News

November 29, 2022

Background Checks vs Investigative Reports: The Difference and The Details

You’ll never find the same information on a private investigation report or a background screening report. This is because private investigators do not have to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), whereas any consumer reporting agency (i.e. a background screening company!) must heed their regulations. So, what’s the difference between the two? In this month’s news article, we dissect the distinction as well as what exactly you can expect from Atlantic’s products.

Private investigations can be used for pre-employment reasons, and often are utilized as a follow-up to an initial background check. These types of investigations usually involve character-based screening, rather than fact-based that CRAs provide. Many employers contend that normal background investigations are not in-depth enough, or that individuals could be lying about their credentials (i.e. forging a paystub for an employment verification, or creating a diploma with photoshop).

Consumer reporting agencies, in comparison, are limited on what they can report. For compliance reasons, Atlantic must keep up-to-date with ever-changing laws in our industry: a perfect example is that we are unable to report any non-convictions for the state of California. These redactions help your team remain compliant with any county, city, state or federal laws – all at no extra cost to you. This way, we make sure that you are only making an informed decision based on the records that you are supposed to see.

With that being said, we understand that getting a thorough background screening is important to make the best hiring decisions. It’s why we insist on providing comprehensive, accurate reports! For this reason, we’re going to break down what is included in a couple of our most popular criminal searches.

National Criminal Database Search.

You might hear us call it a multistate search, or Core Services – we’ve got a couple of names for it, but it’s the most robust product in the screening industry. It includes records from nearly every state in the nation, including most Department of Corrections. This can include criminal traffic cases, misdemeanors, as well as felonies. The FCRA requires that we do not report non-convictions beyond seven years from the file date, and we also keep on top of any other regulations at the state level or otherwise, too. All records are validated and verified by our team with multiple additional identifiers, such as address or driver’s license number. The big difference between our background investigations and a private investigation is that they will likely tell you of arrest records (instead of actual criminal cases), or cases that are no longer reportable per the FCRA.

County Criminal Records Search.

One of our most popular and well-rounded packages involves a search of counties that a candidate has lived in that may not report to the above database. This can include Massachusetts, Delaware, and counties from a multitude of states. County searches are the most updated, real-time record search in which we get in touch directly with a clerk at the court. Further validation may be needed to confirm if it belongs to your applicant or not, which is what our team of processors would do prior to returning the report to your team. It is important to note that this particular search is for criminal records. Civil records are held in a different database and will never show in criminal searches; however, we do offer alternative county civil records searches to align with those needs.

Federal Criminal Records Search.

What a lot of people don’t tend to realize is that state criminal records and records at the federal level are kept in completely different databases. This means that without adding the federal criminal records search, you could be missing a chunk of records that could involve crimes across state lines or crimes against the United States. The records still fall under the FCRA for reporting guidelines, and it’s important to note that we can only report criminal records at the federal level. We do not report bankruptcies or civil cases at the federal level. This is another instance where what we can report likely differs from private investigations, as they are not held under FCRA parameters.


So, what’s the bottom line?

Whether you’re utilizing a CRA like Atlantic Employee Screening or a private investigation company, using a third-party agency to do so is key. If you’re doing a research paper or trying to find the cheapest flight for your trip, Google might be the best solution – but utilizing search engines to look into someone’s background creates more problems than solutions. For one thing, you likely won’t be able to identify if the record truly belongs to the candidate; but more importantly, you won’t be able to unsee what you weren’t supposed to see. Many companies have tried this route and have found themselves on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit, which is never something we want.

As background screening experts, there’s almost always a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why a case may not have shown in the background check. This can include name or date of birth discrepancies, or local laws regulating what can and can’t be reported, or being beyond the FCRA guidelines for reporting. Of course, Atlantic’s processors are more than happy to look further into any questions you or a candidate may have!

With whatever decision you make on what to check when it comes to pre-employment screenings, we implore you to speak with your legal team. And if you ever feel like you need more information on what is (or isn’t!) included in your package, or discussing additional products, please reach out to our office. Our support team is trained to help!