There are quite a few times in your life when you might be asked if you will submit to a background check. Some of the reasons for a background check are when you apply for a job, a special license, or decide to join the military or other government agencies.
Before you say yes and open yourself up to scrutiny, it is a good idea to do your own personal background check on yourself to see what comes up. That way, if you do find errors, you can correct them before a total stranger sees the information and bases their decision about you on it.
Different Types of Background Checks
There are various types of public information contained in a background check, and depending on the reason you have one done, the contents may change.
If you apply for a job in the financial district, your potential employer may look closer at your credit history and any criminal records rather than other details. If you volunteer to drive a bus, your driving record will come into play.
When assembling a full personal background check, you may have to consult a few different areas to get all the information. You can also use a third-party service to get a full background check on yourself. It will contain everything from public records, marriages, divorces, civil cases, arrests, criminal records, driving infractions, and even stuff from your social media feeds.
If you decide to go the manual route, you may need to assemble a full profile from some of the following sources:
In many states across the U.S., the courts offer online searchable databases so you can run your name through to see if anything comes up. Otherwise, you will have to visit the actual courthouse and talk to the Clerk of the Court. If you have had any legal issues, even something as simple as a divorce, you should get a copy of the records to check for inaccuracies.
You can contact your local state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for your complete driving record. It will show any traffic violations, more serious offenses like DUIs, and any points on your license.
It's also a good idea to check public record sites to review other information that might appear on a background check. You can check with the county tax assessor for property records. You can also check in with the local county clerk to obtain paid tax receipts and automobile registrations.
Although you may not think you have a criminal record, you might. You can contact local law enforcement or check online using state criminal records repositories to see if anything comes up for you. You can also check with the Department of Corrections to ensure that your incarceration records, probation, or parole show correctly. If you did have some trouble with the law, make sure your records were expunged correctly (if you applied for that) or that your court-ordered and completed sentences were noted in the file.
Most states also have an online sex offender database that you can review to make sure you're not on there. The federal government also has a national one.
You can also pay the State Police in your area or another government agency to take your fingerprints and run them through the system to see what comes up. That method will be the most foolproof. Name-based searches are less effective.
Social Media Sites
Another good place to search for information about yourself is social media websites. You can put your own name in the search bar and see what comes up. Not only will you see your feed of images, posts, videos, and other content, but you may also notice content where someone mentioned you or tagged you in a photo. If there is something out there that you would rather the public not see, now is the time to check for it and clean it up.
Credit Reporting Bureaus
The three big national credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) store a lot of information about consumers, including historical payments, current debts, credit cards, mortgages, and previous addresses. It's a good habit to check your credit report from all three at least once a year. Identity theft is a big problem, and reviewing your credit report can help you stay safe.
Why not also try a good old-fashioned Google search to see what bubbles to the surface? You might be surprised. Try combining your name with your hometown or current address and see what pops up.
If you want to cover all your bases, you can also contact your high school and college for any records they may have. Some employers will do a deep dive, and if you have skeletons in your closet there, they will find them.
It's best to be well prepared and not shocked by what others find out about you, and a personal background check will help you do that.