Was a Background Check Run on you?
How can you know whether someone has run a background check on you ? In this post, we will examine background screenings, the scenarios in which someone may use them, laws and regulations around background screening disclosures, and more.
Is someone digging around in your past? Background checks are common during employment and housing screenings, among other queries. However, individuals might run background checks on you in other scenarios as well, whether it’s a romantic partner performing “trust but verify” research or a potential business partner deciding whether you are worthy of their time.
It is understandable to want to know if someone is poking around in your history. Privacy is a precious thing, and it can be uncomfortable to think that someone is learning about you without your knowledge or permission. How can you tell if someone ran a background check on you?
Disclosure and Consent: Background Checks for Jobs, Housing, and More
The easiest way to know whether someone has run a background check on you is to hear it from them directly.
Background checks are most common in the hiring process. Employers want to know who they are hiring, and pre-employment background checks provide peace of mind. By using an employment background check to verify resume information and check for red flags, employers protect themselves, their customers, and their other employees—as well as the public—from potential oversights. However, while most employers run background checks on every employee they hire, they can’t do so without going through specific steps for disclosure and consent.
When running a background check, an employer is beholden to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA. The FCRA includes multiple guidelines.
To start, the employer must provide a disclosure form notifying the subject of the background check. This disclosure must be separate from all other application forms and materials except the background check consent form. The subject must provide consent, verifying that he or she received the disclosure and gives the employer permission to move forward with the background check. No employer can legally run any background check on you—be it a criminal history search or an employment history verification—without following this protocol.
You should never be left wondering whether a hiring manager ran a pre-employment background check on you. If there was no disclosure or consent provided, then there was either no background check or the employer broke the law with their employment screening process.
You will need to provide consent for background checks in all similar situations, such as when you apply for housing or for a loan or credit card. During these application processes, the property manager, loan officer, or credit card company must disclose their intentions to investigate your background. You will need to give consent for these background checks to move forward.
Other Background Check Situations
Background checks are not exclusive to jobs, housing, loans, or credit card applications. A neighbor might run a background check on you to make sure that they aren’t living next-door to a drug dealer. A potential significant other might conduct a background screening to see if you have a criminal background. A potential business partner might examine your past to see if you have any bankruptcies or have ever been involved in a serious civil case.
In most cases, these background checks are less formal than checks involving employment or loan applications. The individual vetting you might not use any resources beyond Google searches to look into your background, though they may also pay for a professional background check. In either case, you are unlikely to receive a disclosure or consent request for these background checks.
You may be surprised to learn that background data is not hidden or secured in a private hub that can only be accessed by certain individuals or groups. Most background data is public record—criminal records, civil court records, and credit records are all examples of info in the public record.
While there are laws, limits, and regulations about how these records can be used, the same restrictions don’t always apply to accessing the information. It is for this reason that neighbors, romantic interests, or potential business partners can check your background and find information about you without your knowledge or consent.
How can you track whether these background checks are happening? In many cases, you can’t—for example, if someone uses Google to find out things about you, there’s no way to prevent or track that behavior. You can set up a Google Alert to find new mentions of your name online, but you can’t know who is performing those searches at any time. The same principle applies to many other types of background checks, from criminal history screenings to sex offender registry searches. If the intended use of the information does not require your consent, you usually cannot determine whether someone is looking into your past.
Credit reports are an exception: you can set up credit monitoring to track instances when individuals, agencies, or businesses check your credit history. This service is useful for several reasons. First, it protects against identity theft. If someone is pulling your credit report without your knowledge, there is a good chance that identity theft or fraud is at play. Second, credit monitoring can keep you updated when someone runs this background check on you.
Since tracking other types of checks is difficult unless you’ve received a disclosure, it can be comforting to know that there is a type of background check that you can track consistently.
Running a Background Check on Yourself
Ultimately, the background checks that will have the most impact on your life—to get a job, an apartment, or a loan—are the ones that will require your consent up front. While you might not always know that they are happening, other checks are typically less significant to your day-to-day life. As such, it may be more critical to know what appears on your background check report than when someone is accessing it.
Conducting a background check on yourself is one way to see what employers, landlords, and potential partners may see. If there are any inaccuracies, you can address them before they cost you an opportunity unfairly.
If an employer runs a background check on you as part of a hiring process and decides to disqualify you from the job opportunity based on your background check, you will be able to see a copy of the report under the requirements of the FCRA. Still, seeing this report after it has impacted your job chances—even if you can dispute the employment background check findings—is more concerning than detecting these issues before you have applied. That concept reflects the value of running background checks on yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
When someone does a background check on you, what shows up?
The answer to this question depends on the type of check. A criminal records check could find criminal history incidents. An employment history verification check will involve checking that the work history information you provided on your resume is accurate. A civil history court check will find civil cases that you’ve been involved with in the past. A driving record check will show license suspensions, infractions, and other driving-related details.
Can you run a background check on someone without them knowing?
If you are an employer, a landlord, a creditor, or anyone else looking into an individual’s background for formal purposes, you are likely required by law to notify the subject that you plan to run a background check. If you are investigating someone less formally—such as if you have connected with a stranger via a dating app and want to learn more about them before agreeing to meet them for a date—then you can look into their background without them knowing.
How do I know if I passed my background check?
During any employment process, employers are required by the FCRA to notify you in writing if you have failed a background check. Similar laws apply to housing and other formal background checking situations. You have likely passed a background check if you do not receive an adverse action notice that you have failed the check.
Should you do a background check on yourself?
Running a check on yourself is always worthwhile before starting a job search, applying for housing, or seeking a loan. For instance, perhaps you have been convicted of a crime in the past but have since had that conviction expunged from your record. Running a background search on yourself is one way to make sure that the record was properly expunged and won’t appear on an employment screening or housing background check. Alternatively, maybe you are applying for a job that involves driving and want to view your own driving record. In any of these cases, a self-search is a smart step to take.