Background screening involves many different sources of criminal information, each with varying levels of reliability and accuracy. There are local and national databases, registries, court systems, other data sources, all of which add to the complexity of background screening.

Among your many options when building your background screening program is deciding how to approach the number of names and counties to include. By searching all names and counties for candidates, you improve the accuracy and completeness of the background check—and doing so doesn’t mean you’re asking to be subjected to unnecessary additional fees.

In partnership with your background check provider, you can navigate the many options available to help you meet your screening goals while also managing your budget for background screening.

Tips for Determining Which Names and Counties to Include in a Background Check

If every candidate used only one version of their name throughout their educational and employment history, and only ever lived in one place, there would be no need to consider which names and counties to include in a background check. However, candidates can undergo any number of changes during their educational and professional career. 

Candidates can experience the following:

  • Name change due to marriage or other reasons
  • Multiple residence addresses over time
  • Variations of a name over time (e.g., John versus Jonathan) 
  • Dropping of or adding the use of a middle name
  • Multiple addresses at once, for example, a campus address and a permanent home address

Given the breadth of available background data for each candidate, it’s essential to include all names and counties in a background check. Though some county courts levy a small search fee, you could end up paying much more by pursuing a less thorough background check. 

Be sure to take into account the following considerations when deciding which combination of searches you should include in a background check:

Conduct a Social Security Number (SSN) Trace to Confirm Identity

Many background data sources rely only on name information rather than a unique identifier such as social security number (SSN). Therefore, searching for background data based on only one version of a candidate’s name can result in failing to capture critical details of a candidate’s background.

By confirming candidate identity with an SSN trace, you can possibly yield additional names for a candidate, such as aliases, maiden names, and name suffixes. Using the results from the SSN trace, your screening provider should search for all known names for a candidate. In doing so, you increase the chances of a more complete and accurate background check report.

Not all background screening companies conduct a check for all names. Some rely on an employer’s lack of familiarity with the way background data is recorded and made available for search, and they may check on only one name. Others offer value bundles and promise a lower price, but then conduct a background search on one name only. Conducting a search in this manner not only sacrifices the quality of your results, but it also causes you to pay for an incomplete background check. In many cases, this can be as bad as not having a background check at all.

Recognize the Value of Multi-County Criminal Records Searches 

Each county court has its own records and indexing system for managing past cases. As a result, you can’t expect to yield all available information about a candidate’s criminal history by searching just one county court system. A candidate may live in one county, work in another, and may also have lived in multiple counties over time. Therefore, it’s essential to conduct a search in all relevant counties for an individual. 

Sometimes it can be a gentle balancing act, because you want to be thorough without checking too many counties and risk having the background check process take too long. Your background screening provider can help you determine the breadth of your county searches. Your provider can also help you determine where additional job-specific risks would justify a broader county search for some job categories.

Understand the Risks Associated with Searching One Name and One County

By not conducting a search on all names associated with a candidate and all counties (including counties associated with past addresses), you can experience the following problems:

  • Missed past candidate criminal activity: Being unaware of past criminal acts committed by a candidate you later hire can pose a potential risk to your workforce. It can also put visitors, customers, and patients at risk, and result in costly lawsuits or industry accreditation complications, for example, with the Joint Commission.
  • Obstacles in completing employment and education verifications: Not knowing a candidate’s complete name history can result in a lack of information from educational and employer verifications, particularly if the candidate used a maiden name or a birth name in college or with a former employer.
  • Wasted time and money: By not searching on all names and counties, you’ve paid for a full background check, but may have only obtained partial results.

How to Make Well-Informed Decisions About Your Screening Options

According to a 2020 Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) survey, 94 percent of employers use one or more types of employment background screening. However, given the many products and services available, having a deep understanding of which ones to use may not always be apparent. As a result, it’s necessary to rely on trusted partners and available resources to help you decide what makes the most sense for your organization. 

Take the following steps to help you make well-informed decisions about your background check program:

Work with an Experienced Background Screening Provider

A background screening company’s responsibilities involve more than running background checks and providing you with the results. A great background screening company offers advice and insights to help you determine which screening services can manage hiring risks most cost-effectively. A committed provider will also offer guidance in deciding which names and counties to include in your background screening program.

Conduct Regular Reviews of Your Hiring and Screening Process

New advancements in screening technology and screening product enhancements are happening all the time. To keep your screening program current, conduct regular reviews of your program and take advantage of opportunities to improve its efficiency and compliance. A reputable screening provider will work with you to conduct audits and provide quarterly reviews of your screening program as a part of your suite of services.

Determine the Search Types Applicable to Each Job Category

It’s essential to be thorough and include a broad range of names and counties in each background check, but you can have variations from one job category to another. For example, some positions may be considered higher risk and may require more counties, as well as additional state and federal criminal record searches.

Build a Compliant and Cost-Conscious Screening Program

By working with a trusted screening partner and understanding the reasons behind including all relevant names and counties in a background check, you’ll be able to make more well-informed decisions about the products and services in your screening program. 

The compliance, efficiency, and cost of your background screening activities need not be mutually exclusive. Your screening program can comply with applicable legal requirements and also conform to your budget and automation needs. With the help of available tools and guidance from your provider, you can approach criminal history searches and other aspects of background screening with greater confidence and understanding.

Criminal History Inquiry Legislation