What is a Background Investigation?

Stacy Blumberg

A background investigation is the process of checking the history of either an individual or a group of individuals. Background investigations, also called background checks, are common requirements for employment or tenancy. A background investigation may look into the credit history, employment history, criminal record, or housing history of the person or people in question.

A background investigation may look into a person's credit history.
A background investigation may look into a person's credit history.

Many employers require a background investigation before issuing a formal job offer. Typically, the company is looking for any crimes committed that may not have been disclosed, a history of issues in the workplace, or other factors that may negatively affect job performance. It is good practice for prospective employees to report any issues that may surface during the background check before the company begins the investigation.

A limited background investigation is usually performed by employers.
A limited background investigation is usually performed by employers.

Another situation where employers require a background investigation is for security clearance. Entities such as government agencies often withhold information from those who do not have a certain rank or clearance within the agency. When a person qualifies for a new position or level, a more thorough background investigation may be required to ensure the person’s history and trustworthiness to the company or agency.

Background investigations are commonly required for tenancy. Many rental application processes include a background or credit check fee to cover the cost of a third-party screening of the candidate's credit and housing history. Credit checks are also required by mortgage companies before they agree to cover the mortgage for a home purchase. Property managers and mortgage companies typically are looking for a record of timely payments as well as red flags, such as destruction or abandonment of property.

An individual can access much of the information that will show up in a background investigation. Credit services provide a report that details the credit history and score, often for a small fee. Financial, employment, housing, and criminal records can be attained from banks, former employers, property managers, and government agencies. Individuals may want to keep a record of information that will appear in future background investigations to prevent surprises when applying for jobs or housing.

With advances in technology, background investigations have begun to include more personal information that can be found online. In addition to potential employers and landlords, private citizens can look into the history of others by using search engines and social networking sites. It usually is good practice for people to monitor what is posted online to ensure it is not misinterpreted by an unexpected third party.

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