When it comes to conducting a background check on someone, there are a few different ways to go about it. You can do it yourself, hire a private investigator, or use a service like those on this list. Each path has its own pros and cons, so it’s important to weigh your options before making a decision. That’s where this list comes in.
There are both pros and cons to using background check services. On the one hand, these services can give you access to a lot of information that you might not be able to find on your own. On the other hand, some services can be expensive (though the ones on this list are specifically on the affordable end of the spectrum), and it’s important to remember that the information in the background check reports is only as accurate as the data that is available.
If you’re considering using a service to conduct a background check, it’s important to first find companies that provide quality services, then weigh the pros and cons of each to see which one is right for you. To save you time, our experts have put together this list of the best background check service companies as well as the pluses and minuses of each.
3 Best Background Check Companies
- Truthfinder – Comprehensive Background Checks
- Instant Checkmate – Slick Search Technology
- Spokeo – Professional
Reviews of the Best Background Check Companies
1. Truthfinder – Most Comprehensive Background Checks
- Comprehensive public database info
- Multiple ways to find the right person
- More than 60,000 5-star reviews
- Results take a while to appear, as the system processes info from multiple public databases
- Subscription required
What Truthfinder Is
Truthfinder is one of the best background check services. It provides a detailed report on a person’s background, including criminal records, social media profiles, and more. Truthfinder is our top option for those looking for an easy and affordable way to conduct a background check.
How Truthfinder Works
Truthfinder’s approach is simple: visit the truthfinder.com website, enter the name of the person you’re trying to research, and click the big, green “Search” button. The site will move into “research mode” and you’ll see a progress bar next to a variety of sample profile pictures while the system compiles information from a wide variety of public databases.
As the progress bar proceeds, the system will ask you a few clarifying questions that will help refine your results. Such questions may include things like the target’s middle initial, the city they may live in or may have resided in previously, and other facets of their life that may help zero in on the correct contact. After all, there are billions of people in this world so it’s important to ensure you get the right one!
Truthfinder makes public records information easily accessible in simple-to-read background check reports. So the process you wait through (as it does indeed take a couple of minutes) is that of Truthfinder’s system compiling info from various sources into an easily consumable report.
Through this entire process and with the power of the tech behind the service, Truthfinder provides easy access to comprehensive background checks with a wealth of information on the person you are researching. In addition, Truthfinder also offers reverse lookups for phone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses.
Why Truthfinder is on this List
Truthfinder tops our list of the best background check service options due to its comprehensive search capabilities, simple user interface, and easily digestible report formats. Our review team also loved how accessible additional information is for each given search and how the site’s subscription model opens the door to unlimited background checks.
2. Instant Checkmate – Slick Search Technology
- Secure privacy embedded in the Instant Checkmate search technology
- Trial membership may be available
- A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau
- Some info needs to be entered more than once, such as the target’s location
- Subscription required
What Instant Checkmate Is
Instant Checkmate provides data from public records of multiple types. This service provides one of the best background checks that can include everything from contact details to location records to criminal records to simple reverse phone lookups. Searching for individuals with Instant Checkmate is secure, as the site uses a 128-bit encrypted connection to keep your own search attempts safely under wraps.
How Instant Checkmate Works
Similar to Truthfinder, the Instant Checkmate process begins with a name search. Enter the name of the person you wish to find out more about at instantcheckmate.com and once you click the search button, you will see a new page appear. On this secondary page, you will be asked some clarifying questions while the search bears fruit in the background, as indicated by a progress bar across the top of the page.
Upon confirming that you’re ready to move forward, a secondary search progress page appears. This advanced page progresses through database searches for:
- Key Data Points – basic info about the person being researched.
- Criminal & Traffic Records – any publicly available criminal records or traffic incidents.
- Social Media – imagery indicating the existence of profiles matching the searched contact details on the major social media channels.
- Relative Selector – a list of potential relatives with checkboxes next to each name for those you may want to consider searching next or including more info about within the current search.
- Financial Assets – a notification of available financial assets to report.
- Government Watch List – notice that there may be names matching the targeted search person that exist on government watch lists.
At this point, Instant Checkmate will ask you for your name and email address in order to create an account through which you can access this shared search and not have to go through this process again. Once your account is created, it will be roughly 4 minutes until the full report is ready. A variety of progress bars for each type of database search will display during this process.
Why Instant Checkmate is on this List
Instant Checkmate is on our list due to a combination of slick interface and exhaustive data results. When you’re searching for background check info on someone, you want to know a lot. Instant Checkmate provides this info and looks great while doing so.
Also, as a bonus: while perusing the website during our research, we were offered a low-cost trial membership. The trial membership offered was only $1 at the time of publishing, but the nature of promotions usually means that these things are temporarily available and/or that the pricing may change, so be aware that this may not apply to your experience when you visit the site.
Note that all Instant Checkmate subscription levels offer unlimited background checks.
3. Spokeo – Most Professional
- Fastest search process
- Professional approach
- “Spokeo Cares” – the company’s philanthropic arm
- Price not available until the end of the search
What Spokeo Is
Spokeo is an online provider of some of the best background checks available. Spokeo has the most professional approach of the brands on this list. This professional approach includes a section outlining the C-level business leadership of the company, which is unique to the space. Also unique to this service is its Spokeo Cares program, which finds ways to use its search technology for good, society-improving purposes via outreach, search volunteers, and even scholarships and grants.
How Spokeo Works
One of the things all three of the brands on our list of the best background check service options have in common is the general functionality of their websites. Spokeo’s process is similar to the others on this list, but the key difference is that its search process is more streamlined and the time from name entry to results was significantly shorter.
Otherwise, the Spokeo process is very similar:
- Search by name
- Follow prompts to refine results
- Select options for results expansion
- View report
We found the Spokeo report page to be organized and professional, with clean and easily legible results grouped by type. Contact details were separated from address history, while potential family members and suspected social profiles had their own sections. Court records had their own section as well, with further parameters available to drill down into directly from this page, including county court records, state records, sex offenders registry, and criminal records nationwide.
Why Spokeo is on this List
Our review panel found Spokeo to be very professional in appearance and experience. We were not surprised to find that Spokeo has enterprise business service levels available, as the UI of the website is easily the most business-oriented. The user experience of Spokeo is top-notch, with its smooth interface, flowing process, and well-tuned website UI.
Spokeo also displays the logos of several media outlets that have covered its service in the past including CNBC, The New York Times, Inc., Huffpost, Forbes, and MTV’s Catfish. The latter makes a lot of sense for those that pay attention to Catfish, given that it is a show about people misrepresenting themselves online!
Why Are These 3 The Best Background Check Options?
This list of our selections for the best background check service options is the result of a panel of advisees from various backgrounds tangent to employment and criminal law. This review panel pooled their collective knowledge to identify the search parameters relevant to online background check services and to rank them in order of effectiveness, reliability, and comprehensiveness. This list is a result of their efforts and reflects the best background check services and background check companies available.
Types of Background Checks
Depending on your needs, you can pick and choose the best background check service for you. Here are a few examples for which you might want to use these services:
- Dating prospects
- Ex-spouses or ex-boyfriends/girlfriends
- Business partners
A few scenarios may help clarify this point. For example, with a new neighbor, it may be helpful to know about their background for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you’d like to know where they moved from, what areas they’ve lived in, or if you have any connections in common. You may also wish to know about criminal records; any issues or run-ins with the law is a fairly universal consideration point that helps dictate comfort levels with others.
You can also find out things like “known aliases”, otherwise referred to as nicknames, that people may have used previously. In fact, you may even find that your new neighbor is operating under such an alias. These aren’t necessarily bad things to find out as there are a variety of legitimate reasons to use an alias, but they are interesting points of consideration, at the very least.
Dating prospects are nearly self-explanatory, but the reality is that anytime you’re looking to be potentially vulnerable in front of another human being, there is the potential for hurt. As such, it makes sense to verify that what someone is telling you is true. For example: If a new love interest tells you they are from Houston but their background check indicates that they’ve never lived in that city, it could be something worth considering. And needless to say, checking criminal records before a first date with an online connection could prove to be a lifesaver.
It may also be helpful to know which, if any, friends or people you have in common with a potential love interest. For example, knowing that you each knew Person X means you can review your impressions about that person together. Differences in those perspectives may be insightful.
A final note on this point speaks to one of the major “pros” of using one of these best background check services: unlimited searches. Every one of the services on this list offers a subscription level that allows for as many background checks as you’d like. This is extremely useful on its own, but within this context, in particular, unlimited searches are helpful because a person you’re looking for more information about may show up in someone else’s report as well.
Why does that matter? Someone you’re searching for (who appears in a tangential search about another person entirely) has its own set of indicators, depending upon the scenario. An easy example is a potential business associate appearing in search as an associate of someone else with whom you may have a distrustful relationship. That connection point would be an important consideration when determining whether or not to enter into a partnership with them.
*Editor’s Note: Just to be clear, we are not advocating for taking action or drawing full conclusions based on an individual piece of data about someone. Do yourself a favor and be as thorough as possible before drawing conclusions and remember that there are usually more circumstances or considerations to take into account than any single piece of information.
What Can I Find Out From a Background Check?
When it comes to looking into someone’s background, there are a few different avenues you can take. Court records for US federal courts as well as state courts, criminal records, public records, property records, location history and educational background are all fair game when it comes to conducting a background check, as long as this information is used appropriately in conjunction with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
*Editor’s Note: The FCRA strictly prohibits the use of background check information for specific reasons. This means that you can access these records to get a comprehensive view of a person, but not for the purposes of employment, credit, education/scholarships, professional services, or for tenants. See our “What should online background check services NOT be used for?” section at the top of our FAQ section below for more information.
Court records can be an excellent source of information when conducted by a high-quality best background check service. This is especially true if you’re looking into someone’s civil history. Court records can reveal a lot about a person, including any bankruptcies, liens or judgments against them.
Public records are also a great source of information. Property records in particular can be very informative, as they can provide detailed information about a property, such as its assessed value, zoning information, and recent sales data. Looking at someone’s property records can tell you a lot about them. For example, you can find out how much they paid for their house, whether they have any liens or judgments against them and more. This information can be helpful for making decisions about whether to do business with someone or not.
A background check on a person’s location history can show where the person has lived. It can be used to find out a person’s current location or to track the person’s movements in the past. This information can be very helpful for personal reasons like finding an old friend or perhaps to prepare for a business meeting.
A person’s educational background can be a valuable resource for determining their qualifications. By conducting an educational background check, you can see what schools the person has attended and what degrees they have earned. This information can help you decide a variety of things related to a person’s educational level and background.
A background check can reveal potential associates, which can provide insight into the person’s social network. This information can help you determine if the person is trustworthy and has a good support system.
With a few clicks on any of the best background check services outlined on this list, you can find out even more, including a person’s social media accounts, news coverage about them, any websites or blogs they maintain or have been featured on, and even information relevant to international background checks. A good quality report from a best background check service can also reveal a person’s sex offender status, info about their assets, and insights into their financial status and history. A background check is a great way to learn more about someone before you engage with them for any number of reasons.
How Long Does a Background Check Take?
How you conduct a background check will likely depend on the information you need and how much you’re willing to spend. For example, if you only need to confirm someone’s name and address, you can probably do it yourself using public records and get an answer in seconds. However, if you want more detailed information for personal use like a criminal background check, employment background checks and/or social media checks, you’ll want to use one of the best background check service options like the ones we’ve listed that take minutes rather than seconds and do cost a little money.
The way in which you conduct a background check plays a large role in how long it will take. For example, a professional organization or company conducting criminal and employment background checks for hiring decisions would use a professional paid service, generally run through the company’s human resources department. This kind of paid service, on an enterprise level, would be costly but very thorough and fast, generally producing results within days.
For most of us, the quickest and most direct way to run a check on someone’s public history is to use a high-quality online service such as the best background check service options here on this list.
Are There Any Free Background Check Companies?
Yes and no. This is a complicated question in that there are many services out there that purport themselves as being “free” or “no-cost”, but in reality, they will only reveal very top-level information with key pieces missing. This tactic is designed to get you to pay for their service anyway, making the “free” claims very limited in value.
In essence, a background check involves research into a lot of sources of information that are indeed freely available. It is, however, time-consuming and difficult to access these various forms of information directly and for yourself. That’s where the services come in; after all, they streamline the process for you.
For example, in order to run a “standard” background check including a criminal background check, employment history and social media checks for instance, one would have to access a wide variety of databases directly. Consider what it takes to research someone’s employment records, alone. You could visit LinkedIn and try to find them to see what they have self-reported as their places of business, but that only goes so far. What about employment in other places they haven’t included on their profile? And what if they don’t have a LinkedIn account at all? Or what happens when you, the researcher, do not have your own LinkedIn account to use to view your target’s profile?
You can see how the steps pile up quickly, even on employment history, which is one of the more straightforward parts of a person’s background.
Another example is financial records. Have you ever tried to look up the financial status or details of another individual? It’s not easy. In fact, unless the person in question is a high-level employee at a publicly-traded company, you’re not likely to find out much about their income level, investments, assets, or much else.
Housing records are a bit more straightforward, as much of this information is publicly available. The tradeoff here instead, however, is how time-consuming the process is. Consider that one of the best ways to access housing records is to visit the county clerk’s office or whichever governing body maintains these kinds of records where you live or where the person in question resides. We can stop right here because the fact that you may need to physically travel somewhere already makes this part overly time-consuming. Even if property records are available online, it doesn’t mean that they are easy to access.
So are there ways to run a full background check for free? Not really, no. There are limited pieces of info you can get from free services that really don’t fully provide the info you want, or only do so with a fee-based access level anyway. You’re far better off considering one of the best background check services such as the ones outlined here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should online background check services NOT be used for?
Online background checks are useful and convenient and provide a ton of very worthwhile information, but there are strict limitations on what these types of searches can legally be used for. In fact, there are US government regulations under what is called the Fair Credit Reporting Act that limit the use cases for such types of checks.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a law overseen by the Federal Trade Commission. It defines an employee background check as a “consumer report” which means that certain types of screenings must comply with a higher standard than what most easily accessible services can provide.
Even some of the best background check services may falter under this standard. While this may sound negative, it’s actually a good thing. These regulations were passed beginning in the 1960s and are the forerunners of consumer protections in the Information Age.
As you can see, the purpose or use case of the background check site is a big determining factor to take into account when deciding what kind of background check service to use.
None of the following screening reasons can be the purpose of using any of the best background check websites on this list:
- Employment screening for hiring decisions
- Housing/tenant screening
- Screening for professional services
- Eligibility for scholarships or financial aid/programs
- Credit eligibility
- Insurance qualifications
Each of these areas is fraught with considerations, and it’s best to use a professional background check service if your use case might fall within one of those categories.
What elements does a standard background check consist of?
The elements involved in a standard background check depend on the purpose of the check. Just as there is a wide array of reasons to run a background check on someone, there are widely differing parameters for the different types.
At some of its most basic levels, however, a background check consists of information pertinent to the following:
- Criminal background
- Educational history
- Employment records
- Reference checks
A background check including information on criminal background includes searches of the county, state and national criminal records databases, as a baseline. Depending upon the service, this may also include things like the FBI Fingerprint Database or the National Sex Offender Registry.
Educational history is relatively straightforward in that a background check site simply double-checks that the educational institutions the person may claim to have attended also recognize this fact as well. High school, college, and advanced degree programs and specific certifications are all eligible for verification.
In general, the only information legally acceptable for an employer to share is that of your employment dates, salary level, departure/separation reason, and whether or not you are eligible for rehire.
Reference checks involve contact with individuals in a professional setting that can vouch for previous experience. Since the online background check services provide information pulled from public databases, they are not the kind of service that contacts people individually or directly and are therefore not to be used for this purpose.
Remember: none of the above information may be used for any purposes restricted by the FCRA. See our “What should online background check services NOT be used for?” just above this section for more information.
Are online background check services safe to use?
There are many online background check sites available today. But are they safe to use? It can be difficult to know which service to trust. Some services are reputable and safe, while others may not. Be sure to do your research before choosing a service to use.
Here are a few tips to help you stay safe when using online background check services:
- Only use reputable services. There are many fly-by-night operations out there. Do your research to find a reputable service, such as the best background check services highlighted here on this list.
- Read the terms and conditions carefully. Before you input any personal information, make sure you understand how the service will use that information.
- Don’t input your credit card information unless you’re sure the service is legitimate.
- Create a strong password and don’t use the same password for all your online accounts.
By following these tips, you can safely use online background check services. Just be sure to do your research and be careful with your personal information.
What information sources do online background checks use?
Online background checks can use a variety of different information sources, including public records, social media and criminal records. This allows you to get a comprehensive view of a person’s history.
Depending on the type of background check being performed, different information sources may be used. The purpose of a background check is to get as complete a picture of the person being looked into. However, this can be difficult to do as different information sources may provide varying information. This is why the best background check services typically use a variety of distinct sources of data.
Some of the most common information sources used for background checks include public records, financial records, employment history, and educational records.
Public records can be a valuable source of information for background checks. This includes records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce records, and more. The best place to start your search for public records is the website of the government agency that maintains them. You can also search online databases of public records, which are often searchable by name or location.
Financial records can be especially helpful in background checks, particularly when looking for potential red flags. This can include things like bankruptcies, foreclosures, and tax liens. It’s important to remember that just because someone has one of these issues in their past, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically unsuitable for the purpose for which they are being checked. However, it’s definitely something to keep in mind when assessing someone’s qualifications.
Employment history can be a good indicator of someone’s professional past. This can include previous employers, job titles, and dates of employment.
Note that using most online background check services (like the ones we’ve featured in this post) to make hiring decisions is prohibited by the FCRA. For employment screening, please seek a professional background check agency with clearance to seek information for this use case in particular.
Education history can be helpful in background checks, especially when verifying someone’s credentials. This can include things like the schools attended, the degrees earned, and any special certifications or licenses. A comprehensive education history can provide a more complete picture of a person’s background and help to ensure that they are who they say they are.
Online background checks are an easily accessible and convenient way to find information on a person. This list of the best background check services online outlines the top performers across a variety of parameters to help you make your background check decisions effectively. From our review panel to those of you questing to find hidden nuggets of truth out there: best of luck in your search endeavors!
*Editor’s Note: None of the background check websites on this list are consumer reporting agencies. It is important to note this as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits the ways information from these background check sites may be used and is an important consideration when using them.