Anatomy of a Comprehensive Background Check

Background checks are an essential part of an organization’s employee onboarding process and contracting compliance program. If background checks are new to your organization, you may not know this key piece of information – not all background checks are created equal. Understanding the various components of a thorough background check will help you make an educated decision when choosing the right background check to fit your needs.

The information in this article will help you start down the road to selecting a background screening package while understanding the basic facts about what a background check is, why they are important, and the various searches that compose a comprehensive screen.

What is a background check?

A background check, or background screen, is a review of public record information about an individual. This information can be pulled for many reasons, with the focus of this article being for contracting or employment purposes.

The type of information included in a background check is called a “search” or “search components” and cover areas such as a criminal record search, a driving record search, basic identity confirmation, drug testing, government sanction and watch listings, or even a Sex Offender Registry search.

The screening results are then compiled into a report called a consumer report. The individual whom the background check pertains is the “consumer.” That data is then given back to the end-user who will review it and make the decision on how to proceed, which is often a decision of whether or not to hire/contract with the individual. The decision to be made is predicated on whether there may be any risks associated with working with the individual, and also to verify if the information they have provided is accurate, complete, and appropriate for the role for which they are being considered.

There is a role for everyone; however, not everyone is suitable for every role. The focus needs to be on the risk an individual may bring to an organization, its customers, consumers, and the overall network.

How are Consumer Reports Regulated?

In the U.S., the results from a background check (the consumer report), its contents, and use are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). There is no comparable consumer reporting legislation in Canada, however many of the same principles of consent, open access, ability to dispute the information, and other accountabilities are included in privacy legislation.  There are guidelines and regulations surrounding background screening that add another layer of regulatory compliance as well. The reference to compliance at PlusOne Solutions, for example, has two meanings – one related to the ability to meet the expectations in the contract with the Customer, (“compliance program”), as well as legal and regulatory compliance requirements.

While each Customer will ultimately have their own needs when determining the search components in a background screening package, there are some general criteria that most will include. Most commonly, a background check will include a criminal record check. Based on the jurisdiction of the screening – for example, the U.S. or Canada – the options available will be reflective of the criminal system structure of that area. For this summary, we will focus on the US options only as they are more varied.

Criminal Records Can be Checked at Various Levels

Criminal records in the U.S. are available at three different levels – county, state, and federal. Criminal systems for states across the U.S. divide crimes into several different categories depending on the severity of the crime. The major categories are infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. For background screening purposes we focus primarily on felony and misdemeanors, as infractions, or violations of a rule or ordinance, are the least serious and are and are not consistently included in criminal record searches. The information used to search these three levels of criminal records is the individual’s name, date of birth (DOB), and address history. The information that is returned when a criminal record is located may include case number, charge classification (felony/misdemeanor), charge type, disposition, disposition date, and sentencing, or other penalty information.

The county-level search is a thorough search of records held at the county-level and is the most comprehensive and popular criminal record search ordered. This is where most records for an individual will occur as there are more than 3,000 county courthouses across the U.S. The depth of these searches is typically seven years of residential address history which means that for every county where the individual has lived in the past seven years, from today’s date, a county criminal record search will be done. The county-level criminal record search is considered primary source data and is the main source of information that should be used.

The state-level criminal record search is very similar to the county-level, though it may not be available in every state. The state search is an aggregate of the details at the county-level search; however, the statewide search is typically a database search – meaning that it is reliant on information provided to it from each of the counties. This often results in information that may be incomplete, out of date, or not as accurate as the information available at the county-level. When ordered, except for New York, the statewide should be in addition to a county-level search, not instead of a county-level search. Not all counties may be included in the state repository, and there may also accuracy and completeness concerns as noted previously. The benefit of this search is that it does cover a larger geographic radius than just the individual’s jurisdiction of residence. New York is a unique situation whereby its Office of Court Administration (OCA) is the preferred source of information and covers all counties in the state as the primary source search and by law includes all those jurisdictions. As a result, county-level searches are not conducted in NY, only the NY OCA search is completed. Other states do not have this same requirement in place and therefore gaps appear in the coverage and date available in the statewide database.

The federal-level search, unlike the county and state level searches, is done through another system that is compiled by the U.S. Government including charges prosecuted under federal criminal law in federal courts. This is not a national search nor is it a search of all the county jurisdictions across the U.S. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) criminal record system covers 94 federal jurisdictions. Most states are divided into 3 or 4 federal jurisdictions, while some other states may only belong to one federal jurisdiction. Federal searches include crimes against federal employees, crimes committed on federal land, crimes that cross state lines, and other specific categories such as tax evasion, fraud, or embezzlement. This search is often ordered in addition to the county-level search and the scope focuses at least on the current jurisdiction of residence. One note is that due to federal rules of civil procedure, these records often have very limited personal information in them which makes matching of records more difficult.

National Criminal Databases

The national criminal database search is an additional criminality-related search that is also available, though its contents are not limited to just U.S. sources. This search is done using the individual’s name and DOB against a large database of the available county and state criminal information, the state reported sex offender records as well as fugitive, Department of Corrections, U.S. and international government databases covering numerous watches and sanctions listings. Records may be updated weekly, monthly, or on another timing schedule but vary from search to search. Since these records are from databases, the accuracy, completeness, and content are not considered direct source information and any information returned should be validated. Like the statewide search, the key benefit of the national database search is that it expands the scope of records beyond just the individual’s residential history. The other watches and sanction listings are also helpful to understand if there are other risks to consider that may not be uncovered with a criminal record search. Oftentimes, the national database search is offered on the market for a low price. Since it is a database search, the results (if any) return quickly. However, we caution Customers against solely using this search as the concerns of incomplete and often outdated information outweigh the value.

Sex Offender Registry Searches are Recommended

Most of our Customers are using a service network that is often inside homes and on-premises with little or no supervision, which raises other risks and concerns. For that reason, one of the most important searches to conduct across a contractor service network is a Sex Offender Registry search. Unknowingly putting a sex offender in a customer’s home is among the top scenarios our Customers are trying to avoid. The existence of registration on a sex offender registry is a defensible pre-adverse condition if job relevant. While the national database search includes aggregate data submitted from most state sex offender registries, a search of the individual against the U.S. Department of Justice, National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) is also recommended. If a record is located, comparisons are made against criminal records and other database searches we have completed. Sex Offender Registry searches only report the individual’s registration as a Registered Sex Offender and may not contain the actual criminal conviction(s) which resulted in their inclusion on the registry. For that reason, we also recommend running records at the county jurisdiction when a sex offender registry is identified.

Identity Searches Verify You are Screening the Correct Person

Since each search is reliant on starting with accurate identifiers – name, DOB, and address – every background screening should include an identity search. This is a search of the demographics an individual provides against databases that may include credit bureau header information, USPS address forwarding, utility bill records, voter registration data, licensing and registration data, and various aggregate sources. Search results may return additional names, residential address history, and other reported dates of births associated with the subject. This will also confirm when and where the SSN was issued, that the SSN does not belong to a deceased person or was not issued before the DOB of the subject. Developed names, alternate DOBs, and addresses may be identified and used to identify other court systems to search.

PlusOne Solutions goes to great lengths to verify the identifiers that a background report is based on because if there is an error with that data, the rest of the report is also questionable. We use various sources to verify and validate all names – given, alias, and developed from other searches. DOB is a common identifier that can be changed by applicants to evade the location of records. Verifying that the day and month, as well as year, are accurate further reduces the chances of missing records and information and/or assuming the background of another individual with a similar name.

Driving Record Searches Provide Valuable Information

When the individual will be required to drive for the role they will be holding, whether their own or a company vehicle, a Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) search, as it is typically called, may also provide additional information. As well as providing driving history information, the MVR search is also very helpful as an identity tool. Since the MVR is issued by a government authority, it is often a reliable source of an individual’s proper and complete legal name. The record information also includes address, DOB, and other demographic information that can be used to cross-reference it to other data in the file. Depending on the customer PlusOne Solutions is working with, the driving specifics may or may not be of relevance. Some Customers want only to verify that an active license is in place while others may have a greater interest in reviewing driving infractions, incidents, and other related information.

In-Depth Comprehensive Background Checks Should Utilize Multiple Searches

Every search included in a background search serves a different purpose and provides different values. The approach we take at PlusOne Solutions is to consider the combination of searches to ensure the most useful and thorough search to protect our Customer’s network. This may include conducting two different sex offender checks, using national criminal database and county criminal records to improve the likelihood of locating records, and thoroughly investigating any discrepancies in identifying information used to conduct the searches.

There is never a guarantee that all records and negative information on an individual will be found, but a strong Contractor Compliance Program and demonstration of due diligence is a solid way to mitigate risk. A program will also not guarantee issues will not occur in the future but if an individual knows about the requirements, they are more likely to meet and respect them. Working with service networks already keeps Customers at least one step away from the individual doing the work on their behalf. Using the available public record information, and proper consent, to conduct a background check is one way to demonstrate diligence.


Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel concerning their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.


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To learn more about PlusOne Solutions or to discuss your screening program please call us at 877-943-0100 or fill out our contact form and someone from our team will reach out to you.

Tips for Speeding Up a Background Screening

You need individuals onboarded right away and want to remove any delays from the process you can.  Clearing the individual through a background check is the last step …. Now you’re asking, “Is there anything I can do to help speed up the background check process?”

Actually, yes.

The first step is understanding that not all background checks are created equal. Doing things properly takes time and the screening packages most of our Customers use are thorough and contain various searches. While automated database checks may return a near-instant, they set companies up for increased risk and liability due to the fact they are often incomplete, out of date, and may not contain full all the required information.

Most comprehensive background checks, like those conducted by PlusOne Solutions, take one to four days to process, depending on the specific searches being performed, the resources being accessed, the jurisdictions included and whether records are located that may necessitate extra diligence.

Fortunately, you have some control and can trim time off the background screening process with a few of these tips.

  • Double-check to ensure all demographic data is entered accurately and completely on the Screening Request.

Is the applicant’s full legal name misspelled or missing? Are all legal names included? Have any digits of the Social Security Number or Date of Birth been transposed? Is the current zip code and address included? Data entry errors, however small, can negatively affect overall turnaround time, accuracy, and quality of the results. Discrepancies with the information may slow the process as PlusOne Solutions seeks to clarify differences and using incorrect or incomplete information may require a revised background screen to be submitted, which also adds unnecessary time to the process.

  • Include the applicant’s middle name as well as any alias or maiden names.

Did you know that searches at the county level are based on name and date of birth, but not the social security number? It’s true!  Including an applicant’s middle name(s) can help narrow down the results of the search more quickly and ensure the accuracy of the information returned. PlusOne Solutions will also search with alias and maiden names to ensure thorough research into an individual’s background. Including all these names improves the overall result. The middle name is becoming increasingly important to help determine if a record belongs to an individual, especially when they have a common name.

  • Complete any required criminal, driving, identification, or other forms required for processing.

Depending on the jurisdictions where the individual has resided, PlusOne Solutions may need unique consent or information to complete the screening. This is usually due to state-level legislation however we do also have a Canadian Identification (CAID) process and Helper process that may create requirements for a Customer before a screening result can be considered complete. These forms are typically emailed and requested at order submission but the PlusOne Solutions team may also follow up by email or telephone during the process to ensure these forms are provided.

  • Provide supporting documentation when requested.

Once a file is started, PlusOne Solutions may uncover information that needs further investigation, and you, or the individual may be requested to provide supplemental documentation, such as a Driver’s License or Social Security card. This may be done because information could not initially be verified, we may need to order additional searches, it may be used to help positively identify an individual’s or determine if their identifiers match a record. The screening process is often put on hold until this documentation is returned so if requested, be sure to forward these documents in a timely fashion!

  • Understand and follow the Pre-Adverse Action Process – and encourage your individual to as well.

As screening results come back and adverse information is uncovered, the individual may be put into Pre-Adverse status. Although this language is taken from the US Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) legislation, a similar process is followed in Canada. The means the screening has been completed but based on the results obtained, there is likely to be adverse action taken against them. Meaning more specifically that they do not meet the contractual requirements of the Customer’s program. Part of this process is the opportunity for them to dispute the results if they are inaccurate or incomplete. This requires the individual to contact PlusOne Solutions and file a dispute so that we may verify the information before a final decision is made. Under federal and some state laws, the requirement to ensure accurate and complete information is a right for the individual. If anything impacts the accuracy of the report, it must be further reviewed. To give the individual appropriate time, the file will remain in preadverse status for up to 11 days while a response is awaited.  The quicker an individual responds to a PreAdverse letter, the quicker the screening process can complete.

  • Use the resources available to track screening status.

Although options vary by Customer, PlusOne Solutions provides various means to ascertain the status of a background screening through our portal interface, nightly report, possible system integrations, and other tools. These are available 24/7 and allow you to track exactly where in the process a screening may be. As always, if you have an urgent or unique need, you can contact our team directly for an update.

  • Contact your screening partner with any additional requests.

Are you wondering about an ETA for screening results? Do you have questions about findings for an applicant?  Do you wish to expedite a specific screen request that has been delayed?  If so, be sure to reach out to your screening partner.


As always, if you have a specific screen that needs to be expedited, a background screening seems to be taking longer than normal or you have questions on the results or process, please reach out. We are happy to help!

To learn more about PlusOne Solutions or to discuss your contractor screening program please call us at 877-943-0100 or fill out our contact form and someone from our team will reach out to you.

Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel concerning their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.


To receive these updates directly in your email inbox, sign up for the newsletter

Interested in learning more about implementing a contractor compliance program? Contact us at (877) 943-0100 or send us a message using the form below.

6 Ways Our Screening Program Meets In-Home Service Industry Needs

With decades of experience in the contractor screening space, our founders knew when they started PlusOne Solutions in 2005 they needed to launch a solution that met the unique demands of the service industry. The traditional employment screening practices at the time would not work for contractor networks or service companies, so PlusOne Solutions created a fresh approach.

With the in-home service industry, independent contractors often worked for numerous companies in their local area. This meant they were subjected to various and multiple background screening processes. Some of these were comprehensive, but others were merely done to check a box. None of them were designed to keep the contracted customer at the forefront of risk mitigation.

With a focused effort, PlusOne Solutions created a process for treating the individual of the background screening with respect while considering the specific work they would be contracted to do when evaluating their screening results. This led to successfully balancing risk mitigation with compliance and the proper treatment of contracted servicers.

The PlusOne Solutions Contractor Background Screening Program was the first to address many unique service industry issues, such as:


Problem 1: Repeated and Inconsistent Screening Efforts

Contractors were paying for multiple background screening programs through various vendors based on whom their customers were using. This process was redundant, cumbersome and costly.

Solution 1: Shareability

One background check done through PlusOne Solutions can be accepted across multiple customers so a single purchase of a background screen can be used among our customers who an individual is contracted to work for. This lowered the cost of the background screen for each individual contractor, provided a streamlined screening process and improved acceptance of background screening across the industry.


Problem 2: Inconsistent Criteria

There were too many different background screening packages required across the service industry and there was no consistency in the components or search criteria. This created multiple requirements for individuals to be screened against, some of which were lacking true diligence, and caused confusion, frustration, and additional fees.

Solution 2: Standardized Package

A comprehensive, thorough and affordable background screening package that set the standard requirements for the industry. The detail, process, and use of the screening were better understood and used by customers as a result, thereby reducing risk and improving the credibility and caliber of the entire industry.


Problem 3: Unpredictable Variable Costs

The actual cost of the background check was unknown until all the screening was conducted because search fees varied from screening to screening depending on factors such as the vendor, specific package, and jurisdiction. The more counties, addresses or names searched, the higher the cost was. Contracted individuals required to complete a background check had no idea what was fair, what to expect or what was required.

Solution 3: Bundled, Predictive Pricing

A transparent bundled cost, which proactively factored in all costs including all pass-through fees such as the specific court, state, and motor vehicle reports fees, were included in the screening package. This eliminated surprise pricing for those going through the screening process and gave contractors an upfront fee they could accept to maintain consistency across all screenings.


Problem 4: Irrelevant Decision Matrices

Decision-makers were using irrelevant background screen information and bright-line decision matrices when considering a person for a role. For example, a felony would bar someone from consideration, yet not all felonies are equal. This approach was later determined to be in violation of the Employment Opportunity Commissions’ (EEOC) 2012 Enforcement Guidance.

Solution 4: Individualized Assessment

A set of fluid guidelines to use for in-home and on-premise contracted situations was created to better qualify and assess any previous criminal convictions and were considered based on behaviors related to the job. This also factors in whether the individual may pose a risk to the consumer, property or family as the severity of the conviction, length of time since the conviction and nature of the job were evaluated for each review of criminal records.


Problem 5: Violation of Privacy

Outdated, personal and irrelevant criminal record information about an individual was being shared prematurely with the individual’s employer through the consumer (background screening) report. In many cases, the information did not create an adverse condition. Since it was not information that needed to be shared, it unnecessarily violated the privacy of the individual.

Solution 5: Pre-Adverse Process Directly with the Individual

Working with the individual directly, and within FCRA and state laws and regulations, PlusOne Solutions evaluates the background screening and keeps the information confidential by not releasing results to the Customer or individual’s employer until the pre-adverse process is completed. This ensures a confirmed record is released only after the individual is aware of what information is shared about them and they have had enough opportunity to dispute the information. While the pre-adverse and adverse process are legislated, the approach to work through this with the individual, versus sharing with the company who would work with the individual is where PlusOne’s approach differs.


Problem 6: No Opportunity to be Heard

Without steps in place in order to fully understand the circumstances around the findings in a background screening, decisions were made based solely on the report and no additional information from the individual.

Even when using a decision matrix, there are valid reasons for reconsideration of the impact of past criminal or driving behaviors before a final decision is made. Background screening results are on real people and life’s circumstances can never be fully understood from just a background screening report.

Solution 6: Appeal Process

A unique process was instituted to allow the individual to provide more information that may impact the results and decision from the screening. From the very beginning, PlusOne Solutions implemented an “appeal” process to gain a better understanding of the circumstances that led to the charges showing in the consumer report.

After the background screening report is provided but before a final decision is made, the individual has an opportunity to “appeal” their eligibility decision. This builds on the individualized assessment process and allows the individual to explain their story and ask for reconsideration before making a final decision. They can demonstrate their rehabilitation and suitability for the role and often give greater insight into the circumstances which gave rise to the adverse behavior.



More than 15 years after PlusOne Solutions took this approach, many of our early solutions have been adopted as industry best practices. Additionally, some of our early practices were aligned with the recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission’s July 2011 release of 40 Years of Experience with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Although our approach to our contractor background screening program is determined, we still work with customers on a case by case basis to understand their needs and identify any gaps. PlusOne Solutions is committed to providing a comprehensive screening program that creates safer work environments for both service providers and customers.


Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel with respect to their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.

To receive these updates directly in your email inbox, sign up for the newsletter


Interested in learning more about our compliance services? Contact us at (877) 943-0100 or send us a message using the form below.

PlusOne Solutions Now Offering Continuous Criminal Monitoring

PlusOne Solutions, a provider of compliance and risk management solutions that meet the complex challenges of contractor networks, announced the release of their Continuous Criminal Monitoring program.

A proactive approach to background checks, the Continuous Criminal Monitoring program is an FCRA-compliant service that provides near real-time alerts on U.S. booking or incarceration activity that occurs within your service network or workforce after the initial background screening.

Criminal issues that occur between the standard two-year rescreen cycles can often go undetected and the ongoing monitoring of employees and contractors allows companies to see alerts on their network’s criminal activity, including DUI, assaults, theft, and more, that may increase risk and liability.

“Since there is usually a two-year period between the background checks a contractor undergoes, Customers were searching for a solution to monitor potential criminal activity between these screenings,” said Michelle Leblond, Executive Vice President of Compliance and Privacy at PlusOne Solutions. “Although this doesn’t replace the need for a full background screen, this is another mitigation tool our Customers can utilize to demonstrate due diligence and monitor their network’s activity.”

Continuous Criminal Monitoring vs. Traditional Background Checks


Companies that rely on contractor networks of varying sizes are challenged with maintaining compliance throughout their relationship with a contractor. Although they conduct periodic background checks on their network every two years, how do they know if something happens in the meantime?

That’s the gap of information Continuous Criminal Monitoring could solve.

Instead of reviewing only historical results like a traditional background check provides, continuous monitoring is the ongoing process of reviewing U.S. county-level criminal records and provides notice within 24 hours of incarceration or booking event.

While continuous criminal monitoring does not completely eliminate the need for periodic comprehensive background checks, PlusOne Solutions’ sources cover over 85 percent of the population and is a suitable search to identify potential behavior that may pose a risk to your business, customers, brand, customer loyalty, and reputation.

“Continuous Criminal Monitoring is one more way PlusOne Solutions has continued to improve our risk mitigation portfolio, added value to our U.S. Customers and helped them improve the quality and compliance of their contractor networks,” Leblond said. “We look forward to continued opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to be a strong partner with our Customers.”



To learn how Continuous Criminal Monitoring is already having an impact, read our case study titled ‘Continuous Criminal Monitoring: A Proactive Approach to Monitor Contractor Networks’.


For more than 15 years, PlusOne Solutions has been an industry leader in the risk management field by specializing compliance programs that meet the complex challenges of geographically dispersed contractors, vendors and employee networks. PlusOne Solutions protects companies from possible financial, legal and reputational risks associated with contractor and vendor relationships while creating safer work environments for everyone and is an Accredited Background Screening Agency by the Professional Background Screening Association.


Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel with respect to their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.

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