Background Screening Blog

Where Fingerprint Background Checks May Fall Short

Posted by Verified Credentials on Nov 13, 2018 8:13:59 AM


Watch any crime show on TV and you’re almost guaranteed to see people checking a crime scene for fingerprints. You’ll watch as they enter those fingerprints into some futuristic database and magically get an exact match including name, address and the suspect’s picture. But TV isn’t real life. While fingerprints can certainly help identify individuals, law enforcement fingerprint databases may not be the ideal screening option for every employer. So, when HR professionals choose to rely solely on state or FBI fingerprints for background screening, they might be missing out on critical information. Here’s how fingerprint background checks stack up against a comprehensive report from a reliable background screening company like Verified Credentials.

Minimize your turnaround time

When conducting a background check, you want the report back as soon as possible. After all, waiting for results can be very costly. Turnaround time is one of the primary differences between a fingerprint check and a report from an experienced background screening company. Companies like Verified Credentials that specialize in background screening typically return results in 24-72 hours. But organizations that only use fingerprint checks aren’t so speedy. The FBI, for example, has a turnaround time of 3-5 business days. And that’s if you submit your request electronically. Submit by mail and the wait time is more like 14-16 weeks. Can you really put your hiring on hold for that long? Augmenting a fingerprint check with a more rapid traditional background report could get information about a candidate in your hands faster for initial evaluation.

Don’t get stuck with incomplete records

No matter how quickly your report comes back, you expect it to have the best information available. Unfortunately, not all background reports are created equal. Again, FBI fingerprint searches may be the “gold standard” for intelligence services, but their fingerprint database of state and federal Department of Justice (DOJ) records isn’t quite so robust. But how can that be? There are two main factors which may lead to outdated or incomplete records:

  1. Fingerprints aren’t always included with a criminal record, especially if it was only a minor violation. So, what may be a relevant offense in the eyes of your company, may not even turn up in a fingerprint search. Do you want to let a record go unfound that may be related to the job?
  2. Fingerprint checks may not report usable information for hiring decisions according to your state’s laws. There’s no limitation on the date of records reported. Do you really want to see an outdated record that occurred so long ago that it may not be used for your hiring decisions?

To really understand the difference, consider this: the FBI database only has around 59 million criminal history records. Compare that to 600 million records in the National Criminal Database Search, a tool that helps employers identify potential locations of criminal records. With only a tenth of the records a National Criminal Database can access, it’s important for companies to understand the limitations of the FBI fingerprint database.

Did we mention any potential records from a National Criminal Database are confirmed directly with the source, generally a county criminal history check? Makes sense, right? You only want to see the most up-to-date and complete details available for a candidate’s criminal record. This extra level of record validation is not something you will find with results from a fingerprint check.

Are fingerprints enough?

There are a number of industries and professions that require a fingerprint check from state or FBI sources. That’s great, but those kinds of background checks won’t necessarily tell you everything you want to know. Fingerprints are exclusively tied to criminal records and won’t give you information at all beyond that.

In contrast, background screening companies provide searches of primary criminal record sources (example: county criminal court records) in addition to database searches. On top of that, a comprehensive background check can include academic and employment verifications, professional license status, reference checks, drug testing, and more. Background screening services are simply more exhaustive rather than a limited fingerprinting database search. This leads to more complete results that can provide important information outside of a single database’s scope.

But that’s not all. Background screening companies put the interests of employers and their candidates first. Industry standards and requirements provide direction on processes for screening companies, best practices for employers, recourse for candidates to challenge reported information...the list goes on. The service a background screening company provides goes well beyond simply “pinging” criminal records like a fingerprint source. Who wouldn’t want better service?

Don’t judge a background check by one database alone

A fingerprint check can help identify and provide some information about candidates. But it’s simply not as fast as a comprehensive background check, nor does it take into account all the possible records available to an experienced background screening company. Fingerprint searches rely on databases alone, and because of those limitations, results can be lacking. Reliable background screening companies like Verified Credentials offer a host of services that provide information from multiple sources. That way, you get a more complete picture of the candidate you’re considering.

So, if you find yourself investigating a mysterious murder and only have a half hour to solve it, the FBI database should work just fine. But for everything else, go with a trusted background screening company and move forward confident in the information you receive.

Is your organization hiring? Schedule a consultation today and let us show you the difference an experienced background screening company can make in your hiring process.

Topics: Employment Background Checks, National Criminal Database Search