How To Get a Background Check and See Criminal Records

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | May 23, 2024

Two people holding magnifying glass up to a computer screen to demonstrate how to get a background check.

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Background check searches criminal records including arrests, convictions, charges, warrants, and court cases as well as public records databases to find divorces, marriages, family members, financial assets, addresses, and more.

Employers, rental agents, and individuals run searches on others everyday, and knowing how to get a background check and see criminal records legally, is crucial for avoiding liabilities.

In a background check, a person’s education, employment history, criminal record, financial history, medical history, or use of social media is scrutinized to determine a number of things, so knowing how to get a background check on yourself and others can point out any errors that may exist before an official search is conducted.9

There are safe ways to get a background check that fully complies with the law and also provides accurate information. This guide explores them in detail, so you can know exactly how to get a background check done right.

Why You Should Know How To Get a Background Check

Whether you are currently on the lookout for a new job, still considering it, or are simply leaving yourself open to a new opportunity, you can make preparations in advance by knowing the process of obtaining your public records for employment and other reasons. This will show you what information your future employer and others will see when they conduct a background check on you.

A person examining fingerprint evidence and police criminal documents spread out on a table, suggesting for a background check.

Certain kinds of background screenings may also be required for specific activities. One example is the police clearance document for “lack of a criminal record” required for adoption or school enrollment.22

To prevent yourself from being in a situation where you suddenly have to change plans because of what your records check reveals, you should first understand how to get a background check, and specifically, how to get a background check on yourself.

A few things to keep in mind:

If you are conducting the background check for personal reasons, you do not have to obtain consent. However, if you are running a check for any professional reason (tenant application, employment, loan application, etc.) you must obtain consent.

How To Get a Background Check on Yourself and How To Do a Background Check on Yourself

There are several ways to get a background check on yourself, and you can choose the option that is most feasible based on cost, timing, and extent of coverage needed. The easiest is to request an extensive records check from a company specializing in background searches. This will require less effort and will let you see what information prospective employers will see when they get the background check report on you.

Illustration depicting ways to self-conduct a background check, including online search, court records, references, social media, and credit reports.

If you do not want to hire a background check company, you can learn about certain ways to conduct a records search on yourself. Options include:1

  • Online search: A quick check through search engines will reveal your online public records. However, this is not a comprehensive check since not all records are available online.
  • Social media: Browse through your social media history and see what potential employers might learn about you from your previous activities.
  • Court records: Check your court records to see if there are any red flags that would appear.
  • References: Make sure that you have correct information shared on your references, education history, and work experience.
  • Credit report: Get a copy of your credit report from one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies.

How To Do a Social Media Background Check on Yourself

The quickest and cheapest (free) way to do a background check on yourself is to do an online search.2 This will let you check if misinformation about you has been published, or if there is a mistake in your credit history.

Do a sweep of your online footprint through a search engine using a private browsing window, also known as “incognito,” to clear any filter or biased results.3 This will show you results the same way an employer would if they searched for you the first time.

How To Get a Criminal Background Check on Yourself (See Criminal Records)

After doing an online check on yourself, you may also need to know how to look up information about your criminal history.

You can check with the local police office where you live or last lived in the United States.22 There, you can ask assistance from the police to check the local or state criminal records. You may be required to make a personal appearance before they agree to search for your records.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Criminal Background Check?

Many people wonder how long it takes to get background check results. You can consult with a background check company, as some checks would take only days to get the results, while others could take weeks.

The length of time also depends on the information provided for the background check.

Image of a woman with arms crossed waiting in line, with colleagues behind her.

For example, if the information provided is complete and no other issues are encountered, you can get results from a criminal background check after one to three business days.4

On the other hand, online requests for a Federal background check to the FBI website will take approximately 3 to 5 days to process, while requests sent by mail will take 2 to 4 weeks, plus delivery time.12

Typically, you can expect to wait approximately two weeks for a detailed background check.

How To Get a State Background Check (How To Get a Background Check Level 1)

You may also get a state background check on yourself through your local or state superior court. They can assist you and provide a criminal record search for a fee.5 However their scope is limited only to that specific county or state. So when using this option, check first if you have identified the correct county or state before you do your background check.

Both Level 1 and Level 2 background checks are the most common, depending on the extent of data to be investigated and verified. Although Florida is the only state to have outlined what these checks comprise,19 a level 1 background check is the most basic check and verifies your information based on your name. It covers only one jurisdiction, usually the state where you live.

In addition to checking your name and aliases, the Level 1 records check will also look into your birth date, social security number, and detailed employment history. Any misrepresentation of a previous job or information withheld from the employment application will be shown here.

How To Get a Federal Background Check on Yourself (How To Get a Background Check Level 2)

If you are interested in a more extensive check on your records such as how to get a nationwide criminal background check, you should also take a look at how to get a federal background check for yourself. The Federal Bureau of Investigation provides an “Identity History Summary”, also known as a criminal history record or a “rap sheet,” for a fee.12

This report contains information taken from the FBI’s fingerprint records related to arrests, federal employment, naturalization, or military service.

If the results of the fingerprint submission show a connection to an arrest, the Identity History Summary also lists the name of the agency where the fingerprints came from, the date of the arrest, the arrest charge, and the nature of the arrest, if available.

Local law enforcement agencies may also be involved in a level 2 records check that searches criminal records. This background check confirms that the subject of the check hasn’t been involved (or guilty of) a number of criminal offenses, including:

  • Federal crimes (like kidnapping)
  • Violent Felonies: (such as assault, murder, crimes against children, and other crimes)

How To Get a Background Check on Yourself for Employment

Many job positions and industries are not required by law to conduct background checks, such as entry-level positions, or jobs in retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses with fast employee turnover.6 However, this is not a guarantee that an employer will not conduct a check. Therefore, it can be beneficial to run a background check on yourself before you apply.

On the other hand, certain professions are required to conduct background checks for potential hires. Jobs with professional licenses, for example, would go through multiple checks, first at the licensing stage, then from the employer.

A more comprehensive criminal background check is mandatory for positions of responsibility or trust,10 such as professions that involve children, elderly persons, and other vulnerable groups or communities. It is also a requirement for employees of public institutions like schools, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and airports, as well as organizations involved in the financial industry, such as banks, insurance companies, and financial planning.

If you are preparing yourself for employment, here are options on how to do a background check on yourself for employment.

Driving Records

Although your driving records are usually restricted against third parties, potential employers may be given access to this information. The DPPA (Driver Privacy Protection Act) allows the release of a person’s driving records under a list of “Permissible Purpose”,18 of which employment screening is included.

Police officer issuing a traffic ticket to a young woman driver

Your driving records will reveal information about you such as traffic violations, license suspensions or revocations, what type of license you have been previously approved for, driving restrictions, involvement in accidents, and the status of your license. There will also be personal details like name, birth date, address, and license expiration date.

Credit Report

Another way to do a background check on yourself is through your credit report. Employers may look at your credit report for security purposes and get some basic information about you such as your name, background, and education, as well as your previous employment.7 It contains your credit history, which includes your credit card account information, account balances, available credit, your payment history, and your credit rating, which is a 3-digit number that represents all the information in your credit records.

Education Report

Your educational background may be verified by your employer to check on not only the courses you have taken but also to verify the accuracy of other related data.8 The Education Report will confirm to the employer information whether the declared schools attended and graduated from are correct, but also the grades on selected fields of the study that the employer may deem relevant to the job you are being considered for. Make sure your school records and transcripts have no errors to avoid giving the wrong impression to your employer. You have the right to ask your school for a copy of your transcripts and request for any corrections under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).20

Self Check

If you are 18 and above, and living in the United States, the quickest way you can learn how to get a background check on yourself for employment is through Self Check.21 With this, you simply go online to see your own record and verify employment eligibility. Self Check is free and easy to use. It allows you to verify or correct your information before you meet your next employer or you are required to provide proof of having a clean record before conducting certain activities.

Screenshot of the E-Verify Self Check Service webpage.


To use Self Check, simply fill up the form online and provide the requested information. Self Check will then compare it with available government records to verify whether you are qualified to work in the United States or not. If a data mismatch is found, Self Check will send you instructions on how to correct your records with the proper federal agency.

How To Get a Fingerprint Background Check

To prepare yourself for employment, you can also learn how to get a fingerprint background check. There are two ways of getting a fingerprint background check.12 Directly submitting a request to the FBI electronically, or submitting a request through the mail. This is more accurate than a level one background check because this is less likely to result in errors from duplicate names.

Online Request for Fingerprint Background Check

Follow the steps indicated in the Electronic Departmental Order,11 under “Obtaining Your Identity History Summary”. After completing your application form and online payment, you will receive a confirmation email. You then need to submit your fingerprints to the FBI either electronically through a U.S. Post Office, or manually sent through the mail.

If you choose to send your fingerprint manually, you will have to mail your completed fingerprint card along with the confirmation email to the mailing address indicated in the confirmation email. Your request will then proceed as an electronic request when the FBI has received your completed fingerprint card.

Process for Mail Request Fingerprint Background Check

Obtain and complete an Applicant Information Form,13 then prepare and fill up a standard fingerprint form (FD-1164) on a standard white paper stock with your 10 fingerprint impressions affixed on it.14 Submit your current fingerprint card as old or processed ones will not be accepted.

Make sure all information required is complete, and all 10 fingerprints should be rolled impressions. Ideally, a fingerprint technician at a law enforcement agency should assist you during the process.

You may also submit your fingerprints taken via a live scan device, but a hard copy must be generated so the fingerprint card may be mailed to the FBI. Make sure the fingerprints you submit are legible,15 and ensure that all your information matches across the documents before mailing.

How To Get a Background Check on Someone Else

If you are interested in learning how to get a background check on someone else, you first need to define your purpose. Are you doing the background check for personal reasons, or for employment? A background check being conducted for credit, insurance, or employment purposes is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Under this act, the employer is required to you that a background check has been requested from an outside company and that the information may affect their decision to hire you. They need your written permission before they proceed with the background check. If you find out that a background check on you was conducted by an employer without your permission, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Aside from this, your city or state may offer additional protection.17 To ensure that your rights will not be violated, get in touch with someone who is familiar with the laws in your state who can guide you and help you check the local regulations.

If you are conducting the background check for personal reasons, you don’t have to have approval beforehand, but this will limit your search to a level 1 background check. Some reasons for personal criminal records searches include:

  • Marriage records check
  • Checking your child’s teacher, youth leader, or other adult
  • Searching the background of a neighbor
  • Employees where your child takes extracurricular activities

How Long Does It Take To Get a Background Check Back?

Although the time varies, depending on the check you’re performing, it can take anywhere from a few days, to a couple weeks to get a background check back.

Also, it’s important to note that if you’re waiting for the report to be mailed to you, additional time may be required.

How Many Years Does a Background Check Cover?

This depends on which state and the sort of check being performed. May states have laws that prohibit checking past a certain time frame, but generally, seven years is the limit. A number of states allow background checks to go as far as 10 years.

Infographic showing typical time periods covered by different types of background checks, ranging from 5 years to indefinite depending on the category.

Although you should check with the laws of your state, the following guidelines are typical:

  • Pre-employment checks: 10 years
  • Credit history: 7-10 years, depending on the prospective employee’s salary. (Usually, over $75,000 goes to 10 years)
  • Criminal felonies: 7-10 years, depending on the state or federal requirement
  • Other Criminal Records (misdemeanors): indefinitely, or from 5-10 years, depending on state law
  • Professional, employment, and education: indefinite
  • Tenant records screening: varies by state

How To Get a Copy of Your Background Check

If you hire a background check company to do the background check on you, you can ask them how to get a copy of your background check after they finish their research.

For background checks conducted by an employer, you are entitled to the following under the Fair Credit Reporting Act :

  • Notification of a pre-adverse action
  • Be given a copy of the background check report in case of a pre-adverse action
  • Notification of an adverse action notice
  • File for dispute regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information in the background check report

Can I Get a Copy of My Background Check for Free?

You can get a free copy of your report once every 12 months according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act as long as you can confirm the following through writing:17

  • You are currently unemployed and intend to look for work within the next 60 days.
  • You receive public benefits.
  • You believe there may be errors in your report because you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft.

However, this information may not be fully inclusive and could completely miss out on certain public and criminal records. It’s advised that you use a free criminal history search method instead.

How Can I Fix Errors on a Background Check?

After the employer sees your background check report and it negatively affects your employment, they are required to send you a copy of the report and a “Summary of Rights” with instructions on how to get in touch with the company that prepared the report.17

If you find any mistakes in the report, you can ask the background reporting company to correct the errors, and then send an updated report to the employer. By law, they are required to investigate and correct it within 30 days of your complaint.16 If they refuse to act on your request, you can file a complaint with the Fair Trade Commission (FTC).

So whether you are preparing yourself for employment, or you simply want to know how to get a background check on yourself and see any criminal records, there are many options available.


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4Korolevich, S. (2021, February 10). How long does a background check take. Goodhire. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from <>

5Klazema, M. (2020, May 14). Which Sources Do Employers Use for Employee Background Checks? Retrieved October 7, 2021, from < background-checks-keywords-employee-background-checks>

6Klazema, M. (2019, April 30). Jobs Where a Background Check Is Not Required. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from <>

7Gravier, E. (2021, August 6). Can employers see your credit score? How to prepare for what they actually see when they run a credit check. CNBC. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from <>

8Proctor, P. (2021, April 13). Guide to Education Verification for Employment. Business News Daily. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from <>

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10California Office of the Attorney General. (2024). Fingerprint Background Checks. State of California Department of Justice. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

11Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Identity History Summary Checks. eDO. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

12Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Identity History Summary Checks (Rap Sheets). Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

13Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Identity History Summary Checks Review. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

14Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Identity History Summary Request. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

15Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Recording Legible Fingerprints. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

16Federal Register. (2023, August 25). Code of Federal Regulations Appendix K to Part 1022. National Archives. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

17Federal Trade Commission. (2023, August). Employer Background Checks and Your Rights. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

18New York State. (2024). Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

19State of Florida. (2024). 2018 Florida Statutes Title XXXI Chapter 435 Section 03. The Florida Senate. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

20U.S. Department of Education. (2021, August 25). Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

21U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2023, July 19). Self Check. E-verify. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

22U.S. Department of State. (2024, March 6). Criminal Record Checks. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

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