• March 3, 2019

Written by Darren L. Epstein, all rights reserved.  Copyright © 2019 / (DO NOT COPY)

  • These are universal rules, like the laws of gravity…they are what they are.  The intelligence and quality of the investigator or investigative agency you hire is everything!   Knowledge is Power…empower our Intelligence, Counter Intelligence Services.

FACT:  There’s no such thing as a “nationwide criminal check”, or for that matter, a “perfect” or guaranteed background check.  Due to the lack of agency communication, human error by government employees, and not all counties reporting their data… Investigators are left with the challenge computers and AI can’t solve.

FACT:  If you hire and don’t conduct employment background screening… you are negligent in your hiring practices.  You can easily be sued!  Background vetting is mandatory for safety, and to prove you were due diligent in your hiring practices.

I wish I had better news, but still after 9/11 the local and federal agencies are poor in communicating, and the criminal database system is a mess.  I hope this article enlightens you to the truths behind vetting, as an educated consumer is paramount!

Before we start… ALWAYS DO A BACKGROUND CHECK  (big or small)…do it for liability reasons at a bare minimum.   It’s estimated that over a hundred billion dollars is lost each year due to pilferage and other unacceptable employee conduct. As a manager or owner, you are liable for your employees and if you are found negligent in your hiring practices, this can come back to not only hurt but destroy your business.

What’s gone wrong, what’s the truth behind the online criminal system?

Crimes take place in cities and counties and those departments make human errors and sometimes downright skip things they should be reporting to state repositories, and it’s not enforced!!  Additionally, many counties in the United States (3,144 counties) do not report to online investigative databases.   It doesn’t matter which online system you subscribe to (TLO, IRB, Clear, Accurint, Lexis Nexus …etc.), I could list twenty more; our office uses around ten+ ourselves.   So, if the online systems aren’t pulling criminal data from all counties, ALERT… we have a hole in our criminal database network.  How many counties aren’t reporting, good question?  It depends which online database you’re using, most of them compete, so they have “similar” data, but each system has various benefits then the next.  Some online systems also check booking and arrests, different from a standard criminal search.  In general, most online investigative databases have access to an approximate 3000 – 3050 counties….however we have 3,144 counties in America.   Secondly, the Federal Crime database (Federal Docket) is NOT connected with public record databases investigators and law firms use.  After speaking with three (3) different national providers….it was discovered they’re unable to directly connect with the Federal Docket.  This doesn’t mean a Federal Crime won’t show when searching, but it’s not guaranteed, and in a real-world scenario case… we’ve seen the error take place first hand.  This is why we always suggest to check the Federal Docket as well.

I wish that was the only issue, but it gets worse!  Did you know there is no such thing as a “national criminal search” besides what law enforcement can obtain? Years ago you could ask a ‘cop friend’ to run a NCIC but those days are long gone since 9/11 and our new present danger.  Search the Internet and you’ll find many websites preying on a consumer’s ignorance, attempting to sell national criminal searches.  SAVE YOUR MONEY!  They are selling reports on CONVICTIONS ONLY, and most cases settle or are plea-bargained.   Conducting a background check by clicking a button can be misleading and dangerous. You need an investigation big or small conducted by a professional organization that knows what to look for.

How does the criminal system work in regards to reporting?

A crime is committed and the police conduct the arrest…within a CITY/COUNTY.        All cities/counties report their arrests to a state police repository.  Florida as an example has 67 counties, and when an arrest takes place those counties report to the Florida state police, FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement).   Well, they should be!

Can you run a statewide criminal search and is it worth it?

Some states offer a statewide search, but not all of them.  It’s worth running, but it’s not always accurate.  In theory, all cities/counties of a state report to the state police repository…it just doesn’t happen all the time.

I’ve conducted thousands of backgrounds over my career and I’ve seen the issues first hand.  I recall a case where we conducted a statewide search through FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) and no findings of a criminal record were located.  Knowing the poor criminal system, I suggested to my client to run an address history search first, this way we knew where to search.  We conducted a tri-county search (roughly a 100-mile radius) of where the subject resided.  Criminals often commit crimes not in their backyards…but they also stay somewhat close to their home.  Bam, we located a criminal record!  WHY?  Human error, someone in the county-level didn’t report the arrest to the state-level.

What about Federal crimes, are they listed within county or statewide databases?

The quick answer, NO…you need to use another system, the Federal Docket to be thorough!

As explained above…all crimes take place in a city/county and they “should” be reported to the state-level but it doesn’t always work like that.  In another real-world scenario, we had a subject we were conducting a criminal vetting process on.  We ran our standard searching, a statewide criminal search to include a tri-county (100+ mile radius) county criminal search from where the subject resided, NOTHING!  However, we also checked the Federal Docket for federal crimes, and once again we found a massive hole in the criminal database.  The subject was arrested in Miami (that county was searched by us)…but the arrest took place by the Feds, for drug trafficking; someone on the Federal-Level didn’t report it to the county or a local government worker failed to.  Once again human error, and I’ve seen this happen many times over my career.

What about International Criminal Searches, how do you check other countries?

We represent the maritime industry and conduct a lot of vetting for crew placement companies, so we often vett worldwide.  Due to such we created, www.CrewBackgroundChecks.com.  We have the ability to run criminal background vetting in 150+ countries…to include the Terrorist Watch List.  Most countries obtain and store their data similar to the United States.  When conducting employment background vetting, ALWAYS have them sign a disclosure and release.  When dealing with countries overseas, they often require the disclosure and release to include two forms of identification.  A seasoned investigator will know which department to contact within that country and submit the request to.   Download our DISCLOSURE & RELEASE FORM and email it to us.


The best practices are explained below; I give ideas and direction into the criminal vetting process.

As an investigator of 30+ years, I can tell you seasoned investigators normally use multiple sources to gather their Intel and generate a report based on those findings.  No system is 100% perfect, each is a different tool…like ‘Flex-The-Cat’, always pulling out a different gadget or tool to accomplish the job.  We use multiple investigative databases, 10+ depending on what we’re searching and where  we’re searching for it.  Additionally, the investigative databases private to investigators are also much more powerful then what a consumer can purchase from a random website.  You also need an investigators eye to analyze the data and observe red flags.   None of the investigative databases check ALL counties within the United States, and none of these databases have access to the Federal Docket.  The only true criminal background check would be to check all counties (3,144) in America…and the Federal Docket.


  1. ALWAYS DO A BACKGROUND CHECK (big or small)…do it for liability reasons at a bare minimum; be due diligent and keep the report on record.  Download our  DISCLOSURE & RELEASE FORM, have it filled out and email it back.
  2. Knowing where to look is crucial, so start with conducting an address history search first; their past can tell you about their future.  If the subject only resided within 1-2 states your search will be easier.
  3. What is the threat, what level of a background vetting process is needed? If you are hiring an employee, everyone requires some vetting…even the person answering phones.  However, a person of authority or in charge of assets needs a more thorough vetting process.  The position or threat level determines the amount of searching and costs.
  4. When searching for a subject’s criminal record, enter the subject data you are searching various ways, entering FULL name, SSN, Address, etc., to include opening the search up by only searching by a (Name & DOB).  Filter and analyze your data, the computers and AI are known to make mistakes.

Allow the full results to show, you might locate other people within the state or country with the same name and date of birth…but it’s best to provide full discloser into the FULL RESULTS.  Once you list the full results in your report, you can filter the data by SSN in hopes of making a smaller list, along with listing and explaining that to your client.  However, the SSN is not always listed within criminal records.   You can additionally filter your results by where the arrest took place and your subjects address history.  If they never resided in that area, it’s “possible” you located another person with the same name/DOB.  Filter your results further, look at middle names or other key factors to determine what crimes are actually your subjects.  Once again… I’d provide full discloser with providing notes into filtering, possibly providing notes or the percentage of probability of that being your subject.  The subject could have visited that location and was arrested, hence why you want to be completely transparent into your FULL RESULTS AND FINDINGS.  Additionally, add disclosure language to your reports to cover you in case of liability issues.  As an investigator, you need to be due diligent in your undertakings, provide your evidence and allow your client to make the final decision.

  1. Always run a statewide search when available, to include a tri-county search (100-mile radius) of the address where your subject once resided. Most agencies provide discounts for multiple searches, as we do…so the costs will drop when adding additional searches.  Since this is a more detailed vetting process, the costs will be higher, maybe only use this on your higher level vetting applicants.
  2. Always check the Federal Docket for any federal crimes that might not have been reported to the county or state levels. It has been confirmed through three (3) investigative databases that they do not have direct access to the Federal Docket…so that system needs to be checked separately.
  3. Never just search for criminal records, you want the full scope of (Criminal Records, Arrest Records, Warrants, and Sex Offenders). What’s the difference between a criminal record and an arrest record…big difference!  It’s possible you were arrested but let go…hence no criminal record.
  4. Running an address for 911 calls can also be helpful to show domestic violence or alike. Depending on the depth of your vetting process determines this search.  However, if a subject was never yet arrested but has anger issues…it might be located within 911 calls.  We can obtain the actual 911 voice call that came into dispatch and provide that to you; helping to give insight into the person’s character.
  5. Locate a few historical residence addresses your subject resided in, now run neighboring properties to locate neighbors that resided there the same time the subject did. Once you have located a few neighbors of the subjects past… it’s time to hit the field to canvass.  “Canvass” is a fancy investigative word…in Layman’s Terms, “stop being lazy and knock on doors and dig for information”.    Asking neighbors about a subjects past history can be very helpful.  You can extend this canvass vetting process by coming into contact with prior employers, employees, teachers and students of schools they had attended.
  6. Digital Fingerprinting background vetting is the best process to take. Most Federal positions or working around children now require digital fingerprinting criminal vetting.  It would be considered the most accurate vetting process.

Tools to use for your vetting process:

  1. Conduct your criminal background checks (Local, State, and Federal).
  2. Run their prior addresses for 911 calls and learn why, what secrets are they hiding?
  3. Civil Searches – has your subject or potential employee been sued or do they sue others often?
  4. Workmen’s Compensation Claims Search.  Are they habitual in claim reporting?
  5. Bankruptcies, Liens, and Judgement Search.
  6. MVR (Motor Vehicle Records) are important if your new employee drives for you.
  7. Eviction history.
  8. Drug Screening.
  9. Consumer Credit Reports gives insight into someone’s responsibility level.
  10. Polygraph testing can help uncover a theft…or it can be used in the hiring vetting process.
  11. Canvass prior neighbors, employers, employees, teachers and prior students…gather Intel.

A national open discussion between Investigators into the criminal vetting process:

A few weeks ago I created a subject topic into the issues known about criminal vetting.  Our agency belongs to over 100 Newsgroups with 50,000+ investigators, where industry leaders talk about investigative and security topics.  Here are a few comments from other leading investigators around the nation.


Responder: D. Iversen, The big problem with this is that there is no Nationwide Criminal Database other than NCIC and you’re not going to access that.  TLO and IRB and Accurint and Lexis Nexus and PublicData are all woefully lacking in their data acquisition so even if they cover a state you want queried, the data isn’t current.  For example:  In California we have 58 counties, of these less than 20 actually provide information online.  Some states (Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia) have a state depository for all criminal cases. Not all cases are filed with the state.

Responder: L. Griggs, Too much out of date information with most of the systems out there.  I would be very interested in what you come up with on your “national” criminal searches as the only “true” national database is not available to any of us. I do not do 900 searches a month like the last investigator posted, but we do over 300 a month and bad data can be very expensive.

Responder:  R. Duvall, Great advice Darren. Thanks for the great input.     

Responder: S. Rambam, The question of “nationwide” criminal record searches pops up every so often on the newsgroups.  As a 30+ year active Investigator, who is also involved with the online service information, allow me to advise you…that there are NO legitimate nationwide criminal searches in private hands that provides an accurate comprehensive result. The nationwide criminal searches in governmental hands, both federal and state, also have huge flaws…but that’s another issue.  The “criminal record databases” provided by online services, including mine, are without exception only “what’s available”.   The only criminal-related database in private hands that’s close to nationwide and accurate is Sex Offenders.  Anyone selling NCIS or TECS or III or…is absolutely, positively breaking the law.  Even places like Florida, which has a terrific open records law and a mostly accurate statewide database (FDLE), occasionally doesn’t have items in the state file that we later find by running county arrests. What’s available is better than nothing, but your reports to clients should have all of the appropriate disclaimers.

Responder: M. Carroll, What you’re reading in the responses is pretty much what I expected. Basically…. there are NO databases that can be trusted to be accurate, that are even close to cost-effective.  None. Zero.

Responder: S. HungerfordYou make some very good points and highlight an industry-wide issue that like you state, surfaces from time to time.  I just had a discussion yesterday with a fellow investigator struggling over the age old question…how do we sell to clients a background check that is less than 100% exhaustive and potentially less than 100% accurate?  None of us wants to be the one who clears a subject for employment, to later find out from the employer that he was convicted in obscure county.

Responder: Steven, Yup. I completely agree with the comment “900 criminal records checks are 900 potential lawsuits”. The only way to ethically sell a background check is to make it clear to the client that the criminal and civil record portions are restricted to certain jurisdictions, and then search those locations one-by-one and the Report must have a ferocious disclaimer.

Responder:  F. Koehler, You have probably heard from a lot of people about this – there is no nationwide database of criminal records, or one that even comes close. For instance, in CA, many criminal records are not even online. Also, I would exercise extreme caution. My insurance company doesn’t cover providing information from data sources without a hand check…it’s too risky.

Responder:  E. Zientek, IDI Online Research.  FYI:  This comment is from an investigative database provider that provides services to investigators.  This is good stuff! Very well written and so true!

Written by Darren L. Epstein, all rights reserved.  Copyright © 2019 / (DO NOT COPY)


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