by Kit Fremin



' With a myriad of online dating services available, many people want to conduct background checks on their online acquaintances or lovers. When they conduct the check the three main things they wish to know about a potential fiancé are:

1. Their financial status including credit, job and assets. 2. Their marital status including family, alimony and child support. 3. Their criminal history or lack thereof.

Here are some things that you must know before you order a background check or conduct that check yourself. (Note: The remainder of this article we will use the abbreviation of “OL” when referring to an online acquaintance or lover.

Fact #1. Ordering a credit report on someone, even with their written permission, is not a permissible purpose. Therefore, the credit bureaus will not issue the report to you. If you should be able to find someone who will run a credit report for you illegally, you and that person can each receive a substantial fine per incident. (A more immediate result would be the revocation of credit report services by the credit reporting bureau.) The simple way around this is to have the person obtain his own credit report and give you a copy or let you see the original. Fact #2. Verifying a job is easy. First you need to get the “facts” from your OL. Remember that you are verifying the information not getting new information from the employer. They will verify the info you have, but will not give out new info. Those facts should include the OL’s job title and dates of employment as a minimum. Most larger employers do not give out salary information, but they may give you the range of the pay grade. When doing this we always ask an open-ended question at the end, after we’ve received all of the basic information. The question would be something like this, “What can you tell us about his/her competency, character or job performance?” With a question like that you might get a response like the following: “There are no disciplinary actions in his/her file, but doing his/her payroll is a pain because his/her pay is garnisheed because of alimony and child support payments."

It is an urban myth that you (or an employer) can’t ask certain questions of a previous employer. Nonsense; you can ask whatever you want. The previous employer doesn’t have to answer, but there’s no harm asking.

To check his/her assets, you would probably start with their home. Many, if not most counties have online searchable property tax assessment records. All you need is the address and you can get some idea of the value of the property. It may be mortgaged to the hilt, but that info is much more difficult to obtain. If the information is not available online, it will require a trip to the county Assessor’s Office to get the pertinent data. Remember, you need the address to look up the records. You can also check with local realtors to see what houses are worth in their neighborhood.

Fact #3. Checking marital status is surprisingly difficult outside of their home county. Here’s why. Most people get married in the city and county where they live. Logic would tell us that that makes sense. And, for purposes of checking, that is easy to check. Conversely, most people get divorced where they live too. The problem is that one county does not have a record of what happens in another county. For example: Let’s say a couple gets married in New York City. That marriage is recorded in New York County, NY. If they subsequently move to Oshkosh, Wisconsin and later get divorced there, Winnebago County Wisconsin does not notify New York County of the divorce. As far as New York County is concerned, they are still married. Now, let’s suppose that the man goes to Las Vegas and gets married again. Clark County, Nevada doesn’t check to see if he is already married in Wisconsin or New York or anywhere else before the marriage license is issued. Now if you were checking for his marriage records, where do you check?

Now here’s where it really gets fun. What’s to stop them from getting divorced in Reno, Nevada or worse yet, in Mexico? It turns out that Guam has a cottage industry of providing quickie divorces. Because Guam is a US Territory, divorces must be recognized in all US states. Should you check Guam too? What about checking out a woman’s marriage/divorce records; which current or maiden name do you look up? This is why those marriage checks online are basically worthless. They only check where the person currently lives.

For child support and alimony, you would have to search civil records in the jurisdiction where the divorce occurred.

Fact #4. Criminal records are public and as such are easily searchable in every jurisdiction in the USA. Again, the trick is knowing where to search. Most people think that those online database companies check everything everywhere. You know, the ones that say “Instant Nationwide” criminal checks. Not so. They only get records where they can get them for free and most of the time that is from a state’s Department of Corrections, the state prison system. This means that in these states you are only getting felony convictions where they were sentenced to prison or proation. A person could have a long history of misdemeanor crimes or an acquittal of a felony and you would get no record of it. Even now in many parts of the of the country records must still be searched in person at the county Superior or District Courthouse. Wherever this is the case, you get no records at all when using those instant search companies.

FYI: In general, a misdemeanor is a crime punishable by up to one year in the county jail. Felonies are crimes that are punishable by prison time exceeding one year.

Do it yourself. If your OL is local, go to your local Superior or District court and go to the criminal court clerk’s office and tell the clerk that you would like to do a criminal records search on a person. You will need to have their full legal name and date of birth. Ask the clerk if the courts are consolidated in your county. Consolidated courts have records of all the other courts in that county, so you only have to search in one place. For example all California courts are consolidated. Courts in some states are not. If your OL is not local, you may want to use the services of a professional background checker to check each location (jurisdiction) where he is from.

Here’s another problem. People tell me all the time that their county court offers online criminal records searches that they can search for free and the person they are checking lives in that county. Sounds great! And yes, it is true that there are many places in the country where this is possible. The problem is, how long has that person lived in that county and where was he/she from before that? For all you know, they have only lived there a few weeks and before that they lived in another state where they were just released from prison.

Fact #5. Criminal Checks do not include civil court checks. If a person has a restraining order against him/her from their ex-spouse or jilted lover, that is recorded in civil court, not criminal court. A criminal search does not reveal such records.

A professional reference checker’s trick. If you are able to get references from him/her you’re going to love this. My company has been doing background checks since July 1994. Over these years we’ve learned many, many tricks to getting info from a variety of sources. Years ago, while doing FAA and NRC (Federal Aviation Administration. & Nuclear Regulatory Commission) background checks we were contracted to conduct reference checks on job applicants. Under the federal requirements we were required to do what I call a Reference Double Check. Here’s how it works: On the job application the applicant was asked to list three personal references. We contact each of those three references by phone and ask them if they know someone who knows the “applicant” as well as they do. If they give us the name of someone already on the list, we prompt them for another reference. Or goal is to get three references that are not listed on the application and get a “real” reference from each of them.

My company has done thousands and thousands of reference checks, but these were different and we have used this technique many times. Since no one has ever listed a personal reference that will not say wonderful things about them, this is a great way to get to someone who might actually say something revealing about the applicant. Using this method, we would often get ex-spouses, disgruntled employees or employers, angry neighbors, in-laws, etc. Remember that it is perfectly legal to get all of the above info (except credit) and more on anyone anytime you feel like it. Where the laws come into play is how you use the info. If you are using the info for private personal reasons like a relationship you are free to do so.

Kit Fremin is the owner and founder of Background Check International. Since 1994 BCI has served clients a varied as: the LA Times, Department of Defense, Mars, Inc., the UN, the NTSB and Calvary Chapels nationwide. His website is: and he can be e-mailed at or phoned at 951-691-1088.

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