October 12th, 2016 | Sterling

Fingerprints vs. Name-Branded Background Checks

Fingerprints vs. Name-Branded Checks | Sterling

There have been a lot of conversations about the use of fingerprinting screening in the ride-sharing industry, particularly with the recent announcement from Uber that they are requiring their drivers to take selfies for added security and by recent laws passed in California requiring stricter criminal background check requirements. Fingerprinting has always been considered the best solution for criminal background check information, but it has many limitations for employee screening. Comprehensive name-based background checks are a better alternative for a more thorough, wide-reaching and up-to-date screening process.

Sterling compiled the pros and cons for fingerprinting and name-based background screening in Fingerprints vs. Name-Based Background Checks: An the Winner Is…. to help companies decide which type of screening will better fit their hiring needs.


Fingerprinting has been accepted by the public as the “gold standard” for criminal background checks since the late 1800’s when the system was first invented by an English scientist, Sir Francis Galton. In 1924, the FBI’s ID division was established and began to collect what would become one of the world’s largest fingerprint databases. The use of fingerprinting in criminal investigations draws from this database which is now called the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Database. The information provides leads in criminal investigations and can point to possible criminal records, but it is not fully reliable as a resource for employment screenings as it was not designed for that purpose.

The most important point to remember is that a set of fingerprints does not identify “you” unless you are already in the system from a prior arrest or job application. The CJIS Database depends on arrest records submitted voluntarily by state law enforcement agencies. It relies on record updates coming from federal, state and county courts, which unfortunately might never be sent to the CJIS. The records could be incomplete and can only be concerned with serious offenses which limit access to information on less-serious arrests from drunkenness, vagrancy, disturbing the peace, curfew violation, loitering, false fire alarm and traffic violations. A fingerprinting request can take up to 6 weeks (or more) to be returned to a background screening agency. Despite the limitations, FBI checks based on fingerprinting are required by law and some legislatures and businesses might not realize that these checks will not give a job candidate’s “full story.”

Name-Based Background Screening

For employment screening and other important business decisions, what matters the most is the entire “story” of the candidate. Consumer reporting agencies (CRA) such as background screening companies do more than just fingerprint checks; they use names, addresses and social security numbers as starting points for top-to-bottom screenings. CRAs draw from more complete, up-to-date services and multiple sources for effective name-based criminal background checks. Best practices include an address-history locator and national criminal history database with a disposition that is confirmed by the original source, the county level court. A report that delves deeper into regional and jurisdictional records where a candidate has lived, worked or has been gives a truer picture any type of criminal past.

On top of federal, state and local arrest and court records, CRAs can perform credit checks, drug and health screening as well as employment, educational and professional verifications. These comprehensive reports are cost-effective, efficient and results can be delivered in a few days, as compared to weeks waiting for results from the FBI. The reports compiled by the CRAs are considered consumer reports which are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and analogous state laws. The FCRA protects job applicants from unfair employment actions. This law covers that gaps in background screening that could occur with just fingerprinting reports.

Employee Screening Choices

Employers have a choice when deciding on what type of background screening process will be the best for their business. Sterling offers a variety of name-based hiring employment screening programs that will be unique to your business needs. Find out more about the differences between fingerprinting and name-based screening by downloading our white paper here.

Fingerprints Vs. Name-Based Background Checks: And The Winner Is...

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.