When it comes to background checks, law enforcement agencies rely on two types of identity information to look for records associated with that information – demographic data and biometric information. Demographic data/information is general information associated with a person that can help identify him/her uniquely, such as – name, date of birth, gender, address and more.
Some of this information is assigned circumstantially (such as birth, gender), while some of it can be assigned later (such as name, address, driving license number unique govt. ID number, etc.). In most cases, a single piece of demographic information (such as name, address, date of birth, etc.) may not be enough and they need to be used together to make it a PII (personally identifiable information). Some of a person’s demographics may be shared by several individuals and can lead to redundancies or error in identification in some cases.
Law enforcement agencies follow a different approach since they serve criminal justice and need highest level of accuracy in personal identification so that no innocent can be punished or implicated for someone else’s wrongdoings.
Law enforcement agencies use biometric characteristics of the criminals to identify them, but they also check demographic information to make sure that biometric information has fetched the right record. In some law enforcement scenarios, demographic information may not be available– such as a latent print found at a crime scene. In such cases, they have to rely entirely on the fingerprint information to match with the newly acquired fingerings of know identities (suspects).
Fingerprint based check as well as name based checks are also used in civil background check applications. Unlike criminal justice these background checks are done to make sure that the applicant does not have any criminal record that may potentially disqualify him/her.
What is the difference between a background check and a fingerprint check?
A background check, as the name suggests, is the process of verifying identity and other information claimed by an individual as a part of the hiring, licensure, immigration, etc. process. There can be several components in a background check process and the identity check is generally performed in all types of background checks. Some of the types of background checks are – credential checks, professional license checks, identity checks, criminal background checks, etc.
Background checks can be done using demographic as well as biometric (such as fingerprints) information, however, when done with fingerprints, these checks focus specifically on criminal history background checks.
- The data may not be associated with fingerprints, for example in credential checks, you have to individually call an institution to verify claimed details or use a web interface if the institution has that.
- Even if data is associated with fingerprint records, there may be legal implications for using fingerprints in non-criminal background checks.
Fingerprint-based background checks are profoundly more reliable as these physical characteristics are assigned by nature. Fingerprint patterns are complex enough to have an almost infinite possibility of variations. Owing to this factor, fingerprint patterns of one person are almost unlikely to repeat in another human being. Even two fingers of the same person do not share similar fingerprints. Nor they are shared among blood relatives or even twins. In recorded history, there has been no documented case of two fingers having the same fingerprints.
All these characteristics make fingerprints extremely unique and personal characteristics unlike names or other demographics that are assigned by human beings and have a high probability of duplication.
Fingerprint-based background checks are not only more reliable due to the unique nature of fingerprint patterns but also more immune to manipulation.
What shows up on a fingerprint background check?
Fingerprint background checks are generally conducted to fetch the criminal history of a person. It shows up previous criminal convictions, pending charges, misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions, dismissal of charges, and acquitted charges displayed on a fingerprint background check.
An employer can find out about any previous criminal convictions through a criminal background check. Things like pending charges, misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions, dismissal of charges, and acquitted charges are displayed in this screening process. Having this knowledge is important for companies that have any concerns about liability. Before background checks, the employer may also require you to fill out a form stating if you have any past or pending payments.
In some job types, a criminal background check can be a mandatory process to follow and if any instance of arrest or prosecution comes up during the criminal background check, it is a clear red flag. How a small business owner deals with the situation is entirely up to him/her. In some industry types, hiring a candidate with a criminal history is prohibited by regulations. In other job types, the business owner may choose to consider the applicant’s candidature if the crime is not serious.
FBI Fingerprint background check for employment
The fingerprint background check has become an important tool for employers to screen potential employees for their criminal history. Fingerprint background check for employment is in fact a mandatory process in many employment types as well as licensures such as banking, financial services, childcare services, government jobs, military services, etc.
By conducting background checks, employers want to make sure that the information furnished by a candidate is true and that the candidate is who he/she claims to be. Employment background checks generally include verification of identity past employment, credentials, credit background check, and criminal history record check (fingerprint-based background checks).
When an employer takes a candidate through an FBI fingerprint background check for employment, it receives an Identity History Summary (rap sheet) in return. This rap sheet contains all the instances of past criminal convictions, pending charges, misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions, dismissal of charges, and acquitted charges. By analyzing the FBI Identity History Summary of the candidate, an employer can make a hiring decision depending on the seriousness of the candidate’s identity history summary.
Fingerprint background check results
Due to technological advancement and continuous improvement in the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system, fingerprint background check requests are now being produced faster than ever. Fingerprint background check results offer the best turnaround time when the background check request and fingerprints are submitted electronically with the live scan fingerprinting method.
Candidates can expect communication in 2 to 3 days. If you do not have an Identity History Summary (rap sheet) on file, you will receive a response by first-class mail via the U.S. Postal Service explaining you have no prior arrest data on file with the FBI.
However, if you do have an Identity History Summary on file, you will receive your Identity History Summary or rap sheet by first-class mail via the U.S. Postal Service. Your results will be provided on standard white paper. Fingerprint background checks may have errors such as incorrect information or incidents that never took place. If you think that there is an error in your Identity History Summary (rap sheet), or it shows incorrect information, you can request a change or correction.
Fingerprint background check – how long does it take?
If the fingerprint background check request is placed with a live scan and electronic submission of fingerprints, you can expect the fasted fingerprint background check results. Live scan fingerprint submission-based background check requests generally takes 2 to 3 days to return your results provided the FBI is not dealing with an extraordinary volume of background check requests during that particular period. It also depends on the accuracy of demographic data as well as fingerprints included in your background check request.If there are issues such as inaccurate demographic details or poor quality prints, it may take longer to return your background check results.
Fingerprint background check cost
A fingerprint background check may be requested for a number of reasons such as employment, immigration, licensure, etc. These requests are sent to a law enforcement/criminal justice agency that maintains the criminal history database of the identities associated with the fingerprints (and maybe other biometrics). Fingerprint background checks incur a cost that has to be borne either by the applicant or the fingerprint background check requesting organization (such as your employer).
- Fee charged by the fingerprinting service provider (commonly referred to as “rolling fee”) which covers the cost of the fingerprinting service, and
- Fee charged by the govt. agency, it covers the cost of running the background check request by the government agency.
The fee charged by the fingerprinting service provider may vary from one service provider to another. It also depends on the location of fingerprinting (e.g. the state/city of your fingerprinting). For example in the state of California, a rolling fee may range from $30-40, while the California Department of Justice charges $25-42 depending on the type of request. If you also want the FBI checks along with DoJ checks, there will be an additional fee that can be around $17. Fees provided in this example are indicative and may be subject to change.
Background check without fingerprints
When you go through an employment hiring process or apply for a license to work in a regulated industry, you most probably will be asked to submit your fingerprints, and it’s now common knowledge what they will be used for – criminal history record checks. But is the fingerprint-based search the only way to access your criminal history records? Not really.
It is a common misconception that when background checks are performed without fingerprints, criminal history records will not be screened. The reality is that criminal background checks can be performed without fingerprints as well. It is just that law enforcement agencies (the FBI) have a very organized and highly efficient NGI (Next Generation Identification) system that is likely to produce more reliable results when a query is made by submitting fingerprints in the system.
It does not mean that the agency does not have the ability to perform background checks without fingerprints. Since they also have demographic details associated with the known biometric identities, they can perform a name-based criminal history check as well. In fact, they have a system called NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) that is aimed to conduct name-based background checks without needing the applicant’s fingerprints. It can be accessed via a web interface or phone and provides instant background check ability. It produced results within minutes. It is used for people who want to purchase a firearm or explosive, before the transfer of these items.
Fingerprint-based criminal history background checks have revolutionized how law enforcement agencies maintain and accurately verify criminal-history records. Associating identity information with fingerprints significantly reduces the chances of errors in identification, which is a critical aspect of criminal justice procedures. This is why applicant fingerprints are collected for criminal history background checks to ensure that there is no room for error in fetching the records.
This does not mean that name-based background checks are no more useful. They have their own significance when you need quick results in background check applications, unlike fingerprint-based background checks which can take up to 3 days or more in some cases.
The credibility of fingerprint-based personal identification is the reason why it is creeping into non-criminal (civil) use cases and is used for applications like unique voter identification, civil ID, etc. in many parts of the world.