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Online Background Checks for Employment: What You Need to Know


Employers can leverage online background checks to screen potential new hires and ensure they have the necessary qualifications and experience to perform their jobs.

While some online background check providers offer accurate, current, and legally-compliant reports to their clients, others do not.

To choose a trusted online employment background check provider, you need to know what to look for and understand the laws that govern the background check process.

At iprospectcheck, we regularly conduct employment background checks for companies in every state and have written this online background screening guide as a resource for employers.

What Are Online Background Checks for Employment?

Online employment background checks search various aspects of an applicant’s background such as their criminal history, employment history, education, and others.

Employers might conduct online background checks themselves or with the help of third-party employment background screening providers.

The reliability of online employment background checks can broadly vary, making it important for employers to choose third parties that are reputable and comply with all relevant employment background check laws.

What Types of Background Checks are Available to Employers?

Employers can request many different types of background checks for employment from online providers based on their needs.

The following searches are most commonly requested by employers:

  • Criminal history
  • Employment verification
  • Education verification
  • Professional license verification
  • Social Security number (SSN) trace
  • Motor vehicle records (MVR) checks

Here’s what might appear on each of these different types of searches.

Criminal Records Check

Most employers request criminal history searches as a part of their employment background checks.

A criminal records check reveals the following information about pending criminal cases and convictions:

  • Type of crime
  • Offense date
  • Severity level (misdemeanor/felony)
  • Case disposition (if applicable)
  • Date disposed (if applicable)
  • Sentence (if applicable)

Criminal records searches allow employers to see whether a candidate might have a conviction or pending case that could disqualify them for the position or endanger workplace safety.

In states in which individuals are allowed to expunge certain types of criminal records, expunged records can’t be reported.

Employment Verification

Employment verification involves searching records of an applicant’s employment history and shows the following information about every past job:

  • Address, name, and contact information for each employer
  • Dates the applicant was employed with each former employer
  • Positions held and titles for each past job

In some cases, applicants are dishonest about previous work experience and supply fake references to cover their tracks.

Employment verification reveals if a candidate has been honest on their resume about their work history and shows whether they have the required experience and skills to perform the tasks of their jobs.

Professional License Verification

Employers hiring for jobs requiring professional licenses often request license verification.

Professional license verification shows the following information about a candidate’s license:

  • Validity of the license
  • Type of license
  • Issuance date
  • Expiration date
  • Any public license sanctions

Verifying the professional license of a candidate ensures employers only hire candidates who have the necessary qualifications to perform their jobs and helps to avoid potential negligent hiring liability.

Education Verification

Education verification confirms the following details about the education of an applicant:

  • Names and addresses of every educational institution attended
  • Attendance dates
  • Diplomas, degrees, or certificates awarded

Motor Vehicle Record Checks

Companies that hire people whose job duties will include driving often conduct motor vehicle record (MVR) checks.

An MVR check shows the following details about an applicant’s driver’s license:

  • License type
  • Date of issuance
  • Licensee’s full legal name
  • Physical identifiers (photograph, weight, height, eye color)
  • License expiration date
  • Traffic infractions
  • Major traffic offenses
  • License suspensions and revocations

This type of information is essential for verifying that an applicant is an insurable and safe driver.

SSN Trace

An SSN trace is a search for information about the Social Security number reported by an applicant and serves as a starting point for an employment background check.

An SSN trace reveals the following information about a reported Social Security number:

  • Validity of the number
  • When the number was issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • The state where the number was issued
  • All names and aliases associated with the SSN
  • Addresses associated with the SSN
  • Date of birth for the number’s owner

Rather than being a standalone search, an SSN trace can provide a starting point for an employment background check of other searches that should be conducted.

How to Conduct an Online Background Check

Employers conduct online background checks in one of two ways, including trying to search for information on their own or partnering with third-party providers.

Let’s take a look at each method and its pros and cons:

1. Do-It-Yourself

Some employers attempt to complete background checks on applicants by sending requests to various agencies online, searching public databases, and checking for information about their candidates on search engines and social media.


  • Relatively inexpensive other than fees for information requests from public agencies and research partners


  • Time-consuming
  • Costs involved with labor expended to conduct searches
  • High potential of returning inaccurate, outdated information
  • Potential of uncovering information that can’t legally be used for hiring decisions
  • May not know how or where to find court indexes
  • May not know how to interpret court indexes
  • Searching records in distant courts without online records access can require that you hire a researcher
  • Several critical tools of professional background screeners may not be available to employers

2. Partner With a Third Party Background Check Provider

The second, and better, approach used by employers to conduct online background checks is to partner with a reliable third-party provider like iprospectcheck.


  • Fast reports in as little as a few hours
  • Accurate and current background information
  • Fully compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and other federal, state, and local laws
  • Broad variety of available types of background searches
  • Has access to all the best technology for searching for criminal records, past employers and education verifications


While working with a professional background screening company will create an expense for your company, when you compare the cost to the expense of using internal researchers using the right company will present a major cost savings.

Important Employment Background Check Laws and Regulations

When you are conducting online employment background checks, you must understand and follow the laws and regulations that apply.

Federal Laws

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The FCRA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and protects consumer privacy in the data gathered, held, and reported by third-party consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), including employment background check providers.

This law restricts the ability of CRAs to report the following information when it is older than seven years for jobs that pay salaries under $75,000 per year:

  • Paid liens
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Arrests that didn’t result in convictions
  • Civil judgments
  • Bankruptcies older than seven or 10 years, depending on the type

This restriction doesn’t apply when you are offering a salary of $75,000 or more.

The FCRA also doesn’t prohibit the reporting of conviction information, employment history, or education information no matter how old it might be.

However, some state and local jurisdictions might have laws that place restrictions on the reporting of conviction information for expunged records or certain types of convictions after a specific time has passed.

For employers, the FCRA also controls what they can do with the information they receive on employment background checks.

If you discover red flags on an applicant’s background check report, you must go through the adverse action process before ultimately deciding against hiring them.

Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act (FCA)

The FCA is a federal ban-the-box law that applies to federal agencies and federal contractors.

If you are a federal contractor, you can’t ask about criminal history information on your applications and can’t conduct criminal background checks on applicants until after you have extended a conditional job offer.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

Title VII is the pre-eminent anti-discrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination based on the protected status of employees and applicants.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency that creates regulations under this law and enforces them.

Under EEOC guidance, Title VII applies to background checks when employers discover an applicant’s conviction record.

Employers must individually assess convictions as they relate to the duties of the position and/or to the safety of the workplace before deciding not to hire.

State Laws

State and local jurisdictions have laws about employment background checks that broadly vary.

Some states have expungement laws that allow individuals to petition the court to have certain convictions expunged from their records.

An increasing number of state and local jurisdictions have enacted ban-the-box laws that control when employers can ask about criminal history information and complete background checks.

To learn about the laws in your jurisdiction, you should consult your legal counsel.

How to Select an Online Background Check Provider

Finding the right online background check provider can feel like a landmine for employers.

Numerous online vendors are claiming they offer free background checks, but you should avoid them.

These vendors often return reports filled with inaccuracies and outdated information and return reports that don’t comply with the FCRA.

The provider you choose should have an excellent reputation and a documented history of accuracy.

At iprospectcheck, we verify everything before we report it, and we fully comply with the FCRA and other relevant background check laws.

6 Best Practices for Conducting Background Checks

1. Create a Background Check Policy

Before you start conducting online employment background checks, you should create a well-thought-out background check policy for your company.

Your policy should ensure that the searches performed by your company are consistent for all candidates for specific categories of jobs and that HR staff understands the procedures they must follow.

2. Wait Until Later in the Hiring Process to Conduct Background Checks

While ban-the-box laws are not universal, it’s still a good idea to wait to conduct background checks until after you have interviewed employees or have extended conditional offers of employment.

Waiting to do so can save time and money while also ensuring you remain ahead of the changing laws.

3. Properly Notify Applicants

The FCRA requires employers to properly notify applicants that they conduct background checks.

Inform your candidates that you intend to conduct background checks on a separate written document in clearly written terms. Ask them to review it and sign that they have read and understood it.

4. Obtain Signed Consent From Each Candidate

Before you can complete a background check, you must also obtain the written, signed consent of the candidate.

You can include this consent form in the notice of your intent to conduct a background check. Make sure to retain this signed consent in your records.

5. Assess Convictions As They Relate to the Duties of the Job

If you learn that an applicant has a conviction from a background check, consider it in light of the duties the applicant would be required to perform if hired.

Document your findings from the individual assessment, and retain them in your records.

7. Complete the Adverse Action Process Before Deciding Not to Hire Someone

If information from a background check makes you not want to hire a candidate, take the following steps:

  • Send a pre-adverse action notice with a copy of the report and the specific negative information
  • Provide the application with five days to give you mitigating evidence or contest the validity of the information
  • Send a final adverse action notice with a copy of their rights under the FCRA and other laws

iprospectcheck: Your Employment Screening Partner of Choice

Online background checks help employers obtain a helpful picture of their candidates so that they can make smarter hiring decisions.

It’s important to ensure the background check provider you choose is legally compliant, accurate, and stays up-to-date with the changing employment laws and regulations.

At iprospectcheck, we use advanced research technologies to quickly return fully compliant, accurate, and affordable background check reports to our clients.

To learn more about the background check services we offer or to obtain a free quote, call us today: (888) 509-1979

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.