10 Background Check Red Flags

Every employer must act carefully with information obtained through free background checks on prospective workers. State and federal anti-discrimination laws forbid the denial of jobs based on race, gender, disability, and other factors unrelated to job qualifications. 

Common sense dictates that an employer should not draw assumptions about candidates based on perceptions of certain schools, neighborhoods, and professional tracks.  In simpler terms, an employer should not eliminate finalists based on background checks without seeking explanations for inconsistencies and inaccuracies. 

An HR department must get into the habit of sending out memos regarding background check red flags to finalists, thereby placing the onus of clearing up inconsistencies on an otherwise qualified candidate.  Each memo should explain how the particular inconsistency or violation of the law would create adverse conditions in the workplace.  Your HR representatives can work with department heads, legal staff, and other consultants to determine if a candidate’s response is sufficient for employment.  This approach can ease frustrations from prospective employees while saving time and money in thorny legal issues. 

Educational Red Flags

As you complete a background check on an applicant, you should look for inaccuracies regarding educational achievement.  HR representatives can request transcripts from applicants and contact schools to confirm information provided on applications.  The first red flag when reviewing educational information comes with the discovery of an incomplete degree.  A qualified candidate who lies about an advanced degree should be flagged for further review if he possesses the skills to fill your job vacancy.  Another red flag regarding education comes with discovery of inaccuracies about the type of degree achieved as well as overall GPA.  Applicants who inflate their GPAs and turn minors into majors in their employment packets may not be truthful as employees. 

Criminal Background Check Red Flags

Your company cannot deny employment to a qualified candidate based on isolated legal incidents unrelated to your industry.  HR representatives should be cognizant of legitimate means of eliminating candidates based on their criminal backgrounds.  An applicant trying to obfuscate past felonies and other criminal histories may say no to the standard felony question on employment applications.  If your free criminal background check reveals felonies not detailed on the application, you can cite an incomplete application in rejecting the candidate’s bona fides. 

HR professionals should also analyze the contents of criminal background checks when reviewing applications.  The obvious concern for any company is hiring a candidate who has stolen from past employers.  An applicant with a repeated history of misdemeanors may present a larger danger to your company than a candidate with a single felony from long ago.  Your criminal background check should look at the length of a criminal history as much as the specifics of each crime. 

Financial History Red Flags

Free background checks conducted by employers expand beyond criminal records to credit scores and other financial records.  An employer should consider an application carefully if a credit check reveals a low credit score or a bankruptcy.  Financial firms, banks, and other companies that handle other people’s money each day should focus on credit scores when hiring new employees.  An applicant with an extremely low credit score may be disorganized and unfamiliar with complex financial systems despite experience in a banking or financial field.  Low credit scores and poor financial histories indicate personal stresses that may keep applicants from focusing on your company’s bottom line.  Bankruptcy proceedings take these concerns to extremes, as applicants going through this difficult process may be distracted, frustrated, and searching for additional work after hours. 

Career Red Flags

Interviewers and HR representatives should look for three red flags when conducting free background checks on applicants.  An applicant who is found exaggerating job responsibilities and titles after reference checks should raise red flags.  These red flags are particularly justifiable in medical and industrial fields where job responsibilities are finely drawn to ensure worker and client safety.  Another occasion for career red flags comes when applicants lie about reasons for job termination.  For example, an applicant who claims to have quit when he was actually terminated for gross misconduct may bring the same attitude to your company.  A final career red flag found during a free background check is the omission of past employment from a resume or application.  While a single omission may be a mistake on the part of an applicant, multiple omissions may equal an effort to hide employment problems in the past. 

Personal Information Red Flags

Your primary concern when looking at personal information during a free background check is the general stability of the applicant’s living situation.  An applicant that has moved from apartment to apartment in the matter of a few years may be apt to move far from your company if a new job arises.  Red flags should be raised for candidates mixing frequent job changes with frequent moves to out-of-state locations.  These concerns should be tamped down if the applicant works in an industry like the military, trucking, and the Federal Government where frequent relocation is necessary.  In the end, red flags from frequent moves should only be used in conjunction with other red flags to eliminate applicants. 

Online Resources For Free Background Checks

As your top ten list of background check red flag is completed, you should assemble resources to gather free background checks on applicants.  Your HR department should keep your home state’s district course website bookmarked to look up public records on applicants.  The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access ( tracks DUIs and other pending cases on a daily basis, assisting Wisconsin employers trying to find information on prospective employees.  Family Watchdog® ( maintains a national sex offender registry that is invaluable to school districts, day cares, and other employers concerned about the safety of children under school supervision.  The national sex offender registry connects users to records in all 50 states by searching applicant names and addresses.  Your best resource for free criminal background checks is likely a 50-state resource aggregator like© (  Users can gather court records, sex offender registrations, and other public documents in all 50 states by simply heading to©.