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What Does an FBI Background Check Show?

Michelle Wilson - February 28, 2024

What Does an FBI Background Check Show?

With the FBI registering 31.6 million background checks in 2022, a decrease from the previous year, it is no wonder many people have begun to ask, “What is an FBI background check?”

According to online sources, an FBI background check encompasses a broad spectrum of data, comprising criminal records, arrests, and convictions spanning federal, state, and local jurisdictions. It may even encompass details about an individual, including their employment history, educational background, and military service records. But just what level of detail might this include?

Understanding FBI Background Checks

An FBI background check thoroughly examines an individual’s criminal and personal background. Administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or what many know as the FBI, an intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security organization, this type of background check exists as a comprehensive review that aims to provide a detailed assessment of an individual’s past activities, ensuring the safety and security of various contexts, from workplaces to private homes.

Who Typically Conducts An FBI Background Check?

Although a person may use a background check for many reasons, some of the most common, according to new online data, are families seeking a nanny. In this scenario, the family may request an FBI background check to prioritize their children’s safety and verify the person responsible for the care of their child is trustworthy. Although 64% of families hired a nanny without running a background check in 2015, public data shows this number is growing. Similarly, individuals pursuing adoption must undergo such checks facilitated by adoption agencies. Occasionally, individuals opt for background checks on themselves to verify information accuracy.

Still, in another likely scenario, you might encounter an FBI background check when seeking a second citizenship or residency in the United States. In this process, a background check also called a “rap sheet” or “criminal history,” becomes a standard requirement for such applications.

Unveiling the Contents of an FBI Background Check

Within the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the FBI houses arrest records from state and local agencies. Primarily linked by fingerprints, these records encompass individuals processed through the booking system. The NCIC serves as a comprehensive database housing these records while tracking reports of missing persons and wanted fugitives for law enforcement purposes.

Traffic Violations

While conducting an FBI background check, an individual’s driving history undergoes thorough scrutiny, encompassing criminal offenses, traffic violations, and parking tickets. This comprehensive examination delves into road safety and vehicle operation infractions, offering insights into an individual’s adherence to traffic laws and overall driving behavior. Despite not constituting criminal offenses per se, traffic violations carry significant weight in assessing an individual’s suitability for certain privileges or positions, such as obtaining a driver’s license or roles involving driving responsibilities.

It’s important to recognize that the impact of traffic violations extends beyond legal repercussions, influencing areas of one’s life that relate to the completion of an FBI background check. For instance, frequent speeding tickets or other moving violations can be the cause of insurance companies raising premiums and potential license suspensions. According to recent online data, speeding is one of the most common moving violations, with 41 million drivers receiving speeding tickets annually in the United States alone. This statistic underscores the pervasive nature of traffic violations and highlights the importance of maintaining a clean driving record for individuals seeking to seamlessly navigate various facets of society.

Fingerprint Check

In addition to the comprehensive criminal record check, the FBI background check incorporates a meticulous fingerprint analysis conducted through the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). This technology empowers authorities to match fingerprints obtained from individuals against an extensive database housing fingerprints sourced from diverse origins. This database has been growing for many years, with online data from 1924 suggesting that the FBI was holding 810,188 fingerprint records in their databases, with this number growing to over 47 million. By conducting this comparison to the FBI’s database, law enforcement agencies can swiftly identify individuals with prior criminal histories, ensuring accuracy in background checks and bolstering security measures.

The FBI cross-references fingerprints against the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a central repository containing vital law enforcement-related data. This database not only aids in identifying wanted persons and missing individuals but also serves as a crucial resource for various law enforcement operations. Then, the agency compares fingerprints against databases housing records of sex offenders and individuals on terrorist watchlists.

Employment History

An individual’s employment history is another component of an FBI background check, providing crucial insights into their professional trajectory and conduct over time. This section encompasses comprehensive details such as previous employers, job titles, tenure at each position, and reasons for leaving. Employers and investigative agencies meticulously scrutinize this information to evaluate an individual’s reliability, work ethic, and potential areas of concern.

Beyond assessing job stability and performance, examining employment history can unveil patterns of behavior or discrepancies that may raise red flags during the background check process. For instance, frequent job changes or unexplained gaps in employment may prompt further investigation into an individual’s stability or credibility. Moreover, affiliations with specific organizations or industries could also raise security concerns, particularly for roles requiring access to sensitive information or government facilities. It is worth noting that public data from StandOut CV from 2022 found that over 50% of Americans or 42.6 million had admitted to lying on their resume at least once. It is worth noting that in scenarios where someone tells a lie, the dishonesty was often a larger concern than the contents the individual was lying about.

Educational Background

An FBI background check typically includes information about an individual’s education, though the level of detail can vary. Generally, it may include details such as the schools someone attended, degrees earned, and dates of attendance. However, the depth of information may depend on what is available in the databases and records accessed during the background check process. The FBI may retrieve educational information from various sources, including educational institutions, government databases, and other relevant records. While the background check may include basic details about an individual’s education history, such as degree programs completed and graduation dates, it may not necessarily provide specific course grades or transcripts unless those details are specifically requested or deemed relevant to the purpose of the background check.

These details about someone’s educational background may be relevant in contexts such as security clearances, where certain academic qualifications or expertise are required.

Military Service Records

Military service records are an essential component of an FBI background check, particularly for individuals with a history of military service. This section typically includes details such as the branch of service, dates of enlistment and discharge, ranks held, and any awards or commendations received during service. Employers and government agencies may review military service records to assess an individual’s character, leadership abilities, and relevant skills acquired during their time in the military.

Additionally, military service records can provide insight into an individual’s level of responsibility, discipline, and adherence to regulations, which may be relevant for certain positions requiring security clearances or positions within the defense industry. Overall, military service records offer a valuable perspective on an individual’s background and capabilities, contributing to a comprehensive assessment during the background check process.


Scrutiny extends to an individual’s financial history, including any instances of bankruptcy filings. According to recent public data, by the end of 2021, 401,293 Americans had filed for bankruptcy. By March 2022, over 89,000 had filed. This aspect of the background check illuminates the individual’s financial responsibility and management practices, offering insights into their ability to navigate financial challenges and obligations.

By examining bankruptcy records, investigative agencies can gauge the individual’s financial stability, resilience, and risk propensity. Bankruptcy filings may signal past financial difficulties or mismanagement, potentially impacting their suitability for certain positions or responsibilities. Furthermore, including bankruptcy information in the FBI background check underscores the importance of assessing an individual’s overall financial integrity and reliability, particularly in roles where financial trust and accountability are paramount.

Outstanding Warrants

Outstanding warrants, which signify unresolved legal matters and potential impending arrest, can significantly impact an individual’s FBI background check results. These warrants are crucial indicators of ongoing legal entanglements that may affect an individual’s eligibility for various opportunities. Moreover, the presence of outstanding warrants raises concerns about the individual’s reliability and adherence to the law, potentially influencing decisions regarding employment, housing, or other aspects of their life.

Given the serious implications of outstanding warrants, authorities will typically advise individuals to address them promptly through legal channels to mitigate any adverse effects on their background check results and overall reputation. Failure to resolve outstanding warrants can exacerbate legal complications and hinder the individual’s ability to secure employment or engage in other activities requiring a clean legal record.

Addresses and Phone Numbers from Tax Forms

In the scope of an FBI background check, thorough examination extends to details of addresses and phone numbers reported on tax forms. This aspect of the background check serves multiple purposes, primarily verifying the individual’s residential history and contact information provided for official documentation purposes. By scrutinizing addresses and phone numbers reported on tax forms, investigative agencies can corroborate the accuracy of the individual’s stated residential history. This verification process helps ensure the information an individual provides is accurate, mitigating the risk of false or misleading representations.

Moreover, including addresses and phone numbers from tax forms in the FBI background check offers valuable insights into the individual’s financial affairs and tax compliance. Discrepancies or inconsistencies in reported addresses or phone numbers may raise red flags and prompt further investigation into the individual’s background

Security Clearance Overview

Security clearance is a prerequisite for individuals with “need-to-know” access to national security information classified at the Confidential or Secret level, encompassing government employees and contractors handling sensitive data. In addition to scrutinizing criminal and credit histories, security clearance background checks entail interviews with acquaintances of prospective employees, personally conducted by an FBI agent. Top Secret clearance entails fulfilling all Confidential and Secret-level requirements and an extensive background investigation spanning 10 years.

Criminal Record

The FBI background check delves into an individual’s criminal history by scrutinizing records of arrests and convictions stored in the FBI’s national database. This comprehensive search provides valuable information about an individual’s past involvement in criminal activities, ranging from minor offenses to more serious felonies. By examining arrest and conviction records, authorities can assess an individual’s trustworthiness, reliability, and potential risks. This thorough evaluation of a person’s criminal record serves as a tool for various purposes, including tenant screening, immigration processes, and ensuring public safety.

For instance, a charge may have been dismissed “in the furtherance of justice,” indicating a dismissal without conviction. However, in cases where final disposition data is missing, as seen in another example from an FBI IdHS report, there’s no indication of the charge’s outcome post-arrest, leaving the reader unaware of what happened beyond the initial arrest and charge.

Some Expunged Records

When authorities expunge a charge, it undergoes legal modifications, sealing, or destruction by law enforcement, rendering it invisible to the public accessing records. However, despite expungement, the charge might still surface on an FBI background check. This could occur if the court fails to notify the public of the expungement or if background check agencies don’t receive the expungement order.

For individuals, discovering that an expunged charge remains visible on their background check can be frustrating, especially considering that expungement typically implies non-disclosure of the charge to employers. In such cases, candidates usually can dispute the results within a limited time frame of 30 days.

How To Get An FBI Background Check

There are three main avenues available to obtain an FBI background check. Firstly, individuals can visit an approved USPS location for fingerprinting. Alternatively, they may utilize an FBI-approved channeler for a streamlined process. Lastly, the traditional method involves mailing paper fingerprint cards. For those opting for the latter, having an FD-1164 form on hand is essential.

Can You Correct Information In An FBI Background Check?

Absolutely. Corrections may be necessary when you find inaccurate information in your report or new developments in the subject’s case post-arrest, such as a pre-trial dismissal or an expungement after conviction. Individuals subject to an FBI background check have the right to challenge the accuracy of the data and request corrections. However, it’s essential to understand that the ability to entirely remove a post-conviction dismissal from an FBI IdHS depends on the jurisdiction’s laws where the conviction occurred. While authorities can remove convictions in some cases, in others, the FBI IdHS may only be updated to reflect the post-conviction dismissal.

Understanding the Timeframe of FBI Background Checks

Several factors contribute to the duration of FBI background checks, making it a variable process. FBI background checks entail gathering information from diverse sources, including court and public records and law enforcement databases like the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. These checks aim to reveal criminal history, convictions, and other pertinent details.

The time frame can be affected by various factors, such as the availability and accessibility of records, particularly across different jurisdictions. Additionally, state laws, including “ban the box” legislation, may influence the timing by limiting inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history.

The Bottom Line

With the amount of information on the line, many worry about the nuances of getting the necessary FBI background check information. Therefore, for many, the services of an external agency to conduct a background check offer a sense of relief and assurance. By outsourcing this task, individuals can be confident in the thoroughness and accuracy of the investigation, knowing that trained professionals meticulously examine pertinent details such as criminal history, employment records, and character references. This approach not only ensures compliance with legal regulations but also provides a layer of protection against potential risks or misunderstandings.

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