Lots of people would have us believe that conducting a reasonably comprehensive or especially free people search is a piece of cake. However, that would only be one of the three most dangerous myths about online public records floating around today. To begin with, (1) the availability of online public records is not as widespread as one might think. According to our research:
– Only 35% of public records can be found online;
– Nearly all/ every “free” government public record website contains no personal identifiers, i.e., for privacy purposes, they provide summarized information rather than information about specific individuals.
The federal, state, and local agencies that maintain public records systems make substantial efforts to limit the disclosure of Social Security numbers, phone numbers, and addresses. Some even go so far as to limit the use of the dates of birth. The Social Security number is no longer the “key search tool identifier” it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Websites with open record searching available to the public generally require only a name, unless a specific case file or docket number or registration number, et cetera, can be substituted.
(2) Government agencies that offer online access on a fee or subscription basis generally disclose partial personal identifiers. Nowadays, very few give Social Security numbers, and those that do often cloak or mask the first five digits. Some cloak the month and date of birth, and only reveal the year of birth. For example, most U.S. District Court and bankruptcy court online systems reveal no personal identifiers on their search results, thus making a reliable “name search” nearly impossible (I’ve tried).
We point this out because the lack of identifiers presents a real problem for employers or financial institutions who, at the same time, are legally required to exert a certain amount of “due diligence” in the process of making certain decisions. The existence of any possible adverse information may have to be double-checked by a hands-on search to ensure the proper match of a given subject to a given adverse record.
Also, we noticed that many governmental websites offering online record access tend to include a warning or disclosure stating that their information could have mis-spellings and/ or should be used for “informational purposes only.” For this reason, such sites should be considered as supplemental or secondary sources only. Again, to protect individuals’ privacy, they may provide summarized information rather than information about specific individuals.
The upshot of which is simply that . . . (3) A criminal record search from such a source usually does not, in and of itself, comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act regulations involving preemployment screening . . . see video below:
In the meantime, you can find a dozen or so lists of public and private record information companies on this website:
– Address and Telephone Numbers; other lists (provided on that same page) include information on the following topics:
– Corporate/ Trade Name Data
– Credit Information
– Convicted Criminal Information
– Driver and/ or Vehicle
– Education/ Employment
– Foreign Country Information
– Genealogical Information
– Licenses/ Registrations/ Permits
– Litigation/ Judgments/ Tax Liens
– Military Service
– Real Estate/ Assessors
Sometimes, the only way to conduct a reasonably certain background check online is from a reputable private vendor. A reputable online vendor may provide access to many records that might not be otherwise found online via Government online sources.