The Truth About Fingerprint Background Checks

Fingerprinting vs. Name-based Searches

The Truth About Fingerprint Background Checks- 27 Aug

Are fingerprint background checks everything that you think they are?

Crime T.V. shows make it seem as though quickly running someone’s fingerprints is the quickest way to nab a criminal and find out everything you need to know about them. And while the all-knowing, omniscient databases that are shown on T.V. are a cool idea, unfortunately they don’t exist in reality. Fingerprinting isn’t exact the golden standard for screening that the media has portrayed it to be. We’ve complied a list here of some of the pros and cons for fingerprinting vs. name-based background checks to help you decide what type of screening will best fit your hiring needs.


One important thing to understand about fingerprinting is that a set a fingerprints will not find a person unless they are already in the system from a prior arrest or job application. This leaves a large percentage of people who have never been fingerprinted out of the system entirely. While some municipalities require fingerprinting for employment or volunteer purposes, the fingerprinting system was not designed for employment screening. This system was created to help provide law enforcement with leads in criminal investigations. So more often than not, it is best to run a name-based search along with a fingerprint-based search for employment screening. Fingerprinting alone is often not reliable for the following reasons:

  • Fingerprint checks only use one database or source, whereas name-based screening uses a variety of sources to both verify and find more results.
  • Fifty percent of records in the FBI database are incomplete (2013 NELP study). Disposition information is often not found within the database meaning that you may find results for arrests that were cleared or dismissed.
  • The FBI database (or Criminal Justice Information Services‘ database) is often only concerned with serious offenses. This means that less-serious arrests such as those related with drunkenness, vagrancy, disturbing the peace, first offense drug charges, loitering, and traffic or curfew violations may not always be included.
  • It was never intended to be used for background screening.
  • Many individuals are not in the database altogether.

So why are FBI fingerprint checks often required? Certain municipalities have made FBI background checks mandatory by law. But the reasoning behind this requirement often goes no further. Some speculate that it may be because the FBI and its database are well known and fairly uncomplicated. Many people are also unaware of the limitations of this method of screening and that it alone is usually poorly suited for background screening purposes.

Name-based background checks

Name-based background checks were specifically designed with employment screening in mind. They use different personal identifiers to search through local, state, and federal records. This way of screening includes methods to verify outcomes of each noted arrest and see varying degrees of charges. Some of the main advantages to name-based searches include:

  • In addition to criminal history records, background screening reports can provide a lot of other information that may be valuable to employers. This includes driving and employment records, education verification, credit checks, professional certification checks as well as drug and health screenings.
  • These checks are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act which protects job applicants from unfair employment actions. This law helps cover gaps in checks that could occur with fingerprinting alone.
  • The wide variety of personal identifiers and database sources used ensure a higher level of accuracy and depth.
  • The ride-sharing industry has established this form of screening as their standard.
  • There is a thorough process in place for an individual to be able to challenge the results of their background check that is not in place for fingerprinting.


Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what kind of background screening process you want in place for your business. Total Reporting offers a wide variety of screening options that allow you to find the best fit for your company. Talk to one of our screening professionals today to find out how you can improve your screening process.


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