When it comes to background screening, a common question is, are fingerprint background checks better than name-based checks?
Given that fingerprinting is required to cross-reference records within the FBI’s criminal records databases, many individuals feel it may be a better option.
The fact of the matter is, they are not.
Unless you are required to conduct fingerprint background checks on new hires, most would recommend against them. While it’s true fingerprint checks can be somewhat effective in promoting workplace safety, they have significant shortcomings that make them poorly suited for employment screening.
Fingerprint Check vs. Name-Based Background Check
As mentioned before, fingerprint background checks typically involve comparing an individual’s fingerprints against federal fingerprint databases. The problem is, that the 10th amendment makes it difficult for the federal government to ensure the integrity of its data. While the FBI database is (almost entirely) reliant on the data of state and local jurisdictions, states are under no obligation to report to the federal government. They reserve the constitutional right to keep much of that information to themselves. Thus, the FBI can’t mandate the accuracy of its criminal records databases.
On the other hand, name-based background checks processed by private screening companies typically employ large networks of court researchers. Whether by online or manual means, these court researchers go directly to the courts and retrieve information, ensuring its accuracy. Fingerprint background checks don’t observe these important quality assurance processes.
Moreover, information including name, date of birth, social security number, and address is more than enough to verify records. These personal identifiers, when used together, eliminate the possibility of any duplicates except in the case of fraud— a thing that would be good to identify anyway. The argument could be made that using personal identifiers adds a layer of protection against identity theft.
The federal fingerprint database was originally created to screen firearms purchasers but is now also used to screen law enforcement and government employees/contractors. Despite this, it was not created to be particularly thorough nor were failsafes implemented in order to combat outdated or inaccurate information.
For private companies that have the choice, name-based background checks provided by a PBSA-accredited background screening company are a considerably better choice for minimizing hiring risks and reducing turnover. Name-based background checks can be specifically customized for a wide variety of needs allowing for more comprehensive, accurate, compliant, and timely data than fingerprint checks can offer.
Understanding Fingerprint Checks
Many people erroneously consider fingerprint checks the best approach to criminal background screening. There is no doubt that fingerprints are unique to each individual making them a good way to eliminate uncertainty when it comes to identifying an individual. For this reason, FBI background checks are often mandated by government agencies.
However, fingerprints have several shortcomings and limitations, making them poorly suited to employment background screening. Some of these include:
- Turnaround times of up to 6 weeks are common.
- Fingerprinting facilitation can be difficult.
- Only 86 percent of states have records management systems that meet FBI requirements.
- Records are not verified with the courthouses.
- There are no formal drug testing or verification protocols.
- Processes are antiquated and are unable to integrate with common ATS and HRIS systems.
Considering these flaws, the majority of private organizations have turned to alternative screening options, such as name-based checks conducted by private screening companies.
Advantages of Name-based Checks
While conducting name-based criminal background checks, professional screeners use personal identifiers to search for federal, local, and state records of arrests and convictions, if any. This is a more reliable process.
There are several benefits to carrying out name-based criminal background checks for employment purposes. A number of accredited screening providers including Peopletrail can provide the following:
- Average turnaround times of 24 to 72 hours.
- Electronic data collection and authorization.
- Court-verified criminal record data.
- Nationwide drug testing.
- Employment, education, personal reference, and professional reference verifications.
- Integrations with ATS and HRIS management systems so all hiring processes can be handled in one place.
The value of name-based criminal background checks is increasingly recognized. FINRA, a regulatory agency for the financial industry, even issued a rule to only require only name-based checks.
Name-based Criminal Background Checks are Accurate, Fast, and Comprehensive
Criminal history checks from accredited background screening companies allow for secure and informative hiring decisions. Name-based checks can offer a more comprehensive background screening process by including felony and misdemeanor convictions of any candidate, the corresponding dispositions, case numbers, case dates, sentences, and classifications all verified at the court level.
Criminal history isn’t the only thing that can be retrieved. Employers can uncover a candidate’s educational history and employment history as well. Name-based verification checks are EEOC and FCRA-compliant.
Fingerprint-based databases are not always updated diligently. They can also take weeks to complete, especially if conducted at a county or local level. In contrast, name-based identity checks are quick and, in most cases, can be completed in 24-72 hours. The results are more accurate and can verify additional information regarding an applicant’s name, date of birth, and Social Security Number.
The Bottom Line
When given the choice between fingerprint checks and name-based background verifications, most should opt for the latter almost all of the time. Name-based criminal background screenings are more complete and allow your organization to comply with a number of state-specific rules and guidelines. As a result, you can make better hiring decisions while minimizing risk and protecting your brand’s reputation.
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