What is a Fingerprint Background Check?
In the United States, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) is the central database of fingerprints and arrest data managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Launched in 1999, this database of fingerprints was created by archiving the fingerprints submitted to the FBI by law enforcement agencies.
The fingerprints of people from all walks of life are now searchable in this database, not just criminals and terrorists.
Today, the fingerprints of over 35 million Americans are stored within IAFIS.
The process wherein an individual's fingerprints are taken and crosschecked against a database of fingerprints is called a fingerprint background check.
Background checks are a common step in the screening process of an individual not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
For example, the United Kingdom's fingerprinting identification system is called IDENT1 and Canada's is called CRIMS.
Why Would I Need a Background Check?
In many fields of work, employers are mandated by federal or state regulations to conduct a fingerprint background check of a prospective employee.
In other cases, the check is not required by law, but is required for the safety of the company and its customers.
The more trust placed on the job position, the more likely an employment background check will be requested.
Employment Background Checks
- Law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and hospitals require a background check of all employees involved in any capacity.
- Fingerprint background checks are mandatory for all other government-run institutions as well, including public schools and airports.
- Any professional whose career involves dealing with minors, the elderly, or other vulnerable people would undergo a background check.
- A family may conduct a background check on job applicants that will be caring for their children, such as nannies or babysitters.
- Applying to become a real estate appraiser, loan officer, or mortgage broker can often require a background check before you receive your license.
- Many other fields require a check to become licensed including: veterinarian, chiropractor, acupuncturist, anesthesiologist, optometrist, and funeral director.
- Large corporations commonly perform background checks to verify a prospective employee's identification, criminal history, and employment references.
- Background checks are required by all businesses in which trust is a vital component of their day-to-day operations, including banks, casinos, and pharmacies.
- Any job that involves the handling or transportation of hazardous waste, chemicals, or explosives requires a background check.
- Current employees receiving a promotion that warrants additional security clearances may be subject to a check even if they were already checked when hired.
Besides helping employers make critical hiring decisions with confidence, there are other reasons to do a background check via fingerprinting:
How to do a Fingerprint Background Check
- Someone applying for a weapon permit may have to undergo a fingerprint background check. This is mandatory in some states while not in others.
- A background check along with a certification course is commonly required to obtain a permit to purchase and handle dangerous items such as fireworks.
- When buying or investing in a business, a fingerprint background check of the owner may be done for due diligence and to protect financial interests.
- Before getting married, a cautious boyfriend or girlfriend may hire a private investigator to conduct a background check on their soon-to-be spouse.
- A victim of some wrong-doing may want to check the background of the person who took advantage of them in order to assist law enforcement or their lawyer.
- During litigation, an attorney may pay for a background check to gain negative information on an opponent's credibility, thereby invalidating their testimony.
- A person may do a background check on themselves in order to satisfy a requirement for adopting a baby, to live or work in certain countries, or to challenge false information.
- Background checks can be used for nefarious reasons as well. An identity thief may pose as a legitimate organization requesting a check in order to gain personal information.
A background check was traditionally done with the help of fingerprinting ink and fingerprint cards.
Individuals would leave an impression of their fingers on a fingerprint card using specially made ink.
Initially, this was done with only the thumb but that was later changed to include all fingers to get more accurate results and to leave less room for errors.
Fingerprint cards were physically transported and manually checked against a fingerprint database by experts in the field.
This process could take weeks.
Today however, an electronic fingerprinting process called Live Scan
is much more common.
This paperless technology is less time consuming, less messy, easier to use, and far more accurate than traditional ink fingerprinting background checks.
First, a fingerprint scanner is used to digitally scan all of an individual's fingerprints.
Encoded image files of these ten prints are then submitted via a web-based application to IAFIS or to a private fingerprinting service.
You can also do a check on yourself for free.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, some background check companies are considered "consumer reporting agencies".
If requested, these agencies are required by law to provide you with a free copy of your report every 12 months.
View our list of Consumer Reporting Agencies
This is unlikely to be as thorough as an actual background check you or a 3rd party would pay for.
How Long Does a Background Check Take?
If the background search returns a successful match, information on the person is returned within a few days.
Some private services may expedite your request for an additional fee.
What Does a Background Check Show?
There a different levels of background checks. Some may only verify a social security number while others delve deeper into a person's history.
The information shown on a background check may include:
Employment and education history, driving record, criminal record, property ownership, workers' compensation records, backruptcy history, and credit scores.
Depending on your state's laws, arrests which did not result in a conviction, financial information older than 10 years, and medical records are not commonly shown on a background check.
Where Can I Get a Background Check?
If you wish to conduct a fingerprint background check on yourself or someone else, select your state to find a nearby provider.