Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research
Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research

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Resources for Conducting a Background Check

Question: A colleague recently asked for a background checking service recommendation. I am not familiar with these services. What do legal research professionals recommend for business owners who want to run background checks on potential clients? Checkpoint? LexisNexis? Any recommendations appreciated.

Answer: Paul Bush, Matthew Bird and I respond to the question about background checking services.

Paul: Background checking means different things to different people, and the scope of a search will vary depending on why you need the information. Also, the information you have before you start might effect the sources you should consult. With so many individual databases online, there are now more sources than ever for finding information about a person.

There is no one source for conducting an exhaustive background search (with the exception of hiring a private detective), but here are some sources to consider:

  • PACER, state and local court databases for litigation, bankruptcies and other court

  • ChoicePoint - for information such as name, address, phone number, SSn, liens,
    drivers license data, boat and airplane ownership and corporate information.

  • Local free government Web sites for arrest/booking logs, most wanted and sex
    offender registries.

  • Various free sites for phone, address and email directories (reverse look-ups too).

  • Free state government databases for professional license information.

Paul Bush
Legal Dockets Online

Matthew: For basic background checks, Choicepoint is great. (9 May 2008: ChoicePoint Online, to which Matthew referred, is no longer available. AutoTrackXP, mentioned below, remains available.) I use it mostly to locate people, but it's also a good place to start a background check. It provides a lot of information at a low cost (about $10 per name). My experience has been that AutoTrackXP (by the same vendor) offers more information, but it is not necessarily more useful information.

Matthew Bird
Research Librarian
Gardner Carton & Douglas LLP

Editor: Public record research is a type of research requiring special skills and access to special resources. Major public record research systems include ChoicePoint Online, AutoTrackXP, Accurint and LexisNexis. KnowX is another major system, but because it targets consumers, it doesn't provide the same level of detail, access or functionality. (KnowX has introduced services for professional researchers, but I haven't tried them.)

If your colleague wants to conduct such research regularly, s/he should obtain access to more than one of these systems and attend any training classes the vendors offer. It's best to have access to multiple sources because the information, and how you find it, differs from research system to research system.

You should also be aware that only about 35% of public records exist online. The rest consists of paper and other kinds of records. This means thorough research requires manual, as well as online, searching. BRB publishes an excellent public records primer, which appears in The Sourcebook to Public Information.

Below is a list of resources on The Virtual Chase that might help you.

Your colleague might also want to explore hiring a professional public records researcher. S/he should check with the Association of Independent Information Professionals. I can also recommend Lynn Peterson of PFC Information Services.



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Created: 17 March 2004
Revised: 8 December 2004 (revised), 9 May 2008
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/ask_answer/background_checks.html
Suggestions: Genie Tyburski, editor [at] virtualchase [dot] com