Years ago, when I was much younger, I remember my father who came back from getting the mail one
day. He had an odd look on his face and stood silently. My mother, who was keen to pick up on his
irregular attitude, looked through the mail on her own and returned with the same bewilderment.
The confusion began to mount as my dad could not figure out what was going on. Several pieces of mail
were addressed to him but the origins did not make sense. In those days, mail theft, fraud, and ID theft
had not fully grown into the monsters that they have become today.
As it turns out, there was another man living in the same town with the same first, middle and last name
as my father. They both have similar ages and with identical names, mail had somehow crossed paths.
The confusion ended with a hello followed by a mail exchange.
As an investigator, I am often asked for background information on people. Many have asked for
criminal, civil histories that can help them understand if the gut feeling they have can be trusted or not.
Recently, I was asked to complete a background on two individuals who were about to engage in a
substantial business deal with my client. My client wanted a bit more information before signing the
dotted line so down the rabbit hole I went.
Initially, many people come to me asking for access to the “super computer” that will just spit out a
“thumbs up” or a “thumbs down”. Let me be clear here, this is not that simple nor is it anything like
A national background check for the private sector does not exist. Anyone saying that one exists is lying.
You may hear about search engines like NCIC, LEDS, NICS or a DMV check. Those databases are
restricted to Law Enforcement.
NCIC, the National Crime Information Computer, is a database records search that lists stolen property,
criminal histories, sex offender registries, domestic violence orders, and stalking and restraining orders.
Oregon also has an additional database available to Law Enforcement, LEDS or Law Enforcement Data
System. LEDS access is limited to a criminal justice agency and is most often incorporated into the patrol
cars police are driving. These checks can show if an individual has a warrant for their arrest. DMV
information is incorporated into those searches shows driver license status and in some cases show
driver insurance status.
Without access to Law Enforcement computer databases, private investigators must use other search
engines that are available to licensed PI’s. These databases are powerful, expensive and have a rigorous
initiation process with many hoops to jump through. I remember jumping through a few myself. A full
disclosure of the companies financials, proper insurance, phone numbers, and backgrounds of users
were required. Additionally, an on-site physical inspection of the premises where the computer access
point to the database was required prior to being given access. This was very invasive and the personal
restrictions on the location were very particular. In addition to all this, storage of the data also had to
meet security requirements. Needless to say, the process was not simple or quick. I remember having to
explain that a given phone number was paid for from a given account. The application process was that
thorough. Computer systems like Lexis Nexis, TLO, and Clear have a similar onboarding procedure that is
used. These databases are not free but are vast, thorough, and consistently reliable.
But the investigation doesn’t stop there. In reality, good old-fashioned investigations is still required.
Information that isn’t verified, isn’t reliable no matter what search engine is being used.
A search engine such as Lexis Nexis, TLO, and Clear will generate a significant amount of useful
information however a quality background check will go so much farther.
Civil, Criminal and Driving histories will need to be checked and verified by court and DMV documents.
There are many subscription services available to the general public that do not require PI licensure.
Many of those websites are a haven for spam, ads and bad information. While there are many places
one could search on their own, there is no substitution for experience. When it comes to making sure
that the information you are getting is trustworthy, accurate, and useable, a professional investigation is
a must. If it is a business deal, a new boyfriend or a possible new roommate make sure you aren’t
opening the wrong mail.