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The best background check services (and how to choose the right one)

If you need to perform a check on someone for personal or business reasons, ZDNET experts have compiled a list of the best background check services available in 2023.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
Sterling | Best background check service overall
Sterling
Sterling
Best background check service overall
View now View at Sterling
BeenVerified | Best background check service for personal searches
BeenVerified
BeenVerified
Best background check service for personal searches
View now View at BeenVerified
Intelius | Best background check service for features
Intelius
Intelius
Best background check service for features
View now View at Intelius
GoodHire | Best background check for small businesses
GoodHire
GoodHire
Best background check for small businesses
View now View at GoodHire
Instant Checkmate | Best background check service for criminal records
Instant Checkmate
Instant Checkmate
Best background check service for criminal records
View now View at Instant Checkmate

Background checks can be performed for a variety of reasons: You may, for example, need to perform one when you are considering a new hire at your business, you want to vet a potential contractor, or you are seeking a new tenant. Reasons can also be personal.

While you should only perform a background check when necessary, they can -- in the right circumstances -- provide invaluable data on an individual's criminal record, credit and financial history, addresses, education, Social Security status, vehicle histories, and more. 

Also: The best VPN services

ZDNET researched the best background check services available to help you choose the one that best fits your needs, based on their ease of use, reliability, accuracy, and cost. Our pick for the best background check service for businesses is Sterling, thanks to its strong reputation and scalability, and our pick for the best background check service for individuals is BeenVerified, due to its ease of use and rapid results. 

Below, you will find more of the best background check services of 2023 that ZDNET recommends. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Business-ready
  • Scalable
  • Strong reputation
Cons
  • Some candidates report slow responsiveness
More Details

Sterling features: Business checks | Criminal record searches | Identity verification | Candidate hub | Security & compliance services | Biometrics | API integrations

Sterling is a popular service used to perform millions of background checks every year. According to the company, Sterling is used by over 60 percent of the Fortune 100. 

Sterling's offerings are best suited for business purposes across a variety of industries and can be used to perform background checks and identity verification. Background checks are conducted through sources including court documents, public records, credit reports, education status records, vehicle logs, social media profiles, and more.

Candidate screening is backed up by a central hub and ID.me checks to detect errors or potential misrepresentations. 

Sterling provides its services in over 240 countries and territories. Pricing is available upon request.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Extremely easy to use
  • Rapid results
Cons
  • Requires email to see results
More Details

BeenVerified features: People search | Email, phone lookup | Vehicle search | Reverse phone number queries 

BeenVerified is a great option if you want a rapid check on an individual for personal reasons, such as reconnecting with lost connections, looking up a seller before a purchase, or even checking what information is available online relating to yourself. 

The search engine is extremely easy to use, and information requests are laid out in an easy-to-understand way. Prompts request key points on your subject as the engine checks through billions of public records and social media platforms. 

Two plans are available: one month of access for $30 per month, or three months can be purchased for the equivalent of $20 per month. You can run up to 100 reports every month. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Vast range of services
  • Single report purchases
  • Identity protection available
Cons
  • Some users complain of inaccuracies
  • Confusing pricing
More Details

Intelius features: People searches | Reverse phone lookup | Address lookup | Public record searches | Identity protection 

Approved by the Better Business Bureau, Intelius provides a range of background check options, including individual lookups, reverse phone number checks, address searches, criminal record checks, property records, and more. 

The company will examine billions of public records during a search query and provide detailed reports within a relatively simple user interface and reasonable timeframe. However, it should be noted that some users have complained of inaccuracies or incomplete reports. 

Regarding pricing, the tiers can be confusing, but you can purchase single reports for $3.99, and membership plans start at $25 per month. Reverse phone lookup charges begin at $0.95 during a 5-day trial of the service, which will then be charged at $35 per month.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Plans based on check volumes
  • Intuitive user interface
Cons
  • No free version
  • Website could be improved
More Details

GoodHire features: People search | Employment screening | Scalable | Mobile UI | Criminal, sex offender checks 

GoodHire is a suitable option for small businesses. The company can perform screening of candidates on their behalf, which includes public record searches, federal and civil court records, driving records, educational status, and more to verify individuals. It is also possible to perform personal background checks. 

Pricing is based on how many checks you want to perform every year. For less than ten checks a year, you will pay a rate beginning at $30 per check. More screening options are available on premium plans, starting at $55 per check -- whereas you will need to ask for a custom quote for over ten checks a year.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Positive user reviews
  • Reasonable single report cost
  • Dark web monitoring
Cons
  • Slow
More Details

Instant Checkmate features: Criminal record searches | Detailed reports | Social media scanning | Federal data sources | 256-bit encryption 

Instant Checkmate is a public records search service that performs searches on individuals focusing on criminal histories, traffic records, arrest notices, court documents, addresses, and PII including full names, ages, known aliases, and other personal data, such as potential family relations and locations.

Searches can be performed on individuals and inmates and users can also perform reverse lookups. Data points are based on federal, state, and county sources. 

Searches are protected through 256-bit encryption and do not alert the subject. 

An individual report on a single subject costs $3.99. If you prefer long-term access, reverse phone lookup reports are priced at $5.99 per month, while full people search reports are set at $35 per month or $28 per month for 12 months of access.

What is the best background check service of 2023?

The best background check service of 2023 is Sterling. While unsuitable for individual use, Sterling maintains a strong reputation as a thorough background check service for businesses. 

Below, ZDNET has listed some of the most interesting and useful features you would expect to find in a background check service today – as well as whether or not you can try them out for free -- to assist you in selecting the right solution. 

Background check service

Price

Individual reports available?

Free trial available?

Identity protection or ID verification solutions?

Sterling

N/A

x

x

Intelius

$3.99+/report

BeenVerified

$30/month+

x

x

GoodHire

$30+/month

x

x

Instant Checkmate

$3.99+/report

x

x

*Lowest price at the time of writing. Please note that prices may vary based on retailer and available promotions, sales, or discounts.

Which is the right background check service for you?

Selecting the right background check service from the start is paramount, especially in business contexts. To help you decide, check out the use cases below for each of our recommended options.

Choose this background check service…

If you want or are…

Sterling

A long-term business solution. Sterling is our top choice as a background service providing detailed reports on individuals, alongside criminal record checks and compliance offerings.

Intelius

Many background check options. This service searches billions of public records and offers individual searches, reverse phone lookups, address finders, identity protection, and more.

BeenVerified

Personal searches. While no trial is available, BeenVerified is a great option if you need to perform background checks for personal reasons.

GoodHire

A small business solution. GoodHire's plans are best suited to small companies that do not need to perform a large number of checks every year.

Instant Checkmate

Criminal record checks. Instant Checkmate specializes in criminal histories and records, so it is best suited if you want to examine arrest notices and related documents.

How did we choose these background check services?

When choosing the best background check services, there are several factors we considered the most important, including:

  • Plans: With most services, you can choose between multiple plans. These come at different price points, but the selection helps ensure you find the right plan with the features you need -- and over the most suitable timeframe.
  • Free options: When it comes to background checks, free options are limited for protection and privacy purposes. However, it can be useful when service providers provide short sample reports for evaluation purposes. 
  • Price: Accordingly, the cost of each plan is a consideration as many people are on a budget and seeking an affordable solution to their background check services needs, and when it comes to businesses, we like to see plans suitable for every size, whether an SMB or enterprise organization. 
  • Accuracy: There's no point in using a background service check unless they are accurate and reliable. We chose organizations known for both security and accuracy in their reporting. 
  • End-user functionality: Many providers now understand that usability is a major factor in standing out from the competition. It is best when vendors also provide easy-to-use platforms when an individual is asked to submit to a background check and to provide their information. 

What information comes up on employment background checks?

Background checks can reveal basic, personal information about you including your full name, address, marital status, and contact information. Going deeper, they can be used to examine your criminal record, work history, credit status, education records, and public records related to social media, and more. 

Unless confined to extremely limited cases, background checks are not permitted in relation to medical or genetic information.

Potential employers are not allowed to discriminate against individuals when performing a background check due to factors including ethnicity or gender. 

What happens if you fail a background check?

Background checks performed in the business world may reveal red flags that potential employers cannot ignore. For example, a previous conviction, poor credit, or missing academic qualifications could bar you from specific job roles. In some industries, a completely clean background check is essential. 

However, alerts don't always mean an immediate disqualification. Sterling research has previously found that the majority of employers only disqualify a small percentage of applicants based on criminal convictions.

If you do fail a background check, employers must adhere to the disclosure and transparency requirements set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Can someone run a background check without my permission?

It is possible to run limited, personal background checks on individuals -- for personal use -- without their knowledge or permission by using tools online. Searches tend to be private, but you should always keep someone's right to privacy in mind if you use these tools. Searches may be conducted through public records, criminal and sex offender registries, or online search engines.

Employers should obtain consent before performing a background check. According to the FTC, written permission should be obtained -- and job candidates have the right to say no, although refusal could damage their chances of landing some job roles. 

How far back can background checks go?

In the United States, background checks can typically go back as far as seven to ten years. As explained by Checkr, it depends on what kind of check is performed on you. Some job roles, for example, that require high-level security clearance would likely demand stringent and in-depth checks, whereas gig economy roles may only need a surface-level check. 

For many checks -- including credit, finance, motor vehicle ownership, and employment -- around seven years appears to be the sweet spot, although in every case, it will depend on your circumstances. 

Are there alternative background check services worth considering?

While we have provided a list of recommendations for what we believe are the best background check services in the market over 2023, many other options are also worth consideration. Below, you will find other services that can also fulfill your background check requirements:

View at PeoplefindersView at TruthFinderView at Checkr
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