7 Best Background Check Services to Find Criminal Records Online (2021) | Chicago Reader

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Seven best sites for background checks and how to find public records online for free

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You may be in a situation where you need to run a free background check to get a cursory view of someone's personal information. It may be a potential employee or someone new in your life. Whatever the reason, know that there are ways to run free background checks.

How to do it and where to start may sound overwhelming. But there are a few free background check strategies at your disposal in addition to paid, professional services that won't break the bank.

Let's go over both.

Run A Free Background Check

There are paid services that we'll go into detail about, but let's start with how to run a free background check. Yes, it's possible. Be aware that you won't ascertain detailed information, but it'll be enough to get you going.

First, the almighty Google.

Yes, the famous search engine is the first place to start.

The Internet is vast, and Google returns a ton of results for any search. You can filter out unhelpful information by knowing exactly what to search:

  1. Search their first name, last name, and known city and state of residence. Scroll through the organic results and click on anything that matches. If you know the person's age, include that in the search.
  2. Check out the "News" section at top.
  3. Click the "Images" results and see if you can identify them.
  4. Google sometimes returns video results. These are ideal. Maybe the person has a YouTube channel or a video with their name in the title has been published. Either way, look on the first page of Google for any videos, or click the "Videos" tab at the top for all the video results.

    Next, social media.

    It's time to scour Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, and all other social media platforms. You can use the search feature on each of these sites the same way you would use Google.

    How about public court records?

    One repository of public information is public court records. Depending on the individual, there can either be a plethora of information or a dribble.

    To access public court records, go to the county clerk of records site. You'll need to know where the person lives. If you don't, this method will be of little use.

    You may be able to cobble together records based on past addresses, but each will require a separate search and it might get messy.

Bottom line, only try this if you know where the person lives.

Another free strategy is credit reports.

It's illegal to access someone else's credit report. There is one loophole, however—checking for identity fraud. You can get one of these per year for free. If you want more, you'll have to pay.

There are also prison records.

You'll need to identify where the person served time. You can figure this out by including "corrections inmate" next to their name and personal information in a Google search. Then go to the prison's website and search their name.

Be warned, however, that prisons don't disclose a ton of information to the public.

Is It Worth Running a Free Background Check?

Free background checks are a first resort, not a last. The information procured with these methods will likely be incomplete at best. Further, there are laws such as the Fair Credit Report Act that limits one's ability to get a credit report.

A Better Option: Background Check Services

We've taken the time to review each background check service. They're reputable and, best of all, won't break the bank.

Before going more in-depth about each of these background check services, here’s a quick preview of our top picks:

1. Instant Checkmate – Best for anyone (our choice overall)

2. Truthfinder - Best for those who prefer popular services

3. Intelius – Best for any businesses

4. BeenVerified - Best for newcomers to background checks

5. Spokeo – Best for those on a budget

6. Checkr – Best for high-tech companies

7. Infotracer - Best for searches on a time-crunch


With that in mind, take a closer look at each of these background check sites in more detail. Keep in mind that all of our picks are in full compliance with privacy laws. This means that you won’t have to worry about any legal troubles for using the services. Just remember that not all are certified as CRAs, so pay extra attention if you are a landlord or employer.

1. Instant Checkmate

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Using Instant Checkmate gives you access to information from criminal records, employment records, and county and state records. The layout and interface are also great. You also get your pick of how to use the service to search for someone.

As a bonus, Instant Checkmate includes legal guidance on how you can use the information. This helps you avoid any potential legal troubles, eliminating an important concern without having to consult an attorney.

Features:

  • Five-day trial for just $1
  • Includes legal guidance
  • Intuitive interface
  • Excellent for finding social media
  • Excellent for reverse phone lookups

Pricing:

Although the five-day trial with Instant Checkmate technically isn’t free, it almost is. You just pay $1 for a full five-day trial. After that, expect to pay $34.78 each month.

2. Truthfinder

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Truthfinder is easily among the most popular free background check services. This service gives you in-depth information but only asks you for minimal details. You just need to provide a name and address. In return, you receive credit checks, criminal records, and consumer information reporting.

Features:

  • Available 24/7
  • Offers more than just public records
  • Various packages to suit your budget and needs
  • Offers legal guidance
  • Includes dark web search
  • Can search up to 15 years ago
  • Mobile application

  • Pricing:

    There is no free trial from Truthfinder. However, there are discounts if you buy a membership for multiple months at once. Membership is just $27.78 per month, and it includes unlimited background checks. If you choose a three-month membership, the price drops to less than $26 per month.

    3. Intelius

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    Intelius not only gives you information from public records, but it also compiles information from private companies. Just some of the information you will find includes criminal records, civil records, tax liens, felonies, misdemeanors, e-mail addresses, dating profiles, possible relatives, and traffic tickets. In addition to being a good option for businesses, it is also great for reconnecting with your old friends you’ve lost contact with.

    Features:

    • Unlimited searches
    • Discounts for multi-month purchases
    • Accurate information
    • Multiple search methods and tools

Pricing:

Although Intelius doesn’t offer a free trial, it does offer an incredibly affordable five-day trial for just $1.99. This is more than enough to give you a feel for the system. Otherwise, you will pay $22.86 each month and get unlimited searches.

    4. BeenVerified

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    BeenVerified is our choice for those who are new to using background checks because the platform is incredibly intuitive and simple to use. The service essentially walks you through the entire process, taking away any guesswork.

    The fact that BeenVerified is great for beginners also means that it is more affordable than some of the other options on the list. If you need extensive information, however, you may want to consider a different checker.

    Features:

    • Mobile application for access from anywhere
    • Very affordable
    • Beginner-friendly
    • Comprehensive information

Pricing:

BeenVerified costs $26.89 per month, but that drops to $17.48 per month if you purchase a three-month membership. There is no free trial.

    5. Spokeo

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    As mentioned, Spokeo is the best background check for those on a budget, especially if you need to run a lot of checks. This is easily the most affordable option on our list, and it includes plenty of public records. You will find all the basics you need, including someone’s financial background and criminal checks.

    In addition to the ability to search by name and address, you can also search by username or e-mail address. Just remember that because it is so affordable, Spokeo doesn’t check for fake social media accounts or check the dark web.

    Features:

    • Incredibly affordable
    • Great for basic searches, even in bulk

Pricing:

Spokeo functions as a free background check for the most basic information. Pricing is just $13.95 per month. Signing up for three months drops the monthly price to $7.95, and signing up for half a year drops it to $4.95 per month.

    6. Checkr

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    Checkr is among the newer options, but it still stands out among background check services. It is particularly great for companies that are comfortable using technology. That comes thanks to the fact that it is automated.

    Features:

    • Automated
    • Mobile-friendly

Pricing:

Unfortunately, Checkr is tight-lipped about its pricing. You have to directly contact Checkr to get pricing based on your needs. However, you do receive your first background check for free.

    7. Infotracer

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    Infotracer is great for those times you need certain records in a hurry. You can get same-day results for divorce and marriage records, motor vehicle records, and consumer reporting.

    Keep in mind that this background check service only gives you the information available in public records. That can limit the results somewhat, especially compared to some other options on this list. However, it also helps keep pricing affordable.

    At the same time, you won’t lack information. You can still find financial assets, social media accounts, licenses, political contributions, and professional certifications. You may be surprised what information is publicly available.

    Features:

    • 24/7 customer support
    • Same-day service for some checks
    • Extensive selection of public record checks
    • Unlimited reports available for a monthly fee, making it great for business

Pricing:

Like most of the other options, there is no free trial with Infotracer. Instead, the company offers a seven-day trial for just $3.95. If you just need one report, it will cost $19.95. If you need more, a monthly plan will also cost $19.95 per month.


FAQs About Background Checks

No matter the background check services you use, you will want to keep the following information in mind.

What Information Can I Get From A Background Check?

Every background check will give you a slightly different combination of information. Some information you may get includes:

  • Basic identity verification
  • Address history
  • Educational credentials
  • Professional licensing
  • Past employment
  • Social media accounts
  • Sex offender listings
  • Criminal records and history
  • Driving records
  • Financial records
  • Divorce and marriage records

Because even the best background checks will offer different categories of information, always confirm that your chosen service reports the information you want before buying it.

Do You Really Need to Use a Legitimate Service?

Yes. The best background check will always be from a legitimate service. This is the case for a few important reasons:

  1. Accuracy of information: If you don’t use a service that is legitimate, then there is no guarantee that the information is accurate. The system may not even be knowingly misleading. It may simply fall for fake credit or social media profiles. That can lead to a complete waste of time.
  2. Legal compliance: There are strict laws and regulations about information due to privacy concerns. Breaking these laws could lead to legal trouble and is more hassle than it is worth.
  3. Avoid liabilities and trouble: No matter the reason you want to run a background check, you are doing so for a reason. Hiring the wrong employee could put your business at risk of liabilities, such as committing theft or attacking customers. Choosing the wrong roommate could put you at risk of abuse, theft, or something worse. The only way to truly protect yourself is with accurate information. As mentioned, you can’t guarantee accurate information without choosing a legitimate service.

Other Than Legitimacy, What Else Should You Consider in a Background Check Service?

We already established that you want to stick to legitimate background check services. But there are also a few other things you want to consider"

  • Your needs: Start by thinking about the type of information you want from the service, as well as how often you will need to use it. Any of the options on our above list will be a great choice, but the one that works best for you will likely depend on the level of detail you want in the report and how many checks you plan on running. For example, if you only need a dozen or so reports each year, you may just want to pay per report instead of using a service that requires membership.
  • Turnaround time: This refers to how quickly you will get your report after requesting a background check. Some services will offer a very quick turnaround for basic reports, such as one day or 24 hours. Expect a longer turnaround time for reports with more detail. Expect it to take three to five days for advanced or detailed reports.
  • Your budget: Go back to your needs and consider your budget. Then, compare it to the cost of the checks. Just remember to compare the cost to similar services from other companies. Typically, with background checks, you will have to pay more to get more detail. If you are a landlord or employer, then you should expect to pay extra for a CRA-certified check you can use.
  • How to use: Some of the background check platforms are easier to use than others. Most people will prefer those that are more intuitive. However, as long as you can use the website, you may not care too much about how hard it is to figure out.
  • Legal compliance: Speaking of CRA certification, if you are a landlord or employer, then make sure to choose a background check service that can legally influence your decision. Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have to use a service certified by the Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA). These agencies always meet legal standards for both protection of data and resolving disputes.
  • Integration: Businesses will typically want a background check service that can integrate with their applicant tracking system or other systems. This is less of a concern for individuals who want to confirm neighbors are safe, as you likely only need the information in a single check.
  • Customer support: The best background check sites will have excellent customer service. Make sure that customer support is available during the hours you would need to reach them and via your preferred method, like live chat or phone.

    The Bottom Line

    While you can complete a free background check, it will be time-consuming and only give you the most basic results. It is usually a much better use of your time to use one of the background check services on our list. They will give you more detailed results, and there are some highly affordable options.