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Sound Hiring Decisions for Employers: Fingerprinting vs. Name-Based Criminal Background Checks

Over the past year, many municipalities have passed bills requiring FBI or state fingerprinting checks for various industries. While fingerprint results can play an important role in a comprehensive background check, it is important for employers to understand that fingerprint searches cannot replace name-based background checks.

Using Fingerprinting Databases – What You Need to Know

Fingerprinting databases were originally established to store investigative leads for law enforcement. While fingerprint checks can support consumer and employee safety, they have significant shortcomings that make them poorly suited for employment screening. Important facts employers need to know about fingerprinting include:

  • There is no single fingerprint database where you can receive accurate and comprehensive results.
  • The FBI does not have an obligation to ensure that the FBI fingerprinting database is accurate or updated.
  • The Department of Justice states that the FBI fingerprint database is missing final disposition information for approximately 50% of its records and recommends that users check primary sources, like county courthouses, for the most complete and up-to-date information.1
  • State audits have proven most fingerprint-based records to be weeks and months out of date due to inconsistent reporting standards.2,3,4
  • Fingerprint records often do not comply with EEOC and FCRA compliance guidance.
  • FBI Identification Records often contain arrest records without complete dispositions which, per some State Laws, may not be considered in hiring decisions due to the disproportionate impact on minority communities.
  • Fingerprint records lack consumer protection since they do not adhere to FCRA requirements for consumer disclosure, consent and adverse action.
  • When using a fingerprint database, employers are still required to follow federal and state employment laws.

Advantages of Name-Based Criminal Background Checks

When provided by an accredited screener, name-based background checks are a better choice for minimizing an employer’s hiring risks since they were specifically designed for employment screening, and are more complete and compliant than fingerprint checks. Advantages of name-based background checks include:

  • Name-based criminal background checks use personal identifiers (including name, address history, date of birth, and Social Security number) to find local, state and federal records of arrests and their outcomes, providing a more comprehensive overview of a person’s history than fingerprinting.
  • Consistent with many individual State Laws, arrests without final dispositions are not included in name-based reports unless permitted, reducing the chance that a hiring decision will be made on an arrest that did not result in a conviction.
  • As required by the FCRA, a comprehensive adverse action process provides candidates with the ability to challenge the results of a background check.
  • Name-based checks can include other important information such as employment verification, driving records, education/certification verification to provide a more thorough view of a candidate’s qualifications and history.
  • Name-based checks are typically delivered within a few days, while fingerprint results can take weeks, slowing an employer’s time-to-hire.

Key Differences At-a-Glance

Fingerprint Report

Comprehensive Name-Based Background Check Report*
Intended Use
Law EnforcementEmployment Screening
FCRA CompliantNoYes
EEOC CompliantNoYes
Compliant with State LawsNoYes
Verified at Original SourceNoYes
# of Personal Identifiers13+
Up-to-Date Case InformationNoYes
Typical Reporting PeriodWeeks/MonthsDays/Hours
Safe Hiring Best PracticesNoYes

*provided by an accredited consumer reporting agency like Peopletrail


While fingerprint checks can be used to complement comprehensive name-based background checks, they should never be relied upon as a sole source of information due to their well-documented shortcomings. When provided by an accredited consumer reporting agency, comprehensive name-based background checks provide a top to bottom view of a candidate’s suitability for a position by using a number of personal identifiers while verifying all information for accuracy at the source.



1. The Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, June 2006, 54.
2. Criminal History Records Database, Washington State Auditor’s Office, 11, June 15, 2015.
3. Teresa L. Bennett, “Book and Release Cases: A Comparative Analysis of Complying with Fingerprint Orders,” Executive Master of Public Administration, Capstone for Public Administration 510/512, Portland State University, Spring Term 2012.
4. “The National Crime Information Center: A Review and Evaluation,” August 3, 2005. Report prepared on behalf of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) by Craig N. Winston.

This material is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Employers should direct questions related to their organization’s compliance with, or interpretation or application of laws or regulations, to their organization’s legal counsel.

About Peopletrail
Peopletrail is a leading provider of advanced screening and onboarding technology to improve processes and enhance the candidate experience. As part of the accredited elite, only Peopletrail combines superior customer service through dedicated account managers with efficient, state-of-the-art technology integration to deliver on-demand, accurate and timely consumer reporting results. Trusted and respected by government agencies and Fortune 500 to small up-and-coming businesses, Peopletrail provides Actionable insight you trust®.

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