They are advertised all over the internet. Run a nationwide criminal record search on anyone for this (insert low amount) price! Or, if a hiring manager at your organization, you may include a Nationwide Criminal and Sex Offender search to your background screening reports. However, you may wonder, what do these searches include? Is an individual’s full criminal history really available within a few minutes only with the click of a button?

The answer to this question is, NO. A Nationwide Criminal database does not and cannot provide a full criminal history on any given individual. A Nationwide Criminal database is a constantly changing collection of approximately 350 to 500 million records that have been compiled from readily available data from all 50 states. Some states may include in depth information, from felonies down to traffic tickets, where other states may only contribute severe offenses, in which time was served, furnished from the Department of Corrections.

So, why would anyone even bother with a Nationwide Criminal Record Search?

Well, a Nationwide Criminal Record Database is a great, budget conscious preliminary tool for background screening. These databases usually include information from sex offender registries from all 50 states, as well as data from many local County Courts, State Repositories, Terrorist Watch lists and Federal Most Wanted lists.  In addition, a Nationwide Criminal Database Search is perfect as a supplemental search if your current employment screening budget doesn’t allow for much more than a criminal records search in the applicant’s current county of residence.

However, one must proceed with caution when taking advantage of Nationwide Criminal Record Databases for conducting employment screening. The following issues must be considered when deciding to utilize a Nationwide Criminal Record Database as part of your screening program:

  • How often this data is updated: Some courts may only provide updates to wholesale database providers, weekly, monthly, or even quarterly.
  • Technology glitches:  A system glitch for any particular jurisdiction may prevent records from being displayed for that area when a search is conducted.
  • Missing identifiers: Some courts will leave off pertinent information such as full dates of birth, or a middle initial.
  • Inaccurate data: Court records may have been dismissed or expunged, but not updated through the database provider. The court may provide limited information as well, leaving confusing data for final dispositions, or charge levels of cases.

Always ask your Nationwide Criminal Record provider for FULL details regarding coverage and update frequency for your primary state(s) of operation.

What if a criminal record is discovered on my applicant from a Nationwide Criminal Record Database Search?

Always think of a Nationwide Criminal Record Databases as a broad sweeping net, as opposed to a pinpoint tool for finding criminal records.  It’s bound to pick up on some data that may not apply to the applicant, especially if they have a common name. Your screening provider should always take precautionary steps to eliminate similar name or partial date of birth matches on behalf of the applicant.  Steps to filter out bad data in order to protect the applicant include…

  • Reviewing the Social Security Number residence history of the applicant to determine if residency existed near the location of the offense at a corresponding time frame.
  • Review physical descriptions of inmates and dates of release whenever possible through the State Department of Corrections.
  • Review offender photos and reported addresses through State Sex Offender Registry records.

Along with these preliminary filters, always follow FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) guidelines and best practices to ensure a fair due diligence process to the applicant.

Beforeadverse action is taken towards an applicant or a consumer report is finalized…

  1. Present any potentially adverse data found to the applicant and allow them to dispute the information.
  2. Establish a protocol ensuring that your nationwide criminal record database provider automatically verifies adverse data directly at the jurisdiction of origination.

The verdict?

Overall, a Nationwide Criminal Record Database Search is a great tool in order to quickly “sweep” for records across the country in a budget friendly manner. Coverage is not perfect, so it’s best used in conjunction with county criminal record searches. Most importantly, Fair Credit Reporting Act rules must be followed before reporting adverse items that could affect the applicant chances for employment, promotion, etc.

A reputable background screening provider will automatically take precautions against providing you archived and potentially inaccurate data, but never assume this is the case.  Always verify the procedures of your screening company for your own protection, and for the protection of the applicant.\

About the author:

Stacie Nielsen is the Director of Research at Background Screening Consultants LLC and a highly experienced researcher of criminal and civil data.  Please note: Any person or entity utilizing a third party to conduct applicant background checks for per-employment or leasing purposes must follow applicable federal and state laws including, but not limited, to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Articles, blogs, newsletter and other materials issued by Background Screening Consultants LLC ( should not be regarded as, or substituted for, legal advice.

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