Everyone should occasionally run a background check on themselves, if only to see what potential landlords and employers will see. Background checks are frequently used to determine whether an individual has a criminal history or whether they may be in a dire financial situation. Though there are many paid background check services, it is possible to perform a free, online background check on yourself. You just need to take the time to do so.
Why Should You Run a Background Check on Yourself?
You never know what could be on your background check. There could be warrants out for your arrest, and you’d never know it — perhaps you have some unpaid tickets in another county that you completely forgot about. A background check is a valuable way to make sure you aren’t missing anything important, such as legal issue, or issues with debt.
Other parties can run a background check on you at any time, if they want to. Employers, landlords, or even potential dates can run a background check with as little as your name and your location. A background check can be conducted online, and completely for free, though with varying detail. And perhaps more importantly, background checks can be incorrect.
If you share a name with another individual, their records can show up as yours. Many aggregate services just pull from public records databases, which means they don’t always do a lot of cross-checking to make sure it’s accurate. You don’t know what’s showing up under your name until you look, but other people might.
What Exactly is a Background Check?
A “background check” is actually a number of things combined. A background check service generally pulls public documents to find things like birth certificates and marriage certificates, in addition to running checks for any public records or criminal charges. Public records can include things such as lawsuits and foreclosures, and criminal charges are open to the public.
A company that produces background checks is going to have its own methods of finding this information, so each background check service may have slightly different results. Thus, there’s no one “background check,” just like there’s no one “credit report”: there’s a number of similar reports provided by different services.
Today, there are many online services that let you perform a background check on yourself, but most of them aren’t free. Free services will give you some cursory information about yourself, which will include things like who you’re related to, how old you are, whether you’ve been married, and where you currently live.
Social media is increasingly being used for the purposes of background checks. If you have information on social media, it’s likely been culled for a background check, showing people who your family members are.
Who Can Get a Background Check?
Technically, anyone can request a background check against anyone. All they need to know is your name and your location. Sometimes a name alone is enough. That means that people you meet in your day-to-day life could potentially get a background check on you, as long as they know your full name. But it also means that you can request a background check on yourself.
Most background checks are location relevant, especially if you have a common name. Background checks don’t use your social security number or any unique identifying number. Instead, they usually look for someone of your gender and approximate age with the right name and in the right place. This is also why many background check services will ask for (though generally not require) your birth date.
You cannot tell who has requested a background check on you; there’s no repository for this.
How Can You Get a Free Background Check?
First: you should know there are many commercial services out there that will offer you a background check. Often, you can sign up for free but they will eventually charge you a subscription for a background monitoring service. You may also be able to setup a free account, but you’ll only see what information they have on you (such as 3 warrants out) without the specifics (what the warrants are for).
These background check services are made with the intention of being paid, so they usually won’t provide an actually free background check. To perform a free background check, you need to go back to the sources that these background check services use. Essentially, you’ll be performing a background check on yourself.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Look for court records.
- Review your driving records.
- Pull your credit report.
- Acquire an education report.
- Check your online profiles.
Each of these can be a complicated task in and of themselves, but they will ultimately reveal the information that other people can find out about you. Of course, you can also pay for a report from another service.
Looking Up Your Court Records
Court records can be looked up by the public in the states that you’ve lived in. In order to look up court records, you can choose two major ways:
- Criminal record consolidation companies.
- Individual court databases.
Criminal record consolidation companies have a lot of overlap with background checks. They usually let you perform a search online for your criminal records, but often you may need to pay to get all the detailed information. However, this can be an excellent cursory way of finding out whether there is any information available on you.
Other than this, you can go to individual court databases. The cities that you lived in likely have their criminal databases online. Search through these databases to find information about you, including any criminal record you have, and any court dates.
On these court databases, you can find out whether you have any open warrants for your arrest. Sometimes people don’t realize they have a court date and don’t go to that court date, such as a ticket they forgot about. Often, a judge puts up a “bench warrant” in this situation. Since it’s not an urgent situation, the police don’t follow up on it. You may not know you have a warrant until you get pulled over.
Court databases will also show things like lawsuits, including lawsuits that you yourself initiated. Since they were taken to court, they’re issues of public record. Consequently, court records may also show things like bankruptcies and divorces. If there’s anything incorrect on these background checks, you will need to contact the courts directly.
Most court databases need to be searched on a state-by-state basis, because there isn’t a consolidated system for these types of minor court judgments. However, background check services will look into every area that you’re reported to have lived in. It’s easy for you to have legal issues in another state and not be aware of them, because most states don’t communicate regularly with each other in minor matters.
Reviewing Your Driving Records
Your driving records can be requested from any state you’ve held a driver’s license in. For background checks, they generally first verify the states in which you’ve lived, and then pull the driving records from that state.
Your state’s DMV will hold this information. Many of them have easy-to-use online searches, others require that you send in a form requesting your driving records from them. A driving record is going to reveal any parking or moving violations that you have.
Driving records are particularly important if you’re getting a job that requires driving. Your driving record will come into play if you’re trying to get a commercial driver’s license. Other than that, driving records with DUIs or extreme speeding citations may be concerning to other employers.
Your driving records can be corrected or disputed with the DMV. You might, for example, have traffic citations in a state after you had already moved out of that state. These citations are likely in error and can be fixed.
Pulling Your Credit Report
Every year, you’re entitled to a free credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agency: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Many people stagger these reports, requesting one every four months so they can make sure that their credit is good. Your credit report will be a little different on each credit reporting agency, but it should be overall the same.
There are a number of things that will show up on your credit report, though it should be noted that not all of these things are going to show up on a background check:
- Credit card accounts.
- Personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages.
- Current addresses and previous addresses.
- Past and present employers.
- Public judgments.
Of particular note are the public judgments. These items are things that anyone can find out about you, that are generally related to your financial situation. Public judgments include:
- Bankruptcies that you have declared.
- Foreclosures on your property.
- Liens against your property.
If you’ve had significant debts, you may have public judgments against you. Creditors may have taken you to court for payment, or a bankruptcy may have been filed. These things are taken into the public record and will consequently show up on your background check. Things like your loans and credit cards will not show up on your background check.
You should review your credit report frequently by requesting it from one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. If there are any errors on your credit report, you should correct them quickly. This will fix not only your background checks, but it will also fix your credit score. Further, many application processes that require your background check will also require your credit report.
Acquiring an Education Report
There are services such as the National Student Clearing House that specialize in verifying education. You will need to verify your education if you’re concerned about what an employer might see. However, you can also keep a copy of your diploma or transcripts, or send diplomas and transcripts directly to employers if requested.
Most background checks will not include detailed information about education, and background checks for landlords and other purposes usually won’t concern themselves with your level of education. This is an additional step that you may want to take if you’re looking to procure a job at some point, or if you’re just curious as to whether your education has been logged in national databases.
Education reports generally only follow higher level degrees. For certifications, trade schools, and other types of alternative education, the evidence will be provided by the administering authority itself.
Checking Your Online Profiles
Many companies do an “unofficial” background check just by looking for your online profiles. If you have a spouse listed on your online profile, you can rest assured that person will be listed as a spouse on any background check. Likewise, people you list as your family members will be listed as family members. Information gleaned from your social media platforms include:
- Your current state of residence.
- Your previous states of residence.
- Your immediate family members.
- Your gender, birth date, and other demographic information.
- Your marital status.
- Your education.
- Your past and present employers.
This is a significant amount of information, and it can all be used to find even more information. Your state of residence for instance, can be used to find out more about your court documents, as court documents are state-related.
If you are concerned about the information that can be found out about you on your social media, you can “lock it down” with privacy settings so that only your family and friends can view you. However, that only goes so far: you should usually assume that any information that’s on the Internet now will always be on the Internet.
What Criminal Records Show Up on a Background Check?
Criminal convictions, whether felony or misdemeanor, will show up on a background check. Further, any criminal cases that have not yet been decided on but are still pending will also show up on a background check. If you are getting a background check for the purposes of something like acquiring housing, you may want to explain these issues in advance.
In general, when a person applies for housing, or fills out other applications, they will need to disclose whether they have any felonies on their file. The background check will show felonies, so it’s better to answer honestly.
What Civil Records Show Up on a Background Check?
Courts don’t just deal with crimes: they also deal with civil disputes. Civil disputes occur when someone is sued for or sues someone else for financial compensation. While it isn’t a criminal charge (no one is going to go to prison), it’s still something that the court handles. A few examples of civil records include:
- Getting evicted. During the process of eviction, a landlord will render a civil dispute against their tenant.
- Being sued for financial compensation. Someone who was injured on your property and sued for their medical bills would show up as a civil record.
- Foreclosure. Foreclosure opens up a civil claim between you and your lender, which will also show up under civil suits.
- Judgments. If a credit card company gets a judgment against you for an unpaid balance, this will show up on a civil record.
For most people, civil records are going to be financial: bills that went unpaid and housing evictions.
Can You Prevent a Background Check?
There’s no way of suppressing background checks. By their very nature, background checks are compiled with public information, and this public information cannot be removed. This is one reason why it’s so important to go through your background check carefully and remove anything that is incorrect. Your background check may very well follow you for some time, and can impact many sectors of your life.
You should be generally aware of what actions you take will show up in your public record. Your public record will show things like bankruptcies and foreclosures, which is something you may want to consider when thinking about these actions. Criminal activity will nearly always show up unless the records are intentionally sealed.
Who Shows Up on Your Background Check?
Most background checks attempt to construct a general family tree, including your spouse, your children, and other direct relatives. Consequently, a background check is likely to show a number of people close to you (and background checks can be run on these people as well). Marriages and divorces are a matter of common record, so spouses are always going to show up on a background check. For children, it’s a little more complex.
Many background check systems make an educated guess regarding other family relations, by using social media, and by locating individuals who have the right last name, proximity, and age. Thus, a background check may guess that you’re related to your children, sisters, or parents, but may not be able to say with any certainty.
All you can know for sure is that your family members are likely to be linked to your background check. Most background checks are going to have a disclaimer that covers the fact that they can be wrong about family relations. If you’re undergoing a particularly thorough background check, be aware that it is relatively trivial to locate your direct relatives.
How Can You Fix a Background Check?
Usually you don’t fix a background check itself, but instead fix the source that the information is being pulled from. With hundreds upon hundreds of background check services readily available, it would be very difficult to try to fix the information being displayed on each service.
If court documents and credit statements are incorrect, they can be fixed. You just need to go directly to the originator of the record, which often means going directly to the court, or going directly to the credit reporting bureaus. You’ll need to file a report with them and provide evidence that the record is incorrect. For a credit report, you might show that you won a suit that currently shows as a judgment against you.
Individual background checking services may also be in error. For instance, a landlord might tell you that a background check shows a criminal record, even though it shouldn’t because this criminal record doesn’t exist. If this is the case, you can contact the individual background check company for a correction, but it’s often better to ask the individual to run the check with another service.
Other times, information about you online could be in error, rather than any official documents. For instance, there might be an online profile of someone with your name that marks them as “divorced” even though you’ve never been married. This information can be gathered by some background check services, and it’s difficult to get fixed.
The best strategy for “fixing” this type of error is generally to establish a web presence that dilutes that background check. If your name presently comes up as associated with another individual, you need to make sure that your accounts come up before that other individual.
In Conclusion: Running Your Own Background Check
There’s a lot of information about you out there. Probably a lot more than you think. And it’s all available for free, to anyone who has Internet access.
Running a background check on yourself on an annual basis is a good idea. You can’t protect your reputation without being aware of your reputation. A free, online background check makes it possible to identify potential problems before they become actual problems. You need to know what potential landlords and employers will see.
You can get started today by reviewing your court-related and credit-related documents, which will give you a significant amount of information regarding judgments, criminal actions, and other critical data. From there, you can begin cleaning up your reputation.