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How Does A Fingerprint Background Check Work?

How Does A Fingerprint Background Check Work

Over the span of your lifetime, the local, state, and federal governments will accumulate information about you. (And we’re not talking about the information you share with Siri.) From details about your family, education, housing, and criminal records. One of the ways your information can be gathered is through a fingerprint background check, which is a common part of applying for housing or employment. So, how does a fingerprint background check work, exactly? In this article, we will discuss the basics of what a fingerprint background check is, how it is stored by the FBI, and what kind of information it shows about you.


What Is A Fingerprint Background Check?

A fingerprint background check is used to pull up information about a person that is stored in a database. Regardless of what the check is done for, the data is collected and kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which houses approximately 70 million criminal backgrounds. Prior to technological advances, fingerprint background checks were taken the old school way – by pressing a finger in ink, stamping it on paper, and uploading it to a database. But now, everything is done much more efficiently, on a scanner that records the fingerprint electronically.

What Does A Fingerprint Background Check Show?

The fingerprint database will include your “rap sheet” consisting of any criminal arrest dates, charges, and the disposition of cases. Your fingerprints also identify basic information about your life, such as birth, name, address, and employment.

Many times, a simple police report can be linked to these fingerprint records also. This could include vehicle accidents, insurance information, and statements you made.

How Long Does It Take To Recieve The Results?

When you request the check, it might take a couple of weeks to a month to deliver results via mail. You can also choose the electronic application method for processing. You can have these fingerprint records authenticated (or a certificate of apostille) if you want from the FBI. If nothing was found, you will receive a written document attesting to that fact.

Each state has its own regulations concerning the fingerprint background check. Many require the fingerprint background check for employees who work around children in the education system. Some states require the applicant to have a state-issued identification number showing it has the legal right to request such confidential information.

How Are The Fingerprints Stored?

The federal government has many sources for collecting fingerprints, including:

  • Processes from citizenship
  • Employment
  • Arrests
  • Military service

Any data collected through written forms or spoken answers will be listed in your fingerprint background check. The most complete records linked to these fingerprints are stored with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Just like your social security number, your fingerprints are used by the government to track information about you.

When an organization wants your fingerprint background check for adoption, overseas travel, employment, licensing, or housing, it can make the request from a state identification bureau, FBI channeler, or the FBI itself. It must have the legal authority to access these personal records.

 A Fingerprint Background Check

Misconceptions About Fingerprint Background Checks

In the past, it was assumed that fingerprint background checks were the best way to find out information about someone. Yet, that is not necessarily true. When someone has a fingerprint background check done, they are simply having their prints cross-referenced to their recorded criminal history. In the event that the person has a criminal history, the person or organization requesting the background check will be notified as long as the crime was filed with the person’s fingerprints. However, the details and results of the crime may not be included in this information. And sometimes, certain crimes will not even show up on a fingerprint background check if fingerprints were not taken at the time of the crime. Bottom line – there are tons of variables that may affect the thoroughness of a fingerprint background check, so it is not necessarily the best way to find out information about someone.


For more on background checks, check out how to order a criminal background check on yourself here.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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