The Do's and Don'ts of Online Background Checks

article by Nicky Hoseck
March 21, 2019
There was a time, in the dim and distant past, when you'd simply ask your friends and neighbors if you wanted to find out more about a person. These days, few of us even know our neighbors' names, let alone speak to them, after all, with the internet, who needs neighbors when you’ve got easy online background check services that can expose pretty much every skeleton in an individual’s closet?

Although background checks have become increasingly illuminating and reliable, there are restrictions on what you can use them for. Check out any online background check website and you’ll find a list of criteria indicating the precise do’s and don’ts of that online background check service. Don’t let this put you off, however, there are still many benefits to be gleaned from a background check so, before we look at what you can’t do, let’s take a look at all the things you can do. After all, we all prefer the glass to be half full rather than half empty.

When You Can Use An Online Background Check Service

People use online background check services for a multitude of reasons, the most common of which are:

1. Dating Dangers

I bet you didn’t know that nearly 50 million people have dabbled in online dating and around 17% of those who married in the past year met online. What that means for you is that there really are plenty of fish in the virtual sea, but, unfortunately, there’s also a good few sharks which are where an online background check comes in handy.

Beyond lying about their age, some nefarious characters will tell much more dangerous untruths about things like their marital status, income, and past. While being aware of your personal safety when meeting a stranger is one thing, getting involved with someone who you didn’t know was already married, or lending money to your latest love interest, are equally common dangers of online dating.

A thorough background check performed by an accurate and reliable company will not only reveal an individual’s marital status and address, but also all their online profiles, credit, and criminal history. And it’s completely legal.  Once you’ve got the results of your background check, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether to pursue the relationship or cut your losses.

2. Finding Old Friends

While many of us rediscover our old classmates and school friends on social media platforms, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find that girl you used to sit next to in Grade 6, after all, hard as it may be to believe, not everyone uses social media. Finding people who have chosen to limit their online footprint can be time-consuming which is why many people opt for a background check service, which will provide you with the following information in a matter of minutes:

  • First, middle, and last names
  • Addresses, current and past
  • Contact details
  • Date and place of birth
  • Education and occupation
  • Possible friends, relatives, and business associates

Armed with this kind of detail, you’ll be able to verify that the person you’ve found is the Sally Jones you went to school with and reestablish that old friendship.

3. Carpool Safety

Finding out that your new next door neighbor’s children are attending the same school as yours can be a godsend, or it can be the beginning of a nightmare. Your neighbors have just moved in and you don’t know much about them, although they appear to be perfectly reasonable and responsible adults. Are you really prepared to put your children’s lives into their hands, however, especially given that one in five carpooling parents admit to skipping on seatbelts and bending other road safety rules.

That’s worrying enough,  but what if your child was to disappear? You’d never forgive yourself for not having done your homework by running a background check on that neighbor before letting your kid anywhere near them. Give yourself peace of mind and protect your child by finding out about any carpooling participant’s criminal history and past driving offenses.

4. New Neighbours

When someone new moves into your street, you want to do the neighborly thing and help them settle in, but if you have doubts about them, it’s a good idea to put your mind at rest before becoming their new best friend. They say it’s better the devil you know and knowing whether or not the person next door has sold their soul to the devil is vital for the safety of both you and your family.

For example, a background check reveals that your new neighbor was once convicted of drug dealing, the likelihood is that they may start dealing again which is probably not something you want happening on your doorstep. Of course, people do change but if you see cars pulling up at strange times of the day or night, the likelihood is, your neighbor has reverted to an old source of income that’s neither legal nor beneficial for your neighborhood.

What’s more, you don’t want your kids hanging out at the neighbors’ unless you’re 100% sure they’re reliable and law-abiding. An online background check could be instrumental in protecting your family against unlawful influences and nefarious neighbors who may not have your kids’ best interests at heart.

5. Online Shopping

Given the dangers of online shopping, it’s a miracle so many transactions take place without any unpleasant repercussions. If, however, you’re preparing to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars purchasing a new smartphone or laptop online, making sure you’re buying from a reputable seller could save you a lot of money and hassle.

We could talk about online shopping scams from here to eternity, that’s how common they are, and one of the worst is paying for something that doesn’t actually exist. While some sites have customers reviews of their sellers, even these can’t be relied on. Save yourself a lot of headaches and a lot of money by carrying out an online background check on a seller to make sure they’re who they say they are and have a clean record when it comes to both sourcing and selling.

Other reasons for conducting an online background check include:

  • Checking out new social media contacts
  • Scanning your neighborhood for registered sex offenders
  • Finding long lost relatives
  • Verifying the identity of your children’s friends and their families

When You Can’t Use an Online Background Check Service

All online background check services have to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, as most online background check companies aren’t recognized by the Consumer Reporting Agencies, you can’t use their services for the following purposes:

1. Screening Employees

If you’re wanting to check out a potential employee’s academic record or history of employment, you need to find a registered Consumer Reporting Agency to conduct a background check for you. Checking out employees for any reason, even if it’s a positive reason like wanting to promote them or give them a pay rise, is strictly forbidden through online background check companies.

2. Tenant Assessment

If you’re looking to check out a potential roommate’s past, you can use any of the best background check services and get a comprehensive report at an affordable price. If, however, you want to check out a potential tenant, the rules change and, once again, you’ll have to seek out an FCRA-approved Consumer Reporting Agency instead.

3. Vetting Domestic Workers

Allowing a stranger into your home is always somewhat daunting so it’s understandable that many people want to find out more about a babysitter, gardener or domestic worker before they open up their home to them. Unfortunately, under the FCRA  you’re prohibited from using online background check services for these purposes and must rather use a service such as for domestic workers.

4. Credit Eligibility

The likelihood of you being a loan shark is admittedly pretty low but, if you do want to check out an individual’s credit rating or eligibility for either insurance or credit, performing a background check would be illegal. Instead, check out a tenant’s criminal and credit history using a service like LeaseRunner or RentPrep.

5. Professional Services

When your son or daughter comes home in tears because their new soccer coach spent the entire practice yelling at them, you’d be forgiven for trying to conduct a background check on that coach. Unfortunately, this again falls under the FCRA so the only way to get peace of mind is by putting pressure on the school or organization that employed the coach to conduct an FCRA-accredited check of their own.


Conducting a background check can be a great way to verify a person’s identity and convince you that pursuing a relationship with that person, be they a potential love interest, roommate,  or neighbor, is a relatively safe endeavor. Although finding out that one of the other parents in your carpool has prior traffic violations or that your new next door neighbor is a convicted sex offender may be your worst nightmare but imagine what could have happened if you didn’t know…

A reputable online background check service, such as BeenVerified, TruthFinder or Instant Checkmate,  can give you access to lots of useful information that can help you make informed decisions about the people you and your family spend time with. However, there are restrictions on precisely what these services can be used for, and conducting a search for the purposes of checking out a potential employee’s work history or a babysitter’s criminal record, could land you on the wrong side of the law.

Every online background check company recommended by us has laid out its terms and conditions clearly, ensuring that consumers are fully aware of the do’s and don’ts of their online background check service. These are reputable companies that provide accurate and in-depth reports to private individuals but they are not Consumer Reporting Agencies and can’t be used for background checks that fall under the regulations of the FCRA.

Now you’re clear on exactly what you can and can’t do with an online background check report, go forth and get those skeletons out the closets of your online dates and next door neighbors. After all, they say knowledge is power and companies like BeenVerified are offering you the power to make an informed decision and protect yourself against potential threats.