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The Truth About Fingerprint Background Checks

FBI fingerprint card

When it comes to obtaining background check data, there seems to be a certain allure to the public sector, namely the FBI. Due to its worldwide reputation as a revered intelligence-driven national security organization, the FBI would seem to be an obvious top performer as a background screening provider. But is this true?

The short and simple answer is, no. And it’s not close.

It All Starts With the Fingerprints

Those who have undergone an FBI background check will recall having their fingers dipped in ink and pressed onto a fingerprint card. This is one of the primary differentiators between FBI background checks and private sector background checks. The question is, does a fingerprinting process ensure the integrity of data?

Again, the answer is no. 

While fingerprints are iron-clad when it comes to cross-referencing existing records, personal identifier information such as name, date of birth, and social security number is also reliable. Moreover, FBI check fingerprints are only cross-referenced with data from the internal FBI database (NICS)— a source of information that is known to be incomplete and often outdated. The 10th Amendment prevents the federal government from requiring states to diligently report all their criminal information to the NICS, thus the integrity of data cannot be ensured.

Other FBI Check Pain Points

Due to the use of fingerprints and internal systems, many of the FBI background check processes have remained manual. In other words, FBI background checks can take weeks, even months to complete. This would probably be more acceptable if the information returned was more complete and accurate, but unfortunately, it isn’t.

Infographic detailing disadvantages of FBI background checks

The Private Sector

There is a reason most organizations around the country turn to private consumer reporting agencies to provide background checks on their prospective hires. When compared to the FBI, a trusted CRA wins out in almost every regard.

Infographic detailing advantages of a private background check


A trusted background screening partner like Peopletrail utilizes multiple sources for their background screening data retrieval. These sources include county and federal courthouses, state repositories, credit bureaus, and more. In other words, the private sector goes straight to the source. Conveniently, this information can be accessed without the need for fingerprints, saving your candidates the hassle of fingerprint collection.

When all is said and done, Peopletrail is able to conduct a comprehensive background check, on average, in less than two business days. Thus, we are able to deliver a more robust, accurate, and timely service to our clients than fingerprint-based providers, by a long shot.

For these reasons and more, we strongly recommend avoiding a fingerprinting solution unless you are required by state or federal mandates to do so.

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