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Fundamental Components of a Quality Background Check

By January 11, 2021April 16th, 2021Newsletter

As we enter a new year with hopes of restoration and recovery, we are collectively still navigating operational challenges due to the pandemic. This is a good time to provide a reminder of the key components that make up a quality, compliant background check. Adopting a high-quality background screening program for your organization should be considered one of the core components to your operations in 2021, especially during these times of uncertainty. Why? Because everyone’s safety is at risk. It only takes one rogue individual to wreak havoc on your organization, and sacrificing quality or cutting corners in your screening program can potentially increase liabilities and open your organization to higher risk which is the last thing we need to worry about during this unprecedented time. To help mitigate risk, implementing quality, compliant background checking is one area that can assist in safeguarding your organizations’ assets, reputation, the people participating within your organization, and most importantly the vulnerable populations you serve.

Fundamental Components of a Quality Background Check

Because not all background checks are created equal, there is not one comprehensive source that houses every single criminal record in the U.S. To achieve a quality check and ensure you’re doing a comprehensive check on staff and volunteers, it’s important to layer your background search. If you think of a piece of swiss cheese, the more sources you check, the more you can close the gaps, and the higher quality your background check will be.

A quality search should start where the individual lives – current place of residence is where 80% of crimes are committed. Current county or state of residence is where the most updated records are kept and checking this is at the core of safe screening.

Next, you’ll want to check the DOJ’s National Sex Offender Registry (NSOPW), especially if you are serving a vulnerable population. Be aware a National database sex offender search is not the same as a NSOPW registry search. The NSOPW is a critical source because it is the most comprehensive database that provides sex offender information from 49 of the 50 states in one centralized place. Information in the registry is “real time” – meaning it is updated nightly versus other sources that take much longer, sometimes months.

You will also want to conduct a Nationwide search and ensure it is validated at the local county courthouse. The Nationwide casts a wide net over the U.S. and is a common search among nonprofits/Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO). While it provides a good foundation, it still has limitations and should be used in conjunction with other searches. The main limitation is that it’s an aggregated database that relies on multiple municipalities to submit their records and some jurisdictions simply don’t submit because it is not required – those that do, the records submitted are typically delayed and tend to be 30-60-90+ days old.

Organizations should also check previous addresses as individuals may have committed a crime where they use to live.  On average, 28% of crimes occur in prior counties/states of residence, so it is recommended to do a Social Security Number Trace which allows you to go back at least 7 years.  A seven-year search is the industry standard and is a recommended guideline under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

It is important to note that people change names and not just last names when married. Alias names can also apply to first names. For example, information for a person named “Katherine Smith” could be filed under Kathy, Kate or Katie, so checking Alias and Maiden names is recommended to include in your background check.

Lastly, there is nothing preventing an individual from committing a crime elsewhere, if they are on a business trip, vacation or visiting a friend in the next county over or across state lines. Using a Nationwide locator can amplify the background search. Sterling has a valuable Locator Select tool that taps into two-thirds of U.S. sheriff departments and county jails and helps identify 20% more criminal records when used in conjunction with the Nationwide search.

The bottom line to achieving a quality, compliant background check is to not rely on any one single source but execute a layered approach.  It also means not conducting an “instant” check. Instant checks are typically cheap, non-compliant, and only check one incomplete source, resulting in a low-quality check – which opens your organization to more risk.

If interested in determining if your current screening program is compliant or needs improvement, Sterling Volunteers provides a complimentary Quality Comparison Background Check Analysis that is a cross examination of sources and can help increase your awareness of potential risky gaps, and save you money and time. To learn more contact Sterling, or directly reach out to Kimberly Chochon, VP, Partnerships, Sterling Volunteers at or (206) 300-6315.

This article is provided by our friends at Sterling Volunteers. Customers of 501(c) Services benefit from the background screening services of Sterling Volunteers.

Sterling Volunteers, the nonprofit and service sector unit of Sterling, a global leader in background and identity services, is committed to helping organizations establish quality, compliant background screening programs for both employees and volunteers. Their dedication to helping organizations create safer work and volunteer environments is unparalleled within the screening industry.

Please note: Neither 501(c) Services nor Sterling are a law firm. The material available in this publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal counsel to obtain a legal opinion specific to your needs.

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