Feeling Confident About Your FBI Background Checks? You May Want to Check Again.

(Last Updated On: October 5, 2018)

FBI Background Checks

Approximately, 17 million FBI background checks are conducted each year for employment purposes. This means employers will rely on information provided by the FBI Criminal Records Database to make a decision that will affect 17 million individuals’ lives. But, what happens when that information turns out to be unreliable? Unfortunately, recent examinations of the FBI Criminal Records Database have exposed incomplete and/or inaccurate information. This has led to devastating consequences for some applicants and a false sense of security for many employers.

Good Intentions

The FBI Criminal Records Database was not originally created for employment screening purposes, but rather as a tool for criminal justice matters. The database is useful when an officer needs information quickly. For example, when he/she needs to determine if the person that has just been pulled over, has a warrant issued, or a history of violence, etc. As time passed, often in a noble attempt to protect those most vulnerable in our population, employers and politicians sought to use the FBI Criminal Database for non-criminal justice purposes. Employers looking for quality candidates were attracted to the FBI database. The information is fingerprint-based and therefore less likely to yield false positives due to mistaken identity. Slowly, the government began to open up the database to employers (starting with themselves, of course).

Currently, there are 1,600 state laws that require FBI background checks for certain positions. With information on more than 75 million individuals, many people consider the FBI Criminal Database to be the “gold standard” of criminal background checks. The use of FBI background checks is an ever-increasing reality. Today, millions of people from federal contractors to food service workers are affected by it.

Missing Pieces

Unfortunately, like most things in life, there are no easy answers in background screening. Employers looking for absolute, comprehensive information are not going to find it in an FBI Criminal Database Search. The FBI Criminal Database relies on states to provide disposition information. As a result, information is often missing or out of date. FBI rap sheets routinely contain arrest records. But, these fail to reflect instances in which charges were dismissed, a person was found not guilty, or a case was pleaded down to a lesser charge.

According to this study conducted by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), 1.8 million workers a year are subject to FBI background checks that include faulty or incomplete information, and 600,000 of those workers may be adversely impacted in their job search because of that information.

View the study here: Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Check for Employment.

Let me say that again, 600,000 people may be fired from a job they currently hold or not hired for a job they are seeking due to wrong or incomplete information. For comparison sake, approximately 600,000 people showed up to fill every National League baseball stadium this week for an opening day in the United States. Imagine the outrage that would have happened if every one of those fans had been sent home due to some mistake. Through no fault of their own! How much greater would the outrage be if these individuals were denied the opportunity to work and provide for their families? And, its all due to inaccurate or incomplete information.

Incomplete information also results in a false sense of security for employers. Many criminal records do not have fingerprints associated with them and therefore never make it in the database. Relying too heavily on the FBI Criminal Records Database means the possibility that many important and serious misdemeanor offenses will go unnoticed.


The FBI Criminal Records Database should not be the sole decision-making factor when assessing a candidate. Employers should work with their background screening partner to develop a comprehensive criminal records screening process. A quality program should including state criminal records or county level searches which are more likely to provide the up to date, accurate information necessary to make a proper hiring decision.


It is important to note that Justifacts is providing this information as a service to our clients. None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal advice, nor is Justifacts engaged to provide legal advice. We go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful. We recommend you consult your attorney or legal department if you want assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.


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