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The Difference Between A Background Check and A Fingerprint Check

When it comes to background checks, a common topic is the advantages of fingerprint background checks versus regular background checks. This topic is common simply because people want to know what the is between a background check and a fingerprint check. It may be surprising to note that for most companies, fingerprint background checks are often not recommended as a primary source of information. Fingerprint checks can supplement and support safety, they have significant shortcomings that make them poorly suited for employment screening.

Fingerprint databases were designed for law enforcement. As such fingerprint databases available to the public are often out of date are never geographically comprehensive. While some industries may find fingerprinting useful, many companies will find fingerprint checks an inefficient use of time and money.

Overall, name-based background checks are a better choice for minimizing hiring risks when provided by an accredited screener. Name-based background checks can be specifically designed for employment. In addition, name-based background checks simply are more comprehensive and compliant than fingerprint checks alone.

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

Many municipalities require 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.

Fingerprint 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:

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

  • There is no single fingerprint database where you can receive accurate and comprehensive results.
  • The FBI is not obligated to ensure that the FBI fingerprinting database is accurate or updated.
  • The Department of Justice has confirmed that the FBI fingerprint database is missing final disposition information for approximately 50% of its records. They recommend 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 or even 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. Per some State Laws, employers may not use these records when considering hiring 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 hiring risks. This strategy of screening was specifically designed for employment and is more comprehensive 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, or Social Security number. An accredited screening company can use this information to find local, state, and federal records of arrests and outcomes. This provides a more comprehensive overview of a person’s history than fingerprinting.
  • Consistent with many State Laws, name-based reports cannot include arrests without final dispositions.  This reduces the chance that an arrest that did not result in a conviction will influence a hiring decision.
  • As required by the FCRA, a comprehensive adverse action process provides candidates with the ability to challenge the results of a background check. A name-based screen is much easier and is likely to leave your company liable.
  • Name-based checks can include other important information such as employment verification, driving records, education/certifications to provide a more thorough view of a candidate’s qualifications and history.
  • A well-organized screening company can return name-based checks within a one or two days. Fingerprint results can take weeks, which slows down an employer’s time-to-hire.

Key Differences At-a-Glance

Fingerprint Report

Comprehensive Name-Based Background Check Report*
Intended Use
Law Enforcement Employment Screening
FCRA Compliant No Yes
EEOC Compliant No Yes
Compliant with State Laws No Yes
Verified at Original Source No Yes
# of Personal Identifiers 1 3+
Up-to-Date Case Information No Yes
Typical Reporting Period Weeks/Months Days/Hours
Safe Hiring Best Practices No Yes

*provided by an accredited consumer reporting agency like Peopletrail

Although fingerprint checks can complement comprehensive background checks, employers cannot rely on them as a sole source of information. Fingerprint checks have significant and well-documented shortcomings. Comprehensive name-based background checks provide a top to bottom view of a candidate’s suitability for a position. Searching by name and other personal identifiers is the best way to get the most accurate information when working with an accredited consumer reporting agency,



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.