Conducting Background Checks On a Budget

Here are some free or low-cost resources to help you screen potential employees, volunteers and other individuals on your campus.

In today’s economy, many organizations don’t have the money to spend on thorough background checks – while understandable, this can be a big mistake. Often, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. If you were to hire a criminal, your staff and your bottom line could ultimately pay a much higher cost.

Still, if a full-fledged background investigation isn’t in your budget, you aren’t necessarily out of luck. There are many free or low cost resources right at your fingertips, you just need to know where to look.

Here’s a cheat sheet:

  • Address Checks – lists a person’s address history. This is useful if a prospective employee claims to be a local but then in conversation doesn’t quite seem to know the area. Take a gander and see if perhaps he’s a born again-resident.
  • Reverse Lookups – If you have an address or a landline and not a name, and will allow you to perform free reverse searches. These may help if you come across incomplete information so you can match it up.
  • College Credentials – Want to know if someone actually graduated from a particular college? Sometimes the college registrar will tell you; just call and ask. If that doesn’t work, the will verify credentials for recruiters, headhunters and corporations, but there is a nominal fee.
  • Illegal Aliens – E-Verify at is free and lets businesses and non-profits determine if an employee is eligible to work in the United States.
  • Digital Persona – Take a look at Facebook and Twitter. Check out the interviewee’s moniker or screen name. What types of photos does he or she share with friends and onlookers? What outward image does this person project, and how does it fit in with the company’s image and culture? Also look at LinkedIn, and check that the dates and job titles on the submitted resume align with the ones on the Web site.
  • Drug Use – Keep a look out for eyes that seem glazed over, dilated pupils and arms with needle pricks. Also, an extra long pinkie nail could mean a cocaine or tobacco habit to either scoop the powder or split blunt paper. If you happen to see an interviewee take a pill and claim it’s for legitimate medicinal reasons pay attention to what it looks like and later head over to’s pill identifier page, enter what you know, and attempt to pinpoint the drug. may also provide answers via photos of various kinds of drugs and information on alternative uses.
  • Criminal Checks – and are two free Web sites that list criminal sex offenders nationally. Simply type in a person’s first and last name or choose to search by zip code to view a record. You may view results in a list or color-coded map. It’s a good idea to crosscheck both databases and double-check the person’s photo and information against its counterpart. Available information includes the person’s name, physical description, home and last known work address, photo, crime description, weapons used, etc. If you have the money and want to do a quick criminal check, a site like will provide a full report in minutes, but it will cost approximately $50.
  • Jailbird Check – If you think there’s a chance the person you’re interviewing may have spent time in federal prison after 1982 sort through online records at the Federal Bureau of Prisons at  If you suspect jail time happened before 1982, you’ll need to write to the National Archives for verification. Details online at:
  • Face Time – Nearly 60% of what we communicate is non-verbal. Look for signs of discomfort or avoidance of questions. If something feels uneasy to you or the interviewee, make note of it. Tonality, gestures and appearance all mean something. Our words can deceive but our bodies aren’t so quick to go along for the ride. If the interviewee is rubbing his or her hand against a knee; for example, it’s an act of self-soothing – he or she may just be nervous but if every time you ask about a particular position or task they drop their pen or touch the back of their neck they may be hiding something. 

If you’re going to be conducting background check the Do-It-Yourself way, you need to know that you open yourself up to some legal risks. So, make sure you do two key things:

  1. Make sure you’ve “found” the right person. It’s best to bring your findings to the interviewee’s attention and give them an opportunity to comment.
  2. Be consistent in your background searches. When you pull up information on someone, you discover things, like the person’s race, age, gender, etc. You also find things, like photos. This means you may have to explain whether your hiring decision is based on the individual’s race, age, and/or disability. If you’re going to do a background check on one candidate, then you need to commit to do background checks on all future candidates, and you need to also commit to be an Equal Opportunity Employer.

So, with a little undercover work and a lot of gumption, you too can sort through resumes, interview candidates, and really perform a thorough background check. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover that your potential new hire and you have a lot more in common than you initially thought? After all, appearances can be deceiving.

Maria Coder is the author of InvestiDate: How to Investigate Your Date (March 2012). A former crime and general assignment reporter, she teaches workshops in New York City and plans to tour high school and college campuses nationwide to show students first-hand that researching your date can be almost as fun as the date itself (sometimes more). For more information, visit

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.



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