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Understanding the Basics of Fingerprinting and Criminal Background Checks

Fingerprinting has been used for millennia as a method of identification. The unique characteristics of fingerprints make them an excellent tool for criminal background checks.

Unlike name-based checks, which can return inaccurate information due to common names, fingerprint searches can reveal convictions and pending charges. Trusts offer proof of guilt, while pending charges and arrest records are red flags to employers.

What is a Fingerprint?

Fingerprints are the pattern of lines and ridges on your fingers and palms. They develop throughout the fetal stage and don’t change with time. Everyone has different fingerprints; no two people have the same fingerprints as you. Fingerprints are also an excellent source of identification. They are the basis of fingerprinting and criminal background checks performed by police departments worldwide.

The science of collecting and analyzing fingerprints is called dactyloscopy. 

Police investigators are experts at interpreting fingerprints and using them to identify suspects. They use latent fingerprinting to locate, preserve, and compare prints that have not been intentionally made visible, such as those left behind by a culprit during a crime. Latent images are captured not in ink on a record card but in sweat, grease, or other substances that the culprit might leave behind when touching an object.

Your fingerprints are based on the patterns of friction ridge skin (dermatoglyphics) that appear on the pads of your fingers, toes, and palms of your hands and feet. The ridges are different on each finger, and each person, but the general characteristics of a whorl, loop, or arch are consistent. They can be used to distinguish one fingerprint from another.

How is a Fingerprint Captured?

Fingerprints are recorded using a technique called dactyloscopy. The process involves putting an individual’s finger in front of a scanner that sends an ultrasonic pulse against the finger to record the ridges, pores, and other subtle characteristics, known as minutiae, that make each fingerprint unique. The resulting image is captured and saved.

In the past, fingerprinting was done manually using an ink pad and an inking plate or mat. Today, fingerprinting is performed electronically through a device known as a live scan or, more accurately, by touchless scanners. These devices use software to convert the digitized impression into an electronic version that can be saved on computer systems.

The FBI’s extensive database of criminal records receives the fingerprint if a match is made. The FBI requires clear and legible fingerprints to build its database, so the fingerprinting agency (whether a potential employer or state agency) must follow guidelines for obtaining fingerprints that meet the Bureau’s standards.

For example, an employee should be instructed to look away from the fingerprint device, not assist in the fingerprinting process, and relax the finger being printed. The fingerprinting device should also be carefully calibrated to cover the finger pattern area with ink.

What is a Fingerprint Report?

A fingerprint-based background check searches an individual’s criminal history through the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Candidate must submit their fingerprints and other personal information to a third-party vetting organization to run this check. The fingerprints are then electronically scanned and cross-referenced with the IAFIS database to return any matching records of criminal activity. It is one of the most particular criminal checks available for job candidates.

It is not, however, an excellent method for discovering a person’s criminal history. Many variables can affect how thorough fingerprint background checks are, and they may only sometimes provide the most accurate and comprehensive results. Conducting other background checks, such as county-level criminal records searches, education, and employment verification, is essential.

New York Fingerprinting is proud to be an FBI channeling agency, which means we can process fingerprints on behalf of the FBI. We’re committed to providing a convenient, modern candidate experience that helps you meet regulatory obligations and protect your company. 

What is a Criminal Background Check?

Employers often run criminal background checks on job candidates, verifying an applicant’s identity and flagging any concerns or criminal history. The hiring process must include this crucial step to safeguard the brand’s reputation.

Criminal background checks search national, state, and county criminal court records for information about a candidate’s past criminal offenses, including felony convictions and misdemeanors. They may also include searches of federal court records/warrants and the sex offender registry.

Depending on the type of search ordered, the results of a criminal background check can reveal any number of red flags. Convictions are the most concerning to employers, showing proof of guilt. However, arrest records and pending charges are also a part of the check results and should be considered. Some states restrict how far back a company can look at an individual’s record, such as the seven-year lookback.

Civil fingerprinting can be conducted by law enforcement, corrections agencies, or the FBI under statutory or administrative authority (see Additional Resource 2). The type of fingerprinting submitted depends on the situation and can include digitized ten-finger prints, latent fingerprints, palm prints, or a live scan of an applicant’s face. In addition, some states have laws requiring an employer to submit applicant fingerprints to conduct a criminal background check (see Additional Resource 3). Regardless of the type of fingerprinting offered, all this data should be kept in the recruitment or employee file.

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