The Dangerous Differences Between FBI Fingerprint Checks and Comprehensive Background Screening

The Dangerous Differences Between FBI Fingerprint Checks and Comprehensive Background Screening

By Tricia O'Connor

Imagine using a spatula to scoop out cooked spaghetti. Sure… you may get a few strands here and there, but in most cases, you’ll end up frustrated and still hungry.

It’s the same concept as relying on FBI fingerprint checks to screen employees and volunteers – although with potentially far more consequences than squirrelly noodles.

Just as the spatula was not designed to scoop out cooked spaghetti, the FBI database was not created as a tool to be used for background screening. Therefore, relying only on fingerprint checks through the FBI database is a recipe for disaster.

Here are some dangerous differences between FBI fingerprint checks and comprehensive background screening.

What is a Fingerprint-Based Background Check?

A fingerprint-based background check is done by cross-referencing an applicant’s prints with the FBI database. Applicants digitally scan their fingerprints at an approved collection location, and those prints are then transmitted to the FBI electronically.

However, only a comprehensive background check as performed by an accredited Consumer Reporting Agency (a company that performs background checks) like EBI will deliver a complete and accurate criminal history report on a person, including local, state, and federal information.

What is the FBI Database?

The FBI database is officially known as the Next Generation Identification (NGI), or previously, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). As of April 2021, the database contained the fingerprints of more than 156 million criminal and civil individuals, including military-related fingerprints. It was originally built to assist law enforcement agencies access and exchange critical information, but there is no uniformity or consistency between how agencies contribute information to the database.

The FBI database was not designed to provide employers complete and reliable data for background checks.

What Do Fingerprint Background Checks Show?

FBI fingerprint background checks show prior arrests and crimes included in the database. They rely on a person’s unique fingerprint, which makes them less likely to be hindered by false information like a fake name. However, these records in the FBI database are not always up to date or accurate.

A fingerprint background check can show Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) if a match is found. This CHRI can include arrests, as well as military service records, records of federal employment, and naturalization. It can also include erroneous information because the FBI database is often out-of-date and may show arrests that did not result in a conviction. This is dangerous for employers because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines state arrests that do not result in convictions should not be considered when making an employment decision

Complicating matters further is that challenging the FBI’s database is a long and complicated process and there are no guarantees it will work.

Should You Use Fingerprint Checks?

Many industries like healthcare, childcare, finance, and other safety-sensitive positions are required by law to do a fingerprint-based background check. But relying ONLY on fingerprint background checks gives employers a false sense of security because the bulk of the information is notoriously incomplete.

Instead, partnering with an internationally accredited background screening firm like EBI can help you develop a tailored and accurate background screening program to ensure your applicants are treated fairly and your safe workplace hiring needs are met. Here’s a quick comparison between working with a CRA and relying just on FBI fingerprint checks:

  • Screening industry is heavily regulated by Fair Credit Reporting Act laws – the FBI is not
  • Candidates can dispute background check results through CRA and get resolution in 30 days or less – fingerprint applicants may never get dispute resolved or not in a timely manner
  • Erroneous arrests and expunged records at the court level may still show up on FBI check
  • CRAs have fast turn-around times and deliver more in-depth and accurate information

Screen Safer and Smarter with EBI

The bottom line is the FBI fingerprint database is flawed and employers should not depend on it for a complete and accurate employment background check.

EBI makes background checks safer and smarter with our industry-leading technology that allows us to custom-build screening packages to fit your unique needs and requests. We won’t let you make spaghetti with a spatula.

For more information on our award-winning background check services, contact us today.

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About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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