Fingerprinting has long been a reliable way to identify individuals and collect their background information. In fact, whereas a name or an address can be common among two or more people and can change over time, a person’s fingerprint is unique and lasting, and can therefore provide additional insights into a person’s criminal past.

The decision of whether or not to include fingerprinting services in your background screening program depends on the information that is desired, as well as any industry-specific requirements that apply to your organization. In some cases, federal or state requirements dictate when individuals in certain positions must be fingerprinted, such as truck drivers and funeral directors. Other positions that may require pre-employment fingerprinting include those that involve work with the ill, elderly, or children. Absent a legal requirement, fingerprinting can still make sense for your organization because it allows you to cover all possible bases when searching criminal history and it helps to deliver a more comprehensive background check. 

There are different ways to fingerprint prospective employees, and understanding your options can help you decide which method works best for your organization.. In some cases, it may even make sense to use a combination of two or more fingerprinting methods. Here are three fingerprinting options to consider, as well as some key factors to keep in mind when making a selection for your organization.

1. Traditional Ink Cards

Ink fingerprinting may conjure images of TV crime dramas, but this method is still used in the real world. The process has largely remained unchanged over the years, and many organizations collect fingerprints this way. The process is relatively simple: An individual’s fingertips are coated in ink, each finger is rolled over a card to create a fingerprint, and the card is then sent for processing or addition to a database. 

The traditional ink card fingerprinting method still works and is used in some industries. However, if you’re considering it, it’s important to keep in mind that it remains a largely paper-based and manual fingerprinting process. For example, it takes longer to submit ink cards and get results, as they must be mailed to a fingerprinting clearinghouse such as the FBI, for processing. When your fingerprinting process relies on snail mail, there’s an increased chance for delays.

2. Electronic Fingerprinting

Electronic fingerprinting is a fully digital solution that adds more automation to the fingerprinting process. Individual fingerprints are captured digitally and used to conduct a criminal record search of a state or federal (FBI) database. This fingerprinting service might be for you if you are implementing fingerprinting for the first time and want an easy-to-use technology solution. It can also make sense if you’re considering an upgrade from traditional ink fingerprint processing.

Electronic fingerprinting is an efficient solution that works well for organizations and the individuals being fingerprinted. Some of the benefits include:

  • This method is less prone to error because fingerprint images can be scanned and uploaded directly into a database.
  • The absence of ink makes it less messy for candidates and those handling the fingerprints.
  • Results can be stored and accessed digitally within a background screening portal.

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3. Fingerprint Criminal Record Research

Fingerprinting is a process that involves taking legible fingerprints and then searching for fingerprint matches in a range of criminal databases. However, records in state or federal databases may not be 100 percent complete or up to date at all times. To fill in any missing gaps, it may make sense to conduct additional research as a supplement to electronic fingerprinting. Research can be particularly helpful if a criminal record is found through a database search and more information or verification is needed.

Criminal record research often involves more in-depth research at the originating court. Although this can add to the turnaround time for a criminal search, it can provide greater accuracy and uncover details not available in a criminal database. Many court searches can be conducted with minimal additional turnaround time. When you work with a reputable background screening company that conducts research with a combination of qualified researchers and record search technology, it is possible to get the results you need quickly.

Which Fingerprinting Service Is Right for You?

Every organization may have slightly different goals when it comes to choosing the different elements to include in a background screening program, but one thing is consistent: Background checks must be high-quality and capable of helping you reduce hiring risks. Some of the factors to consider when determining which fingerprinting service is right for you include:

  • Turnaround time—when you need to reduce turnaround times, electronic fingerprinting will provide results faster than traditional ink cards.
  • Comprehensiveness—when electronic fingerprinting uncovers a criminal record, additional research can help to verify information and deliver more comprehensive results.
  • Technology integrations—fingerprint records can be easier to access and organize when background scanning technology integrates with hiring platforms such as the applicant tracking system (ATS) and onboarding systems.

Like other elements of a high-quality background check, fingerprinting is an important tool in helping you develop an accurate picture of an individual’s criminal background. With the benefit of technology, it can be a clean and efficient addition to your existing background check activities. Whether your goals include focusing on turnaround time, improving the comprehensiveness of background checks, using the latest technology, or all three, there is a range of fingerprinting services available to help improve your overall background screening program.


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