Online Background Check? Think Again

A colleague on a list-serve bemoaned a business client who had turned away from him in favor of a cheap, online background check service. The down-in-the mouth gumshoe asked for advice on what he should tell the client.


I read the occasionally salty but excellent responses from colleagues. Pundits predicted that the internet would be the death of private investigators. But the wisdom my fellow sleuths shared shows why professional private investigators will always be of value and have business.
Said one PI:

“My reply when a potential client says to me hey, someone else can do it for me for 40 bucks..I say “hey I can do it for 10 bucks. “They are just shocked…. and then I say…. sure, I can do it for that, but it wont be any good. And neither is the one for 40 bucks. Not all backgrounds are created equal.
Fellow PI’s remarked of the popular cheap online background checks:

  • The information is typically outdated and addresses are not likely current.
  • You generally have no way to verify that the name pulled up in the civil and criminal records are specifically for your subject, i.e. it’s not verified.
  • You have no idea of knowing which specific locales, federal, state or county, were searched and what were the search years covered.
As one knowledgeable PI said, “The criminal and civil record system in the United States is very
fractured. Records are located at municipal, county, state, federal, etc. There’s no one database online that can cover all of that information.”

Private investigators have access to some databases for which the general public does not have access. And even then, we don’t just rely on the computer. We go downto the courthouse to check and verify things. Yes, it costs more but wouldn’t you rather be right?

The colleague is spot-on about the fractured records system. On a local level you cannot access criminal records online in Alameda and San Francisco counties. So if you ran one of the cheap online background checks on a California subject, you would be missing criminal records in these two major jurisdictions. Not to mention you would also miss more obscure but numerous counties like Placer, El Dorado, Yolo, etc

Consumers have bought the Hollywood myth that all we have to do is type in a name, then the computer will magically assemble all the latest information, and oldest most obscure information, and spit it back at you in less than a minute for less than $40.00.

Professional private investigators doing a background check routinely:

  • Tailor a search to the needs of the client
  • Uncover SSNs, dates of birth and other identifiers to help verify info on a subject
  • Expand the search to include social media.
  • Obtain hard copies of information to prove the records are for the subject.