Illinois law prohibits employers from using arrest records to influence hiring decisions, an employer may be influenced by the information anyway. It will be very difficult, complex, and time-consuming to attempt to prove an employer rejected you on the basis of your criminal record.
How to Run a Background Check on Yourself
The best way to see what an employer would see is to use the same kind of service. The cost of these services is usually somewhere between $20 and $50, depending on how many databases the service will use.
According to a number of review sites, the most comprehensive background check service is Intelius, which will perform the service for $49.95. Intelius is about twice as expensive as its competitors, but will likely provide the most complete overview of what information about you is public. US Search costs $19.95, and to get some information (like marriage and divorce history) you have to pay extra. This is a good option for people who have concerns about a specific aspect of their public record. Finally, BeenVerified is another popular background check site that performs individual searches for $22.86.
How to Perform a Free Background Check on Yourself
Although not as comprehensive or quick as paying for one of these services, much of the information that will appear in a background check can be located for free through manual search.
Court Records. Court records include whether you have been arrested or charged with a crime. The information can be found reasonably quickly by searching through the databases of the National Center of State Courts. The NCSC records are organized on a state and city level.
Credit History. Though controversial and even illegal in some states, 47% of companies say they check some or all applicants credit histories. Consumers are entitled to a yearly free credit report from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
Employment History. A future employer may look for discrepancies between your resume and your actual employment history. See what is available to the public by requesting a report from The Work Number.
Educational Records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 requires your school to give you access your education records within 45 days of anyone asking for your record at any point after graduation. To find out what your school releases to the public, you should contact them directly.
If you are concerned about a past conviction or arrest affecting your ability to get a job, housing, or public benefits, a knowledgeable attorney may be able to help you expunge or seal your record.
About The Author:
Howard J. Wise, the owner of the Illinois-based Law Offices of Howard J. Wise & Associates, is a criminal defense attorney who stands ready to assist clients in many different areas of the law, including criminal appeals, DUI, misdemeanors, traffic violations, and felonies. Mr. Wise began his legal career at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office as the assistant state attorney, where he was able to gain unique prosecutorial experience. He then transitioned to criminal defense and currently devotes his practice exclusively to protecting the rights of those accused of crime.