Column: Background checks: No $15 cure


Commentary by J. Douglas Kouns

Background checks mean a variety of things.

For a federal-level position, a background check means a thorough investigation of one’s adult life. There will be an examination of character, ability, reputation, associates, prejudices, financial responsibility, alcohol/drug use and hidden skeletons.

All of a person’s residences, employment, education, financials, social and political affiliations are thoroughly checked, in-person, by investigators that conduct interviews with neighbors, co-workers, employers and associates. Everything is verified. Discrepancies and omissions are vetted. The cost of such a background check can run thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the applicant’s life.

Not every organization’s employees need that level of scrutiny; what really needs to be addressed is criminal history. Some equate a criminal history with a background check. There is no single source for criminal histories, no all-encompassing national database. The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service maintains the largest base, the National Crime Information Center. Many believe all arrest and conviction records are entered into this system, but they are not. It is dependent on federal, state and local agencies supplying the data. It is estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of arrests do not make it into NCIC.

There is no law defining what is submitted to NCIC. Contributing agencies determine what is provided. For a complete criminal history, it is necessary to check every state, county and city where the person lived. Only then, can one be certain a thorough background check has been conducted.

When companies advertise $15 background checks, it should be a red flag they are not thoroughly investigating. A $15 background cannot be conducted with any degree of competence.

A NCIC report is a start, but a comprehensive background screening must include researching official court records and conducting interviews. This takes time, effort and expense, but as they say, “You get what you pay for.”

J. Douglas Kouns is the chief executive officer of Carmel-based Veracity IIR, a global intelligence, investigation and research firm. For more, email him at


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