What’s an FBI Background Check?

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FBI background checks provide criminal records and arrest data on US citizens and residents. They are required for government jobs, adopting a child, purchasing a firearm, and working in sensitive places. The checks are used to gauge suitability and trustworthiness, and draw on the National Crime Information Center database. The files are kept digitally and can be searched by fingerprint, name, address, and social security number. Petty crimes are usually not included.

An FBI background check is a means by which individuals, employers, and government officials can access criminal records and arrest data on United States citizens and residents. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains detailed files documenting arrests, crimes and suspicious behavior collected from nearly any law enforcement agency, local or national. When someone does a background “check”, they are essentially receiving a copy of all the files that have been collected for a particular individual. People often have to go through background checks as a requirement for taking a government job, adopting a child, purchasing a firearm, or working in “sensitive” places like prisons or daycare.

Because they are finished

There are three main reasons FBI background checks are performed: as a condition of employment; as a means of demonstrating character; and as a way to track personal information. The person who is the subject of the FBI file usually has to consent to disclosure of information in all three scenarios, even if they never actually see it.

Employers often want to know if the people they are hiring have a criminal record. This is especially true for jobs with national and local governments, but is also often the case for jobs where people will be working with young children; teachers and childminders, for example, are almost always required to undergo background checks, sometimes periodically even after working for some time. People who work with controlled substances, especially pharmacists, usually also need to keep a “clean” criminal record to work, or at least disclose any criminal activity before being employed. Companies that staff prisons and hire people to work with inmates may also require background checks as a condition of employment.

Some activities may also require a background check. Adopting children is one example; most agencies and biological parents want to be sure that babies and young children are placed with parents who have no criminal record or other issues under the law. US citizens who wish to live abroad may also need to provide FBI documents to the governments of the countries where they wish to reside to prove their character. In some places the purchase of handguns or other firearms is conditional on a person’s criminal record, meaning that gun shop owners often have to request background checks on prospective customers.

People also sometimes wish to order a background check on themselves, usually as a way to monitor their record. Some crimes, especially minor ones, may only appear on a person’s records for a specific period of time. Regularly reviewing FBI files is also a good way for people to know what employers and others will see when a report is ordered, which can help them prepare an explanation or defense if needed.

How they are used
Most of the time, people use the information in background checks both to gauge a person’s suitability for a certain position or business, and to get a sense of a person’s honesty and trustworthiness. Checks revealing past criminal activity aren’t necessarily damning, and they don’t always mean someone won’t be hired or given a certain opportunity. Much depends on the nature of the infraction and how long it has been, as well as the policy of the employer or auditor. In most cases a background check is only one part of a much larger investigative and interview process.
What the records contain
The FBI operates the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is a national database of criminal justice information. The database contains criminal background information, along with a list of missing persons and wanted fugitives, and most background checks draw on information found in this system.

If an individual undergoing an FBI criminal background check has a criminal record, the date of arrest and criminal charges are listed in the database. Serious felonies and misdemeanors, including sexual offenses, property damage and theft, and drug and narcotics charges make up the bulk of the records. More petty crimes, such as moving violations and traffic fines, aren’t usually included and, as such, don’t typically show up on an FBI audit.
How files are kept
The files are usually linked by fingerprint, but can sometimes also be searched by name, known address, and Social Security Number or Permanent Resident Identification Number. NCIC maintains both federal and state law enforcement records, and most are archived in digital format. This makes checking someone’s background relatively quick, but given the volume of requests, it can take a few weeks to process.

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