To even the untrained eye, it should be obvious that background checks can prove useful in the profession of the private investigator. That being said, the PI must always be certain never to overstep their extremely limited authority. Doing so can lead to both criminal charges and civil liability, on top of rendering information useless for a case in any supportive capacity. In case you’ve ever wondered if hiring a PI to conduct a background check made sense for your situation, this article should prove as a valuable resource.
What is a Background Check?
There are a wide range of investigations encompassed by the term “background check.” It really is something of an umbrella term, and as such it covers a broad expanse of legal quagmire. An employer, for instance, may conduct background checks on entry-level applicants for a job, looking into their credit history and their criminal background. They must tell the prospective employee that they are doing so, and whether or not the background check may impact the decision to hire them.
A landlord, or a property management firm, may also conduct background checks. These often tend to be slightly more thorough, particularly in the case of the latter. They might encompass things like a person’s character or lifestyle, and their overall reputation, and involve personal interviews with people who know or have worked with said individual in the past. Employers may also go this far with a background check. When such a check is undertaken, they must inform the employee in advance of exactly how far it goes, what is being investigated, and again, whether or not it may have an impact on the hiring process.
Additional depths of information, such as bank records and other financial statements, cellphone records, motor vehicle records, and property ownership records may be uncovered in background checks conducted by law enforcement agencies. These are beyond the scope of most civilian agencies, but a private investigator can access some of these records… conditionally. Generally speaking, the more sensitive and personal a record might be considered to be, the more restricted access to it will be.
Murky Waters: The Use of Background Checks in an Investigative Capacity
A private investigator in Chicago may conduct a background check based upon an unusual level of access to certain government databases which are otherwise off limit to most individuals; this ties in to a private investigator’s licensing requirements, which often involve either law enforcement experience or experience within a licensed private investigative agency. This is especially important given recent events in the city.
To conduct such a check legitimately, the individual being investigated is supposed to be either the subject of a paid investigation, or else so closely tied to the investigation as to merit the invasion of their privacy. Obviously, the private investigator does not inform an individual that a background check is being conducted, but “subject of an investigation” can be somewhat vaguely defined. For example, many private investigators (agencies, in particular) sell their services for the performance of background checks based upon the extent to which they have access to information that a background checking agency would not. They may sell their services in this capacity to employers as well, at which point the individual being checked may not be aware of it, but is technically the subject of a private investigator’s case.
Many people are of mixed feelings as to whether or not this is appropriate behavior, but ultimately it would be hard to restrict without a broad, sweeping reform of private investigators’ legal permissions. Ultimately, it falls to the individual to determine how they are willing to use the information to which they have access.
This content was last updated on December 1st, 2015