The Role of Fingerprint Background Checks in Businesses

Many regulated industries, including financial services and healthcare, require fingerprint background checks. Fingerprint checks cross-reference records in databases like the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Often, these searches only reveal information regarding a person’s arrest records. While this can help employers make better hiring decisions, it does not necessarily provide a full picture of an individual’s criminal history.

Ensure Safety in the Workplace

Many fields like health care, childcare, and government jobs require fingerprint background checks to screen candidates for criminal records. This is because fingerprints are unique to each individual and can reduce false positives caused by people with the same name. Many employers also believe that fingerprint-based background checks are the gold standard in criminal history screening and are more thorough than traditional name-based searches. However, businesses must understand that fingerprint-based searches are flexible and can contain information gaps.

When a company runs a fingerprint background check, they will typically send the candidate to a local police department or similar location to have their fingerprints electronically scanned. This is usually done with a face-to-face interview and can reveal additional details, such as pending arrests or dismissed or acquitted cases. Then, the fingerprints are compared to IAFIS and other criminal databases. This can help identify if there are any matches and will likely uncover additional information, such as federal convictions or military service.

Ensure Legal Compliance

Fingerprints are the most unique personal identifier that can be used to track a person. They are also the most reliable way to identify a criminal record in a background check. Because of this, fingerprints are the preferred method for completing a criminal record search in many industries. Many jobs require fingerprint background checks, including positions that work directly with children. Other regulated industries, such as healthcare and finance, prefer fingerprints for screening. Performing a background check using fingerprints can save your business time and money, especially when multiple people may share the same name or other identifying information. However, fingerprint background checks have their drawbacks. Only accurate or complete data from the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) can be problematic for businesses.

IAFIS is a fingerprint repository with over 70 million records in the database. It contains all records of anyone who has ever been arrested or had their prints taken in connection with a criminal investigation. IAFIS does not, however, include disposition information for a criminal case that did not result in a conviction. This could lead to a false picture of an applicant’s background and, in turn, create disparate impact, putting the business at risk of legal action. Name-based background checks conducted by private screening companies are more comprehensive, faster to complete, and ensure maximum accuracy of records. While no database is infallible, fingerprint searches often provide more reliable and accurate results than traditional name searches.

Prevent Fraud

Many businesses conduct fingerprint background checks to ensure they hire individuals with clean records. They also use them to protect the data that their customers entrust them with and improve security across their organization. Fingerprint background checks involve an individual visiting their local police department to have their prints scanned and cross-referenced with law enforcement databases. This information is compiled into an electronic report, then provided to the company conducting the check.

Because fingerprints are unique, they’re one of the best ways to verify a person’s identity. This can be especially helpful when a person has been arrested and charged under a different name or has committed other fraud.

However, it’s important to remember that fingerprint background checks are not foolproof. They are a great tool for vetting candidates but should be used with other background checks, including criminal searches at the county level and education verification. While it’s impossible to stop white-collar crime completely, good governance procedures can reduce the likelihood of such incidents. This includes rigorous payment approval processes to prevent bad actors from stealing money from your business and committing fraud.

Prevent Discrimination

Many companies use fingerprint background checks as part of their vetting process, especially for jobs involving financial services, positions that require a security clearance, or when the employee will be responsible for someone vulnerable. They are also required for professional licensing, including engineers, doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, and realtors.

Fingerprint background checks compare applicants’ prints to law enforcement databases to determine their criminal record. While this is a fast and accurate screening method, it could be better. The FBI database only reflects information reported by local and state agencies, so it’s only sometimes current. A recent Government Accountability Office study found that as many as half of all final dispositions for arrests were missing from the FBI’s records. The same can be said about name-based background checks, though private screening companies usually employ large networks of court researchers to search records by hand to ensure accuracy. However, fingerprints are unique to each individual, and the same is true of other personal identifiers like dates of birth, social security numbers, addresses, and even genetic information (like family medical history).

This means employers shouldn’t reject applicants or employees solely based on their criminal records or other findings from a fingerprint background check alone. They should be accompanied by other screening methods, including but not limited to credit reports, reference checks, and face-to-face interviews.