Free Criminal Background Check Methods in 2022 (Criminal Records Search)

Headshot photo of criminal records expert and Background Check Repair author Kristy Griffin, JDWritten by Kristy Griffin

Background Checks | October 14, 2022

Magnifying glass showing a person in striped jail suit under regular clothes next to a free criminal background check report.

Free Criminal Background Check
Check anyone's criminal record to search their past for crimes, charges, arrests, court cases, and convictions.

A free criminal background check is designed to review a person’s legal, professional and personal history to find any criminal misconduct. It typically searches databases that contain criminal records of individuals to determine if the person in question has any past arrests or convictions.

Many online sites offer free criminal background checks. This article explores the various methods available in 2022, including how to conduct your own manual criminal records search.

What Information Can Be Found in a Free Criminal Background Check?

Depending on what you need to use the check for, free criminal background checks may be missing a great deal of information. Information about a person’s criminal history may be located in many places, and not all of it can be found online or in easily accessible places. It may only check for crimes committed by the subject, but it may include additional information.1

You are very unlikely to find all the available information about a person from a free criminal background check. Some of the information that you may want to have, but which may not be provided by a free criminal background check include:

  • Arrests
  • Incarceration Time Served
  • Sex Offender Reports
  • Driving Records
  • Results Of Drug Tests
  • Litigation Involving The Subject
  • Legal Name
  • Aliases
  • Date Of Birth
  • Relatives
  • Weapons Permit
  • Judgments Against The Subject
  • Citizenship
  • Social Security Number
  • Education Records
  • Employment Records
  • Licensing Records
  • Military Records

Why Run a Criminal Background Check in the First Place?

Criminal background checks are used for many reasons, including both professional and personal. When used for professional reasons, a criminal background check must comply with specific laws, including getting the person’s consent. For example, an employer must be careful to not use the information in a background check in a manner that violates the equal employment opportunity law.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer can not use background check information to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, and other reasons. There is specific guidance on hiring practices when considering arrests and convictions from a criminal background check on the EEOC website.

However, when a criminal background check is run and used for strictly personal reasons, the laws regarding consent do not apply. You don’t have to explain your reason for running a criminal background check if it is only for personal use.2

Personal Reasons for Running a Criminal Records Search or Criminal Background Check

A person may need to run their own criminal background check for multiple reasons. For example, according to the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs,  United States citizens may need to show that they have a clean criminal background history when dealing with other countries. Times when this might come up are:

  • Foreign Adoption Procedures
  • Employment in Another Country
  • Attending a College or University Abroad

Additional Reasons Include:

  • Screening a potential date or romantic partner – If you use an online dating or match-making service you may want to run a criminal background check. Even if you think you’ve found your soul mate online, it would be wise to check him or her out before meeting in person. Safety should be your top priority. With a clean criminal background check, you can feel more comfortable getting to know him or her.
  • Screening new acquaintances – Even if you’ve personally met someone new, it may be wise to run a criminal background check. Before bringing a new person into your personal circle of family and friends, you may want to know more about their past.
  • Screening a child’s coach, tutor, instructor, babysitter or other adults near your child –  Keeping a child safe is usually a parent’s highest priority. Before hiring a babysitter to occasionally watch your children, it’s wise to run a criminal background check. It’s also a good idea to know more about your child’s coach, tutor, or lesson instructor. A criminal background check is even more important if your child will be spending time alone with that adult.  You may want to screen the dad of your child’s best friend before allowing your child to spend time at that person’s home, especially for a sleepover.  It may be wise to find out more about an adult before allowing your child to even ride in the vehicle with them.  Do they have a history of driving under the influence, or recklessly?
  •  Screening your new neighbors – Sometimes you just want to know more about the people living near you. Do you have a sex offender living down the street? Maybe someone with a burglary in their past? Before asking your neighbor to water your houseplants while you’re on vacation, you might want to check his or her criminal background.

Professional Reasons to Run a Criminal Background Check

Running and using a free criminal background check for a professional purpose requires careful attention to the law. There are many times when a free criminal background check may be needed for professional use, including:

  • Employment screening – a potential employer may wish to consider whether a person has a criminal history. It may be used when deciding if an applicant is considered trustworthy. Some positions require a criminal background check by legal statute (such as a nursing background check). And some companies have their own security policies that would require a criminal background check. However, it is crucial to remember to follow the laws.  An employer should never use criminal background record information to discriminate against anyone based on race, color, national origin, sex, or any reason protected under law.
  • Tenant screening – A landlord may want to run a criminal background check before leasing a home or apartment to someone. Doing so may help a landlord be more comfortable that the potential tenant is trustworthy. A trustworthy tenant is more likely to pay his rent on time and take care of the property. A landlord may also want to run a tenant background check that searches criminal records to help protect himself or other tenants from potential harm. Landlords are also required to comply with discrimination laws and should never use criminal background information to discriminate against anyone for reasons protected by law.
  • Loan or Mortgage screening – A loan officer may use a criminal check to help determine the trustworthiness of the applicant. A trustworthy person is likely to be seen as less of a risk to the loan officer. Just as with employers and landlords, a loan officer is prohibited from using criminal background information to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, or any other category protected by law.
  • Firearm purchase screening – The FBI provides an instant background check when someone attempts to purchase a gun or explosive.  Through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a check is conducted to determine whether the customer has a criminal background or is otherwise disqualified from purchasing the firearm.

How to Run a Free Criminal Background Check

There are many options available now to obtain a free criminal background check on yourself or someone else. First, you could try to run the criminal background check by doing it yourself. The DIY method can be very time consuming and frustrating (think DMV efficiency, multiplied by a number of agencies that contain the records). Also, some pertinent information may require formal requests and other access that is difficult to achieve without assistance.

What About a Free Background Check on Myself?

There are also services online that provide free criminal background checks, and it can be tempting to use a free service, however, doing so may not be the best choice, given the drawbacks to accessing criminal databases.

Of course, you can run your own background check on yourself anytime you like, since you essentially provide the ‘consent’ required.

Background Check Free Methods

If you go the DIY route to obtain a background check, you might want to search in the following places:

  • Use Google – Google can help you find important information about a person, especially if you already have some basic facts. It’s helpful if you know locations where the person may have resided, or their date of birth.
  • Use Facebook – You can use social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to find useful information about a person. A person may not reveal much negative information in their social media accounts. However, people often post things without even realizing how much information they are giving away.
  • Use Court Records – If you know where a person lives and where they may have lived in the past, you can check public court records. Because many people have lived in several different locations, this method could be very time-consuming.

The other free option is to use one of the many online sites that offer a free criminal background check. However, you may be disappointed by what you get from a free site. Often these sites deliver inaccurate and incomplete information (or the basic searches from social media that you could do yourself). You probably wouldn’t want to rely on one of these sites to make a critical decision about a person.

Do Totally Free Criminal Background Checks Work?

Totally free criminal background checks usually do not work very well. Doing it yourself and searching Google, court records and a person’s social media accounts can be time consuming and frustrating. More importantly, it will likely be lacking a lot of critical information.

Using a site that offers a totally free criminal background check may seem like an easy choice, however, it’s not usually a wise choice. The information in a free background check has usually not been verified for accuracy.

In addition, using a free background check could lead to legal trouble. If you don’t comply with the law when running a free criminal background check (like when consent is required), you could set yourself up for a lawsuit.

Using a free criminal background check service may be one of those times when “you get what you pay for.”

Totally Free Background Checks: The Issues

Again, it may be tempting to use an online site that offers a free background check. It seems fast and the sites make it sound like a great deal.

But when it comes to background checks, there are more important considerations.  You want your information to be complete, verified, and you want your search to be legal. Typical issues include:

Free Background Check Online Is Missing Key Information

Unfortunately, a free background check is usually missing key information. Free background checks are so fast because they only search through what’s available online. Not all records are available online and nobody is going to go searching through hard copies of records for free.

Free Background Check Online (No Charge) Isn’t Verified

The sites that offer completely free background checks do not verify the accuracy and completeness of the information they provide.  This should come as no surprise.  To provide complete information and verify the accuracy of the information requires someone a lot of time and effort.  A site can not afford to pay for that kind of accuracy and oversight at no charge.

100% Free Criminal Records Checks Might Get You Sued

It can be fairly easy to get into legal trouble with a free criminal records background check.  If you use a 100% free criminal records check, you might get sued for violating the FCRA or other law.  Employers, landlords, and others must be especially careful in how they conduct and use a criminal background check.

How to Find Out if Someone Has A Criminal Record Free: Use a Trial

Many legitimate and good background check businesses offer a free trial of their services. This would be a good way to check a particular person you may be interested in.

It’s also a good way to try out the services of a background check business if you need to conduct on-going background checks. It would be much safer to use the free trial of a legitimate paid service to conduct a criminal background check for free.

This is the way to get the best of both worlds. You get the quality of a paid service provider for free. Of course, there is a limit to the free component, but it really is the perfect solution for a one-time use.

List of Free Criminal Background Checks

  • Instant Checkmate –  this service provider sometimes offers a free trial.  It is consistently ranked high on the list of best background check service providers.3 However, the site specifically states that the customer agrees not to use the information for employment screening, housing, credit and insurance worthiness. A very useful component to this company’s site is their “do’s and don’ts” section that explains how you are allowed to use a criminal background search.4
  • Checkr – this background check service provider started doing business in 2014.  Their offices are located in San Francisco and Denver. When you sign up for their services, your first background check is free. Checkr is FCRA compliant and accredited by the  Professional Background Screening Association.  They use Artificial Intelligence to ensure accuracy and deliver faster results. This company was even recently featured in Forbes as one of America’s best start-up companies.5
  • US Search – this service provider started its business in 1993 and claims to have access to billions of records.  With all this experience, their site still offers a free 2-day trial.  You can run multiple searches for free for the first two days.  After the trial period you will be charged and enrolled in a monthly subscription.6
  • Crunch base (formerly Info Tracer) – offers a 7-day free trial.  After the free trial period, you are billed $29/month, annually for the starter package, $49/ month for the Pro version, and an undisclosed price for the custom package.  They have a list of impressive companies that use their services, including Honda, Asana, and Samsung.7
  • Archives – this site offers a free trial. You can access death, birth, marriage and military records, and other records. The site also offers DNA Testing, a Family Tree Guide, Vital Records and Family histories.8
  • Ancestry – this company offers a 14-day free trial.  You can access over 27 billion records and 100 million family trees.  Clearly, this site provides a vast amount of information about a person’s family.9
  • Free Background Check – offers completely free background checks. They claim to offer information about a person’s arrest record, birth, marriage and death records, as well as criminal records.10
  • Vital Search – is a good choice for searching specific types of records for free. With this service provider, it is free to access a person’s marriage, divorce, birth, and death records.11
  • Intelius – is often ranked highly by consumers. It is not a free service but does offer a 7-day free trial when you sign up for the premium membership. You must cancel before the 7-day period expires or you will be charged the monthly fee.12

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions about Free Criminal Background Checks)

Where does a background check come from?

A criminal background check comes from a search of many databases that collect information recording arrest, convictions and other information. A background check may also include a search of social media accounts, civil court records and records such as birth, death, marriage and divorce.

Yes, a background check can be done legally. If you run a criminal background check for purposes of employment or tenant screening, you must adhere to certain federal laws. Use of a criminal background check must comply with all applicable laws, including the FCRA. The Federal Trade Commission has provided a complete guide to the FCRA for employers and job applicants alike which can be found at their website. Among other requirements, you must obtain consent and also provide the subject with a copy of the report if requested.

What does a potential employer see on a criminal background check?

An employer likely sees any and all criminal history of the applicant during a comprehensive background check. However, the employer must first get the consent of the job applicant before running the criminal background check. Also, according to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, before an employer can take any adverse action based on the report, he or she must give the applicant a copy of the report to review. If the applicant finds any errors on the report, he or she should ask that the report be corrected before the employer takes any action. Also, the employer cannot use the information to discriminate against the potential employee for specific reasons, like race, color, national origin, and sex.

How can I get a copy of my own criminal record?

Everyone can access his or her own criminal record. The best and most thorough way to do so is probably to go directly to your local FBI office or your state police headquarters. You will need to be fingerprinted so a thorough investigation can be conducted. A search using fingerprints is more accurate and thorough than a name-only background check. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation provides important information regarding how to  obtain your own Identity History Summary.

When choosing a free background check option, the best method is trial versions of legitimate services.

Many ‘free’ options may leave off a great deal of information about a person in written records that are not accessible online.

To ensure accurate, verified information that you can rely upon, a free background check service is not your best choice.  Clearly, a lot is at stake when a person or business considers running a criminal background check. It is easy to get into legal trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. You could violate the law and a person’s rights if you run the background check or handle the information incorrectly.

Whether you are running a criminal background check for professional or personal reasons, there is a lot at stake. To ensure legal compliance, choose a free criminal background check method that is covered by law (like a trial from a legitimate service), rather than using lengthy manual methods that lack accuracy.


References

1DMV.ORG (n.d.) Background Checks. Web. <https://www.dmv.org/background-checks.php>

2Saks, Kat. 14 September 2012. Reasons to Run a Background Check. DMV.ORG. 27 September 2021. Web. <https://www.dmv.org/articles/reasons-to-run-a-background-check/>

3InstantCheckMate.Com. (2021) Public Records Search. (2021) Web. <https://www.instantcheckmate.com>

4InstantCheckMate.Com (2021) Limited License For Services. Web. <https://www.instantcheckmate.com/limited-license>

5Stoller, Kristin, 9 March 2021. America’s Best Startup Employers. Forbes.com. 27 September 2021. Web. <https://www.forbes.com/americas-best-startup-employers/#c3b7b7565275>

6USSearch.om. (2021) A great way to find people. Web. <https://www.ussearch.com/>

7Crunchbase(2021) Infotracer. Web <https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/infotracer>

8Archives.com (2021) Discover your family history. Web. <https://www.archives.com>

9Ancestry (2021) ancestry.com. A family tree ties your history together over time. Web. <https://www.ancestry.com/c/ancestry-family>

10FreeBackgroundCheck.Org. (2021) Check Someone’s Background In Minutes. Web. <https://freebackgroundcheck.org/>

11VitalSearch-Worldwide.com (10 October 2008). Web. <http://vitalsearch-worldwide.com/>

12Intelius.com (2021) Look up Anyone! Web. <https://www.intelius.com>

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