Background Checks: How Much Will It Really Cost You?
I Background Checked Myself: Here's What I Found
Never trust anyone who isn’t at least a little bit nosy and hasn’t done some mildly illegal dirt in their lifetime. At least, that’s a very convenient attitude to have if you’re like me and most of the people I love. I also figure it plays well with a large contingent of the online background check customer base who enjoy the ability to have all types of information about random people at their fingertips without having to actually ask any questions or make any phone calls or stalk someone’s Facebook page at night, scrolling at a slow crawl hoping that their thumb never accidentally grazes the “like” button.
But what happens when you use it on yourself? What happens when you’re applying for a job or a graduate fellowship and you want to see what people can easily find out about you? If you’ve just shot up in bed at 3am wondering what type of information about you is available to anybody with internet access that’s willing to pony up about the price of a case of domestic beer, then an online background check could allay—or confirm—some of your concerns.
That’s what I was looking for when I did an online background check, and here’s what I found out.
What does Truthfinder have on hand for you, the casual user looking to see what can be seen about you online? I signed up for the one month, $27.78 membership, went online, and punched in my first and last name and state.
Under “possible photos that could belong to [me]” there was a Twitter profile pic of a man giving a thumbs up. This man is not me. This man looks several years younger than me. This man is wearing a suit and posing in the campaign headquarters for the Republican governor of Kentucky (he managed the campaign). The image url goes to a Twitter page for a man with my same name—from my city—who works as….a conservative “professional political operative.”
This Truthfinder bizarro version of me is from a different Texas, a Ben Hartman who is riding a very different wave. Bless his heart, he has found his calling, but Truthfinder posted the wrong picture.
And why did they? On Twitter I have 15 times the followers (take that Republican Party of Kentucky!) than Bizarro me, and I am also both taller and better looking. It’s strange.
Under aliases there were 5 possibilities, 4 of which were just misspellings of my name, including “Benjermin,” which is not an alias as much as a typo.
I also found most of my [non food service] work history and my higher education history, which appears to have just been taken from my LinkedIn page.
Towards the bottom of the page was the criminal records section. This includes a conviction in Texas for a crime that is no longer a crime in several states, including Colorado, California, and Washington. Still, 18 years later it is easy to find in a public records search (thank you Fayette County Sheriff’s Department!).
The entry actually includes some interesting facts on the incident, including the date, the penalties paid, and also my height and weight at the time. These are listed as a very svelte 5’ 11’’, 165 lbs (thank you Fayette County Sheriff’s Department!), which was flattering until I realized that I’m no longer 165 lbs and was probably never 5’ 11’’.
I then did a background check on the arresting officer. He came up clean, but his employment history does say that at some point after my arrest he started working as an assistant manager at a literal donut shop.
Moving on, I scrolled down and was happy to see that Truthfinder has no records of any bankruptcies or foreclosures for me or for Benjerman, and that other than that small blotch on my criminal record, things look fine.
That’s when things got strange.
For one thing, on Truthfinder, there are 3 different entries for me, all of them just slightly different renditions of my name (one without middle initial, one as “Ben” and not “Benjamin”). Of these, only one actually includes a criminal record so I guess if I’m applying for a job I just have to hope they get the wrong page and that they don’t read this article.
Moving on, under “Recommended reports,” I saw entries for my brother, father, and mother. My father’s said “19 criminal records,” so of course I clicked. One of these is for a speeding ticket that I remember my dad getting in San Bernardino County California during a cross country road trip, which we assumed we didn’t need to pay because it was from a different state (we did need to pay). Then there was a section called “unlikely criminal record matches,” which was just a collection of men with his name who had been arrested for crimes, including one man in Lafourche Parish, south Louisiana, who is 6’ 2’, 250 lbs, and has a history of property crimes, parole violations, and apparently a drinking problem.
Needless to say, the Truthfinder bizarro version of my father could definitely beat the Truthfinder bizarro version (or any version) of myself in a fist fight.
Then, under residences, there was one entry that came as a surprise. It was a rental home in a modest part of town where my mom lived for a couple months in 1986 after my parents divorce. How Truthfinder hit on it I don't know, but perhaps my father’s name had been on the lease.
Under possible phone numbers, there was also a cell phone number for the small city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where my father was born. He hasn’t been back there since he was 3 years old and if he’d had a cellphone in 1946 then we would have all been set for life.
There was also the make, model, and VIN of his car, my mom’s car, and the car I drove in high school.
What I found from this test, was that TruthFinder does a good job accessing and compiling criminal records and other info that you may have trouble finding on your own, but it doesn’t filter it all down into a single page, which can cause confusion. Also, regarding the “unlikely criminal records matches,” why even have this section? The postings are considered unlikely because it's a person with a different name, hence, not the person. This seemed unnecessary.
After finding truth, it was time to be verified.
After parting with $26.89 for a one-month membership, I found a lot less about myself, or about Benjerman (still listed as a possible alias) on BeenVerified. The site had my old home address and college apartment, as well as a number of phone numbers, one of which was accurate.
Under associated people, I saw my brother, father, mother, and stepfather, and then it got hazy. The other associates included two ex-girlfriends of my brothers, his ex-wife, his best friend and former roommate, and 3—apparent—neighbors I’ve never heard of. Again, I found myself still living in the shadow of my older brother.
Also on my page was an associate named Bobbi Jo in Colorado Springs. I’ve been to Colorado a few times but I don’t know anyone named Bobbi Jo, so this just left me confused.
The strangest thing about this was that with all of those associated people—mainly through my brother—there was no mention of my sister. True, we have different last names, but still she doesn’t come up at all on here or on Truthfinder? This confused me, then made me pause and think we should do a better job staying in touch.
5 minutes later, I emerged from this bout of sibling guilt, and looked for any social media imprint. On my profile, there was no mention of any of my social media accounts, all of which are public. There was also no mention of my bizarro social media twin, which gave me pause.
The strange thing about this barren social media landscape was that my brother’s page did include links to his social media pages, even though he is far less active online. In addition, my “additional owner details” section was positively meager, limited only to showing that I am male, speak English, and my country of origin is “N/A”.
Then it was time to search for my criminal record. And while the rest of my Been Verified page was a bit threadbare, the criminal record section was still thorough (good job team!). That said, it included less details about the specifics of the adjudication of my arrest, though I was again listed in the super middleweight weight class at a towering 5-foot eleven. The page said that I could get more information if I paid extra for the court runner service, which could come in handy if I wanted more information about someone else.
Information about civil judgements, liens, and bankruptcies was extra too. I don’t have anything that would come up here but it was rather comforting to know that if I did, it would only come up to someone who really wanted to know and was willing to pay extra.
After $19.87 for a one-month membership, it was time for Check People to Check Me.
My personal information all seemed to check out—name, age, one-time address, and astrological sign, but again, for reasons unclear to me, a picture of Bizarro me showed up as the sole entry under “possible photos.”
Under possible emails there were two that I’ve never seen or used, and a third from AOL which I haven't used since 2006, but which is listed as active until 2016. There were also 4 phone numbers listed, and only one of them I recognized.
My likely relatives included my parents and my brother. My stepfather was listed under “likely associates,” but that’s where it stopped making sense. The other three members include a woman in her late-80s named Margarita and her husband, both of whom live in a suburb fairly far outside of town. I feel like I would have remembered them.
The other entry was a 64-year-old woman I’ve never heard of whose address is listed as my childhood home. Last I checked, only my mom and stepdad live in that house, but thanks to Check People I’ve decided to ask my mom to check the attic.
The “possible associates” section was much more strange. In addition to two former roommates of my brothers’, there were 5 former girlfriends and a couple finances of his, as well as his ex-wife. There were also 2 of his roomates and the father of one of his exes, as well as an older gentleman who I’m fairly certain was one of the scoutmasters in our boy scout troop when I was in junior high. I can’t imagine how any of this would be helpful if I or someone else was looking for information about me.
By clicking on some of the various associates, it appears that some are people who live or lived in rental properties where my parents or I lived and are thus marked as associates, which seems a bit of a push.
When it comes to the criminal record section though—it’s all there. The arrest is still listed with all of the relevant details, though without the flattering height and weight description. It does however, list my arrest date as being in the year 1487, which was fairly early in the Spanish Inquisition.
This is a mistake.
And once again, a so-called “social media / deep web search” turned up nothing, even though I have multiple, active public social media profiles. Bizarro me was featured here again, the same Twitter profile mocking me and all those who use CheckPeople.com.
By and large I found Check People to be a good way to get a basic look at my details, and to view my criminal record, but the rest of the results were a bit off.
Our Friends and Neighbors
I don’t know about you, but looking back on my younger life, it sure seems like there were a lot of people getting caught up, a lot of whispers about this kid or that kid down the street who got locked up, this parent who was “a guest of the state” for more than a few months, and so on.
With my background check memberships in hand, it was an opportunity to waltz down memory lane, verifying some of these stories from the wayback.
The list was long.
There was our neighbor when we were little kids, whose older brother had been in some trouble— the kind that grownups stopped speaking about before you walked in the room. Well, according to Truthfinder and BeenVerified, that continued long past when we were kids and let me say, this is not a guy you want to drive your car or write you a check. Also don’t take a package from him on a plane or across an international border.
Moving on, there was the old, dear friend of my dad’s from college, who broke our VCR in 1986 and reportedly did time for drug trafficking (confirmed), the son of my high school English teacher who was in prison for “drug dealing” (let’s just say I wish it was drug dealing), and the kid who during my senior year murdered a classmate of mine (he did 15 years, has a kid now and is married). I also looked up a former classmate and ex-teacher who was fired by the junior high he worked at after “sexting” with a student. No record of this came up, because there was no criminal charge, but the story was widely reported in the local press.
It was then on to celebrities. I looked up the late Chad “Pimp C” Butler of UGK fame, and found that the rapper’s criminal record is all there, even though he passed away 11 years ago. This didn’t seem fair. Then, with the midterms approaching, I decided to check Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the Texas senatorial candidate and found that his highly-publicized DWI arrest from 1998 is there on both sites, though on TruthFinder there is more info, including the exact address where it happened. I then decided to look up his opponent, incumbent Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but found no proof of the online rumors that he was the Zodiac Killer, and was thus unable to sway the election either way.
What was I able to learn? Well, I was able to confirm a lot of those stories I’d heard from my younger days and take a little trip down memory lane. Mainly though, it sure seems like I know a lot of people with DWIs.
Using an online background check is an easy, affordable, and completely not-creepy-at-all way to find out information about all types of people in your present and past, as well as celebrities you love or loathe. Most of this information—like criminal records—is in public records, but if you don’t know where to look, an online background check can do the legwork for you.
When I turned the check on myself, I actually enjoyed seeing what comes up and fact-checking the results against what I know to be way off or spot on. I didn’t find any surprises that I wasn’t expecting, just a reminder that certain things stay on your record forever and this is arguably more problematic than ever before considering how easy it is for people to access this information.