How To Conduct a Background Check

"Lawyers and clients use the phrase, background check, as a catchall for many types of investigative research involving people or companies. To some, it encompasses a criminal background check. To others, it means finding general information about a business' products and services, reputation, legal status and competitors. For this reason, it helps to understand the context of the request or the specific problem that needs to be solved. More importantly, if the research involves a person, there are legal and ethical reasons for knowing why someone wants a background check.

Several federal laws govern access to public records and personal information. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) regulates the disclosure of personal information in records maintained by financial institutions. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs access to consumer reports. The Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) regulates access to personal information in driving records. Additional federal laws contain privacy provisions that restrict access to public school and medical records, as well as other records maintained by government agencies.

States also regulate access to government records and personal information. Consequently, records that are public in one state might be restricted in another. Voter registration records are public in Maine, for example, but it would violate Pennsylvania law to use state voter registration information for non-political purposes, such as locating a missing heir.

Even when government records are generally available to the public, there might be restrictions on how you use the information. Some states, for example, do not allow employers to consider arrests unless the arrest resulted in a conviction. In fact, if a client wants background research on a current or prospective employee, the privacy provisions of the FCRA kick in, requiring consent and disclosure.

Researchers who investigate people, therefore, should be familiar with these various laws and their exceptions or permissible uses. "

Read more in this article from the Virtual Chase.