Posted on January 23, 2012 by Jennifer Pointer

A company called has been running commercials lately on my favorite TV station, encouraging everyone, especially single women and mothers, to use its service to do what it calls "background checks" on potential dates.  The service is also available for employers and potential clients, but it is mostly marketed to women who are trying to protect themselves and their children.


So I checked it out, and began a "background check" on myself - not to the pointof giving them my credit card, but I did enter my name to see if it came up.  What I found was the same erroneous information that has been on Google and for years.  My options for payment were to pay for a one-time search (with my credit card), or to get a week free (after I set up a payment arrangement using my credit card).  Before I gave them my credit card, I checked to see if there were complaints about the company online, and there were numerous ones about people trying to get the monthly billing stopped, and having difficulty doing that.  And there were also a lot of complaints about this company "spamming" people.  It is hard to know if these complaints were an accurate representation of the business itself, or simply a few disgruntled folks making a lot of noise.  Had I decided to go ahead with the background check on myself, I would probably have opted for the one-time charge of less than $2. 


The more important question, however, is whether or not this type of a "background check" is actually going to turn up the kind of information you need.  In my case, for example, there are a lot of people with my name in my area.  You would need to know me well enough to know who my relatives are in order to select the right record, and if you know someone's family,  you probably already know more than this type of a background check is going to turn up, anyway.  And this is assuming the person you are checking has given you their correct legal name. Many people use pseudonyms online for security and privacy reasons - this may or may not indicate that they are hiding a nefarious past.


Another thing to keep in mind is that although a background check might turn up court records, it isn't going to reveal past activities, personality traits, or character flaws in a person which did not result in a criminal conviction.  Plenty of people who are either dangerous or just plain "jerks" have clean criminal backgrounds.


Bottom line?  Everything that is old is new again, and some things never change.  Always be careful about meeting strangers anywhere, and if you must, be sure to do it in a public place.  For personal relationships, take your time getting to know someone in a variety of situations, and make sure you know who they are and have a good idea of who their family and friends are before you put yourself in a position of being "alone" together.  Common sense will never be replaced by technology.

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