Nationwide Criminal Databases – What are you Really Getting?

By: Jackie Brazen

Nationwide Criminal Databases sound like the perfect way to search for criminal records on someone during their background check.  What an amazing concept, and so easy right?  Well, not exactly.  Normally, this isn’t even close to what you actually get.  The expectation is that every state, county and city is being searched thoroughly for records that paint a full picture of a person’s criminal history.  On every level, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

What you are really getting

All of these databases/search options come with a disclaimer.  For starters, read that closely.  Even if the search claims to be conducted using “millions of records” that includes thousands of different jurisdictions, there is always a disclaimer.  What these disclaimers do is notify you that there is no control over where the Nationwide Criminal Databasessearches are actually being conducted, which databases are functional and if the municipalities where your target operates is even included.  Most of the records that are being searched are publicly available (for free) online elsewhere.  Creative software simply searches as many of these as it can and produces results that are only as good as the user believes they are.  This is very dangerous, especially since a lot of the available records come from the department of corrections (only people having served time in prison in most states) and a variety of oddball counties who publish their records online!  Often these records are out of date or don’t include final dispositions, which are paramount in determining WHAT someone was actually convicted of.  Additionally, records are not being verified by a human investigator who can look for things that don’t belong, like errors and false positives.  The worse example yet is when a search is done on someone in a state or county where none of the records are available to these “national databases” (which goes for most of the country).  You may be searching “millions of records” but one of them are within 500 miles of where your person lives.

Records on Wrong Person

This is another common issue with these “National Background Checks” or “National Criminal Databases”.

Once you receive the information you may notice that there is no way to verify if what you are looking at actually pertains to the person you ran the search on.  There may be no middle names, dates of birth or even an address by which to verify that the record is correct for your search target.  This is incredibly common when dealing with people who have common names.  Just imagine searches for records on “John Smith” in Chicago.  You will likely get so many false positives that the results are meaningless.

What to Search

The best scenario is one where you search for records in and around where are person lives and has lived.  This often involves a statewide criminal history search (when available) along with individual county level searches.  Each search should be done using a licensed professional investigator and data should only come directly from the government entity responsible for housing and maintaining such records.  This is often another failure of National Criminal Records Databases and National Criminal Background Checks.  To supplement their access level, which limit these software packages to what is available for free online (and often times outdated or watered down), bulk records are purchased and searched.  This causes additional problems with identifying the entirety of a charge and often requires a user to conduct additional, more costly searches in the long run.


If you are curious about nationwide criminal databases or are currently using a service that might fit into this category and would like a very easy test example that will prove the dichotomy between “national background check” providers and real investigators, please give us a call.  Five minutes with on the phone with our team could save you thousands in headaches from buying the wrong service.