What employers need to know about fingerprint background checks.


FBI fingerprint checks get a lot of attention in the media. To solve a case on CSI, all they need is a fingerprint to scan to find their suspect. If anyone is going to have the complete criminal history on an individual, it’s going to be the FBI, right? Well, not exactly.


While the FBI Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System is useful, it is only one tool that should be used when conducting background checks.

The United States Government Accountability Office published a study in February 2015 that found the following states had none or incomplete records in their fingerprint databases; 20 states were 75% complete, 13 states were only 50% complete, 9 states were 25% complete and 8 states were under 25% complete in arrest and conviction records from their county jurisdictions. 


Here are four of the most common misconceptions about FBI background checks, and what companies need to know to make informed decisions for their employment screening program.


Myth #1: The FBI fingerprint database is the all-encompassing background check.

Fact: There is no single database containing all criminal records in the United States. In fact, nearly half of all final outcome criminal records are missing from the FBI database. This is because many jurisdictions nationwide do not report to the database due to inconsistencies in state/county reporting requirements.


Myth #2: The FBI fingerprint database contains comprehensive details of every and is updated in real-time.

Fact: One in every two FBI records is missing critical information. Why? The FBI data relies on thousands of contributing jurisdictions nationwide. Since every jurisdiction has its own procedures and timeframe for recording and reporting criminal record information, there are significant time lags between transmittal and original entry. Records can be weeks or months out of date. Plus, there are instances where fingerprints aren’t taken and these charges and dispositions never reach the database.


Myth #3: A fingerprint-based search is safer and superior to all other searches available.

Fact: While fingerprint-based searches find direct matches, other name-based searches that authenticate with both the date of birth and social security number provide equally accurate results. Fingerprinting is a great resource to use as part of a comprehensive program that runs several searches at the state and county levels together to validate information.


Myth #4: The FBI updates its database when cases receive their final disposition or outcome.

Fact: A large percentage of the FBI’s records fail to include the final disposition of a case. Nearly one-third of felony arrests are reduced to misdemeanors or do not result in a conviction. However, because of discrepancies in reporting requirements by states and counties, the final deposition outcome often doesn’t make it to the FBI’s database. Without this crucial bit of information, a complete and accurate report cannot be completed which may result in an unfair adverse action against an applicant. That’s why it if there is a “hit” on any record, a county search should be conducted to verify and find the final disposition information.


What’s an Employer to do?

There is no single source that can provide all information on a candidate. An FBI fingerprint search is a great start for industries that are required to conduct them but they should also be accompanied by other searches as well.

Working with a nationally accredited screening company like AmericanChecked, employers can build their screening programs that incorporate fingerprinting services that provide a more complete picture than a standalone search.

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