Resources: News Updates

New Report Identifies Major Flaws with Fingerprint Background Checks—Employment Screening’s Supposed “Gold Standard” - May 10, 2016

SterlingBackcheck: Results are hampered by data limitations and other problems, yet legislators are increasingly proposing that fingerprint checks be required for certain industries.

NEW YORK, May 10, 2016—Many legislators and employers view FBI and state fingerprint checks as the gold standard of background screening, but a new report by SterlingBackcheck (, one of the world’s largest background screening companies, reveals this to be a misconception.

The report, “Fingerprints vs. Name-Based Background Checks: And the Winner Is… ,” details flaws with fingerprint background checks that negatively impact both employers and applicants. In fact, it says these well-documented flaws are so significant that fingerprint checks should not be an employer’s sole method for identifying whether job applicants have criminal records.

The flaws include:

  • The FBI database is missing as many as 50% of all criminal records.
  • Fingerprint-based records are updated irregularly, so they are often weeks or even months out of date.
  • Arrest records are often included—but Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance says arrests that don’t result in a conviction should not be considered in hiring decisions due to disproportionate impact on minority communities.
  • FBI reports (a.k.a. “rap sheets”) don’t allow subjects to challenge the results, unlike name-based checks from consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which are regulated by federal and state laws that protect job applicants from unfair employment actions.

The negative impact is meaningful and widespread. For example, according to the National Employment Law Project, approximately 600,000 job applicants each year are hobbled by incomplete FBI data.

Despite these flaws, states and municipalities across the country have recently passed or are currently considering legislation that requires fingerprint background checks for employment in certain industries. These industries include health care, financial services, transportation and education.

Fingerprint background checks are popular because they are well known and legislators may not be aware of their limitations and shortcomings, said Angela Preston, SterlingBackcheck’s Senior Vice President and Counsel, Corporate Ethics and Compliance.

“Fingerprint checks do have value, but it’s important to remember that the source databases are designed for law enforcement, not employment screening,” Preston said. “Employers that use fingerprint checks should do so in conjunction with comprehensive name-based checks, which are specifically designed for employment screening, and are both faster and much more accurate for determining whether applicants have criminal convictions.”

Download the full report here:

About SterlingBackcheck

SterlingBackcheck helps employers across the globe make smart hiring decisions and onboard new employees through a comprehensive suite of superior employment background screening services and cloud-based human capital management solutions. The foundation of our technology is rooted in compliance; embracing industry standards and corporate policies as well as global and U.S. federal, state, and local government regulations. We’re passionate about customer success and continuously invest in unique, empowering technology solutions. SterlingBackcheck is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction earned by less than ten percent of all employment screening companies. For more information visit

Media Contact

Nick Fishman
Vice President, Communications