Fingerprint Vs Multistate Background Check

The answer is simpler than you think. So, let us start with the basics. The FBI Fingerprint data is acquired when someone is or was a federal employee, was naturalized, has provided a military service or has been arrested in which case the states, counties or the municipalities must send that information over to the FBI.  This data base has over 70 million records available… sounds impressive, does it not?

What are fingerprint searches?

If you’ve ever watched a crime TV show, you have likely seen detectives quickly running someone’s fingerprints through a futuristic computer to identify and nab a criminal. However, as exciting as that does sound, those complete databases do not exist. The searches returned in an FBI Identification Record only contain information tied to arrests, federal employment, naturalization, or military service (times when an individual would have been fingerprinted). However, there is not outcome of the cases of arrests on record.  This means that someone may be arrested for a crime they did not commit.  Also, there is a large percentage of people who have never been fingerprinted and are out of the system entirely.

What are name-based searches?

Meanwhile, name-based searches use personally identifiable information (PII), including the person’s name, date of birth, social security number, and driver’s license number, to search for criminal history and other information. Since they use PII, they can look more broadly for information using national and local sources.  It is believed that with fingerprints, there are less false positives than with database searches.

How do fingerprint searches stack against name-based searches?

While both name-based searches and fingerprint-based approaches have their pros and cons, it’s widely accepted among background check experts that name-based searches are the preferred method of conducting background checks for employment-related or tenant screening purposes.


The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the go-to fingerprint database maintained by the FBI, includes 70 million records. While 70 million sounds like a lot of records, consider the name-based databases.  They contain more that 600 million criminal records pulled from a huge jurisdiction list.

The primary exception is for industries and locations that require fingerprint checks by law, and even then, they should be used to supplement, not replace, name-based searches. The data sent from the counties, municipalities and the states are not always sent to the FBI the way they’re supposed to. It may get lost or damaged in the process and the ones that do get sent, take some time to register; so, not really up to date as we would like.  Also, when requesting a background check, a physical submission of biometric data is required… yes that takes time as well.

Now let us examine the Federal and Multi-state searches. It is widely accepted among background check “EXPERTS” that Federal and Multi-state searches are the preferred method of conducting background checks. Let us see why.

By doing Federal and Multi-State searches combined you get the full picture. Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which includes any information such as names, maiden names, aliases, date of birth, social security number, driver license number and registered addresses, considering the information being scanned from international, national and local sources, it contains over 600 million criminal records pulled from different jurisdiction lists… makes the 70 million seem kind of trivia, doesn’t it?

And finally, unlike the FBI`s IAFIS, there are consumer protection laws that ensure the “maximum possible accuracy” of the records being presented, this act is the “Fair Credit Reporting Act” (FCRA). The FBI`s data base, the IAFIS, is not affected by this act, therefore it increases the risk of litigations… which translates to placing your money at risk instead of investing it properly.


You should consider the following when comparing fingerprinting to name-based searches:

1. Comprehensiveness

A fingerprint search only reflects information received by the FBI from states, municipalities, and counties. When you use the FBI database, you will find information collected when a suspect was arrested and fingerprinted, which does not apply to 100% of the information in a background check.

2. Accuracy

According to research by the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), FBI database information can take as long as 24 days to report, and court disposition information can take over a month. This means that information in the FBI database may not be as up to date as information from a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA). Unlike pre-employment background checks, FBI records are not affected by consumer protection laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). They often lack personally identifiable information (PII), such as full name and date of birth. If this PII is missing, it becomes difficult to ensure the FCRA’s standard of maximum possible accuracy of records, which increases litigation risk.

3. Turnaround time

For background screenings, turnaround time is essential. As you support your candidates’ placement and onboarding schedules, you generally do not want to wait any longer than necessary for sources to return information. But another often overlooked difference between name-based and fingerprint background checks is access to fingerprinting facilities. Because name-based background checks do not require the physical submission of biometric data, they introduce much less friction into the onboarding process. As a result, FBI fingerprinting can take much longer than name-based checks—which on average take one to five days to complete—in some cases, even weeks.

That’s not to say fingerprint background checks have no value, but they are not necessarily the gold standard in background checks.  So, while fingerprint checks may be used in certain industries, they shouldn’t be your only source of information. Name-based searches return more comprehensive data than fingerprints, are completed faster, and ensure the maximum possible accuracy of records.





  • A screening performed through the FBI database can only be done if the organization has the legal authority under statute.
  • If a State or county fails to report arrest records or a court disposition, then that data will not appear on the FBI identification record. This reliance on arrest and court records, coupled with the passive collection system can lead to a large number of incomplete files.
  • Source information sent to the FBI is not done so in real time and in some circumstances may only be done quarterly or yearly.
  • Most FBI records do not contain final dispositions.
  • The FBI record system was not created as a screening tool but an investigative tool for law enforcement.
  • The current infrastructure for applicants to get fingerprinted and transmit them to the proper channels is highly fragmented and unfair to consumers.


Records reported to the FBI

According to a study done by the National Employment Law Project in July of 2013, one in two FBI records is flawed, penalizing the job search of more than 500,000 workers per year.  The FBI system is missing approximately 50 percent of its records.  It identifies this lack of disposition information as a serious issue. This situation shows no meaningful signs of improvement. The study goes on to say that since the FBI records only contain arrest information, the lack of disposition is hardly inconsequential.  About one-third of felony arrests never lead to a conviction.  Furthermore, of those initially charged with a felony offense and later convicted, nearly 30 percent were convicted of a different offense than the one for which they were originally charged, often a lesser misdemeanor conviction.  In addition, to cases where individuals are initially overcharged and later convicted of lesser offenses, other cases are overturned on appeal, expunged, or otherwise resolved in favor of the worker without ever being reflected on the FBI rap sheet.


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