These days it is remarkably easy to find out whether someone has a criminal background. If you have the right identifying information, dozens of online databases will provide you with a person’s criminal records for a nominal fee or sometimes for free. In this way, you can quickly investigate the backgrounds of potential employees, neighbors, tenants, babysitters or dates and lovers. You may even want to check your own criminal history to make sure that the information is accurate.
Collect Individual's Identifying Info
Collect identifying information about the person. At a minimum, get the first and last name and the estimated age of the individual you are investigating. You are more likely to get accurate results, however, if you include the middle initial, the exact date of birth and the current address of the person you’re investigating. You are almost certain to get the correct results if you have the person’s social security number.
Visit the Local Courthouse
When someone is convicted of a crime, it becomes public record in most cases. This means that anyone can visit the local courthouse and search the person's file for details of past convictions. The only exception is if the court has sealed the record away from public view. This may happen where the offense was a relatively minor misdemeanor, such as drug possession, and a number of years have passed since the offense was committed. Also, you may not be able to see offenses that were committed while the perpetrator was still a minor.
The problem with visiting the courthouse is you must know where the person lived when he committed the offense. The local courthouse will only hold records relating to crimes committed within its jurisdiction, so if the person has moved around a lot, you may have to visit lots of courthouses in lots of counties to get the full picture.
Choose a Database
Conduct a search through an online database. While numerous databases offer to provide criminal information about an individual, every database provides different information. Some only focus on sexual offenses; others only provide criminal records from a particular state. If you want to conduct a comprehensive search, use a database that searches all county, state and federal court records, or one that performs a basic criminal search.
Perform a General Online Search
Perform a general online search of the individual. By entering the person’s name in a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, you might come up with information about that person that would not be included in an online criminal history database. For example, in search newspapers and news wires, you can find out whether the person has been linked to a criminal incident but never arrested or charged with a crime. You can even learn who that person’s friends are through Facebook or other social networks to determine the kind of people with whom the individual associates.
Hire a Professional Investigator
Hire a private investigator. The most thorough way to search a person’s criminal history is to let a professional handle the matter. A private investigator can delve deeply into the target’s background, not only by researching public criminal records, but also by asking questions of the person’s friends, neighbors, relatives and colleagues, or by covertly watching that person to make sure that he does not engage in criminal behavior or have criminal associations.
Criminal records are generally available for public viewing, so if you know where the person lives or has lived, then you can usually look up his record at the local courthouse. Otherwise, there are plenty of online services that will run a criminal background check for a small fee.
Barbara Diggs is a freelance writer living in France. A former corporate lawyer, she has been writing professionally since 2006. She has been published in numerous print and online magazines, specializing in travel, parenting, history and law. Diggs is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Stanford Law School.