Performing a background check can be an important step in ensuring personal and family safety. At the same time, it’s important to understand various types of background check and background information services. You must follow the law, which defines what you can and cannot do with various services.

For instance, the Fair Credit Reporting Act prevents you from using regular “people search” our “public records” sites to do criminal or background checks to determine eligibility for employment, credit, insurance, or housing. For these purposes, you instead must use services that are FCRA-compliant. FCRA-compliant services hold higher standards and rigorous processes for ensuring accuracy, fairness, and privacy of the records that are handled.

Free and Paid Public Records Sites Can Be Used to:

Lookup Sex Offenders in Your Area: Parents can understandably want to ensure the safety of their children as they live and play in the neighborhood. They may turn to free sex offender registry sites that let them learn of registered sex offenders in their area. While this may be a useful tool, it’s also worth reading on the government-issued guidelines for how to protect your family and children, as well as common facts about sex offenders.

Check Up on a Blind Date: Today we date individuals without some of the usual channels of yesterday that allowed for a little more background into someone’s life. For those who want a little extra reassurance, it’s perfectly fine to use public records or people search sites to check for any red flags or criminal history for those you meet on dating sites.

Check Up on a Potential Roommate: These days many individuals may opt to become roommates with complete strangers. Individuals may turn to public records sites to research their roommates for a criminal history. Keep in mind these services can be used for roommates, but people search or public records sites cannot be used for landlords doing tenant screening.

Research an Online Seller/Buyer Before You Meet Them: Whether it’s Craigslist or another site, sometimes it’s nice to have a little more context about a seller or buyer you’re about to meet. Public records or people search sites can offer this extra context that helps make the exchange with a little more peace of mind.

Lookup a Chaperone of Your Child: Some parents want to have peace of mind when it comes to their child’s friends’ parents or carpool drivers. As such, parents can use public records sites to look up background information on these individuals. However, keep in mind that it is illegal to use people search or public records sites to screen babysitters, nannies, or household workers.

View Your Own Public Records: it’s perfectly reasonable to want to know what public records exist about you. There’s nothing wrong with researching free or paid public records sites to review what information can be obtained by others about you.

Free or Paid Public Records Sites Cannot Be Used to:

Screen Employees: If you are making a decision about hiring eligibility, by law you cannot use ordinary people search or public records sites. You must use employment services that are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Companies that are FCRA-compliant for are designated as Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs), meaning they’ve been vetted to meet certain standards required for providing consumer background checks, including for employment screening. For employment screening, we recommend using GoodHire.com, a fully FCRA-compliant leader in background checks.

Hire Household Workers: The FCRA prohibits using ordinary people search and public records sites to make eligibility decisions about hiring a household worker. This means that you cannot use these sites for decisions about hiring nannies, babysitters, elderly caretakers, or household workers, such as landscapers or gardeners. For conducting background checks on nannies, babysitters, or caretakers for the elderly, we recommend you use Care.com, which is a legally compliant way to hire household workers and caretakers.

Screen Tenants: If you are a landlord, it is illegal to use ordinary people search or public records sites to make eligibility decisions for housing. Using such sites for this purpose puts you in violation of the FCRA. Instead, you must use an FCRA-compliant service for tenant screening. We recommend LeaseRunner.com for your tenant screening needs.

Assess Credit or Insurance Eligibility: It is illegal under the FCRA to use ordinary people search or public records sites to evaluate someone for eligibility for credit or insurance. The law requires that such eligibility must only be based on background checks that are obtained through an FCRA-compliant provider. This ensures the accuracy, fairness, and privacy involved when reviewing such sensitive information.

Determine License Eligibility: You cannot use regular people search or public records sites to make eligibility decisions for granting or denying someone a license. Such a use case is covered by the FCRA, and therefore it is illegal to not use FCRA-compliant services for making such a decision.

Free Public Records Resources

If you are not searching for any purpose covered under the FCRA (see above), you can browse the free public records resources offered by this site and these other resources.

Paid People Search and Public Records

If you are not searching for purposes prohibited under the FCRA (see above), you can opt to pay a small fee to get background information from people search sites. People search sites may include contact information, address information, phone or email lookup information, criminal history, licenses, and civil and criminal court records.

We recommend PeopleSmart.com as a leading people search engine and public records site.

FCRA-Compliant Resources

If you are looking get a background check for determining eligibility for employment, credit, insurance, housing, or any other business purpose covered under the FCRA, then you must use an FCRA-compliant service. We recommend the following FCRA-compliant services: