Background Screening Comparison

Background Screening Comparison

Discussion on two common background screenings

A background check can mean different things depending on the situation it is used in and the organization performing the check. Typically, however, it encompasses the process of compiling data from both private and public sources for various purposes, including employment screening or tenant rental agreements. Two common background screenings, which will be discussed and compared in this article, are professional background screenings and fingerprint-based searches.

Professional Background Screenings

Professional background screenings are performed by professional Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs), such as USAFact. During this screening, the CRA will compile information from various sources to develop a comprehensive report on a given subject based on the scope of a request. Some sources may include a combination of courts, state repositories, educational institutions, employers, state Departments of Motor Vehicle (DMVs), commercial databases, and more.

Typical searches may include identity verification, criminal history, employment verification, education verification, driver’s records and license history, professional license, and personal or professional reference, among other global searches.

Professional background screenings are highly regulated and all screeners operate according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et. seq. (FCRA) as well as other state privacy and consumer protection laws.

Fingerprint-Based Searches

Fingerprint-based searches are performed by the FBI because they involve searching the FBI database to retrieve an FBI Identification Record. These records include information taken from fingerprint submissions in relation to arrests, federal employment, naturalization, and military service and can only be performed if the employer has legal authority under statute, as they involve searching the FBI database.

Fingerprint searches are not investigative, as they only reflect information that was previously received by the FBI from states and municipalities. Data collection for the FBI database relies upon the state or county reporting of arrest records or court dispositions, and therefore can lead to a large number of incomplete files, especially when coupled with a passive collection system.

The turnaround on these searches vary significantly based on the consumer’s access to fingerprint collection sites as well as FBI processing times. As of now, there is no single government database that contains all complete and up-to-date records regarding a person’s criminal history.


Both professional background screenings and fingerprint-based searches allow applicants to dispute incorrect information. Incomplete and inaccurate records are often more easily disputed in professional background screenings.

Professional background screenings compile information from multiple sources, whereas fingerprint-based searches only pull information from a single database. CRAs often verify the completeness of records by supplementing information from different sources and confirming the identity of applicants through alternate means, including their middle name, DOB, address, and other unique identifiers. This allows professional background screenings to analyze and check their data for accuracy, tailor their screenings to provide a more complete profile based on the position and needs of the employer, and include information from outside of the United States.

On the other hand, fingerprint-based searches are reliant solely on the completeness of records in the FBI database which, as discussed before, may be incomplete due to state or county failure to report arrest or court records. These searches also require the submission of applicant fingerprints, as they are used as the sole identifier. Without these prints, there can be no information found.

Professional background screenings often have higher levels of accuracy and return results quicker, often within 48-72 hours. CRAs such as USAFact are pushed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and other market forces to assure maximum possible accuracy. Fingerprint-based searches with the FBI are not subject to these pressures.

Professional background screenings are more heavily regulated than fingerprint-based searches, but fingerprint-based searches can only be performed in certain cases. Only in the case of professional background screenings are applicants protected by both the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and state privacy laws. On the other hand, fingerprint-based searches can only be performed when granted access by state or federal statute.