Name-Based Vs. Fingerprint-Based Background Checks: How Do They Differ?

A criminal background check is a standard procedure for most businesses and nonprofits seeking paid employees, volunteers, or contractors. While fingerprint-based checks have their place, comprehensive name-based checks can offer the same or better results. This article will examine the fundamental differences between the two to help companies choose which search is ideal for their purposes.

False Negatives

Unlike fingerprint-based checks, name-based background checks use personal identifiers to search local and state criminal records (including arrest and conviction data) and driving and employment information. It enables you to gain a full picture of a candidate’s past, which may be very helpful for staff members or volunteers who interact with vulnerable populations. However, name-based checks can still fall victim to spelling mistakes or fraud (such as two people with the same name and date of birth). The good news is that a reputable vetting company will go to great lengths to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Generally, a name-based check will return with either “Negative” or “Incomplete.” A “Negative” means that no criminal record was found, while an “Incomplete” can indicate that the person’s records were not available for search. It is typically due to an expired arrest record or a judicial set aside that has not been updated in the system.

In both cases, these errors can be avoided by ensuring that all information entered into the background check system is correct. It can be accomplished by providing that applicants present accurate identification and by conducting thorough adverse action procedures after a negative result.

False Positives

In some cases, fingerprint-based background checks can provide incorrect results. For example, if an applicant has a common name or is otherwise difficult to identify, it can be easy to miss fingerprints on official records, leading to a false positive. It can be problematic for employers, especially in regulated industries requiring high-security levels.

A name-based check can also need more accurate information due to spelling errors. It can lead to a misreport of an arrest or conviction when, in reality, the applicant was never charged or found guilty. To avoid these mistakes, a background screening provider should verify all information with the source of the record.

A reputable background screening business is the best approach to ensure a thorough, accurate background check. These providers will use personal identifiers (name, date of birth, social security number) to search for federal, state, and local records of arrests and convictions. This process will typically result in more comprehensive data and faster results.

Fingerprint-based searches are sometimes the best option, but they can be useful when the law or industry regulations require them. For all other situations, though, comprehensive name-based background checks will be more effective for employers and job candidates. Then, you can confidently make hiring decisions and ensure your workforce’s safety.


Fingerprint background checks require the candidate to actively participate in the screening process by walking into a local police department and having their fingerprints scanned. It is a cumbersome process for applicants and introduces additional friction into the hiring process. In addition, fingerprint vetting is often less thorough than a name-based check conducted by an accredited CRA.

The FBI’s fingerprint database was designed to screen firearms buyers, and it does not always reflect the full picture of a candidate’s criminal history. In contrast, a reputable CRA uses the candidate’s full legal name and date of birth to search national and state databases for records of convictions, pending charges, and arrests. A comprehensive name-based check can also include address history, education, professional certification, and driving record verifications. These searches are EEOC and FCRA-compliant.

For these reasons, name-based checks are often a more effective screening solution for employers. In addition, a comprehensive background check from a trusted CRA can be completed in much less time than a fingerprint-based check. Results are usually delivered within a few days, while fingerprint-based checks can take weeks. It makes name-based background checks the more sensible choice for organizations looking to hire faster and make safer hiring decisions, especially in regulated industries like financial services, where the value of name-based checks has been recognized by FINRA and passed into law.


While fingerprint checks are valuable in certain circumstances, the best practice is to use comprehensive name-based background checks as your primary screening tool. Name-based checks allow professional screeners to use personal identifiers like names, dates of birth, and social security numbers to search federal, state, county, and local records of arrests and convictions, all in the same report. It produces a quicker, simpler, and more accurate check that can be finished in around 24 hours on average.

Moreover, name-based searches are far more reliable than fingerprint-based searches. Fingerprint patterns are unique to each individual and unlikely to repeat in another person. Two siblings, blood relatives, or twins cannot share identical fingerprints. It makes it difficult for fingerprint-based criminal background checks to be mistakenly interpreted as duplicates or mixed up with someone else’s records, as can happen with a name-based check.

Additionally, name-based background checks conducted by reputable consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) leverage multiple, up-to-date services and national databases to ensure the most comprehensive and accurate results. CRAs also employ a network of experienced court researchers who can manually verify criminal records at the county level to give you the complete picture of a candidate’s past criminal record. This combination of data sources and methods gives you a more comprehensive, compliant check that allows you to make better hiring decisions while minimizing risk and protecting your brand.