International Background Checks Buyer Beware

I’ve been doing international background checks along with all of our domestic business since 1995 when we were asked to background check 5500 aircraft engineers for the Boeing buyout of McDonnell Douglass. I vividly remember calling a large international security company and asking about what kinds of criminal history info was available from Italy. After much dodging and hesitating by the salesman on the other end of the phone (this was before I was on the internet) told me that their criminal history checks consisted of a MEDIA check in the area where the person is from. I was flabbergasted to say the least. I remember saying, “Are you trying to tell me that if a person’s crime made it into the newspaper that that is the only source of your info?” He was ashamed to admit it, but it was true.

SURPRISING FACT # 1. Many companies sell media look-ups as a criminal history report. I know this sounds insane, but I’m not kidding. The crime has to make it into the newspaper or they have nothing to report. And what about a person’s trial results? That has to make it into the newspaper too for you to get a disposition. Unfortunately that exact kind of thing is still very common today. These companies that sell these reports always have a made up name for that kind of service to make it sound like you are really buying something useful. They usually package it with a check of the International Terrorist Watch List and the OFAC watch list, both of which you can do for free in minutes.

Despite what you may have heard, or thought you knew, international criminal checks are still very much a crap shoot. In some countries they are inexpensive, contain what we Americans know as both misdemeanor and felony crimes – arrests and convictions, are timely and accurate, such as Australia. Other countries just don’t consider criminal records to be public information, therefore accessible by the public, like France.

SURPRISING FACT # 2. Many countries don’t make their criminal records available to anyone. France doesn’t think that anyone has the right to know if their citizens and residents are criminals. Don’t believe me? Call the French Embassy in Washington. That’s what I did.

The internet is full of companies that say that they can get criminal history records from many countries that I know for a fact don’t provide criminal records to anyone. In Great Britain you can get what is called a Clearance Certificate from Scotland Yard. It tells you that the person has, or doesn’t have a criminal record, but it doesn’t tell you what the criminal record is!

SURPRISING FACT # 3. Many countries criminal history reports are not worth the paper they are written on. One good example of this is Mexico. As in many third world countries their record keeping system is like it was here before computers. They couldn’t find the records if they wanted to. India has antiquated records keeping, but they at least make an effort to help.

Another example is China, but for a different reason. With everything controlled by the state it make sense that you will get what the state wants you to get. If you were hiring a software engineer from China for example, and you want to assure yourself that he/she is not a commie spy, good luck. You are going to get just what they want you to see.

I once called the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and asked how to get official criminal records. The man on the other end of the phone told me to send him $200 and he would send me the records. I said that I wanted to know the normal procedure for obtaining records so that I could do it now and in the future. He said, “OK, send me $150 and I get you the records.” I quickly realized that this conversation was going nowhere. Since talking to him didn’t work I called the US Embassy in Cairo and asked them how to get the records.

SURPRISING FACT # 4. In many countries the only way to get a REAL criminal history report is to have the “applicant” get it himself or herself. The Philippines is a good example of this. But beware there are vendors in Manila that make fake documents for employment purposes. Always get the original document, not a copy, and verify it with the person who signed it.

In some countries an “applicant” can only get the criminal history report if he/she is applying for a visa to work in the US. Since most countries want their workers to work in the US they supply them with the documentation. Singapore and the Republic of China (Taiwan) are two examples.

CANADA: We can get records from Canada. In fact we can get what is the equivalent of our FBI records, but it requires fingerprints and can take 90+ days. I always ask my clients, “If you would like me to order the records, your “applicant” has to get fingerprinted, send the fingerprint card to me in California whereupon I mail it to the RCMP in Ottawa, wait 90 days get it back and I charge you $100, or would you rather have it today for free?” How, you may ask? Answer: Have the applicant go get the record himself. Every police station, be it city, provincial or RCMP can process your records request while they wait. Again, ask to see the original document and you can reimburse the applicant for the report if you like.

NOTE: If a Canadian or person living in Canada has a criminal record, one of two things usually happens. Either he/she will make an excuse as to why they can’t get the record from the police, or you will never see them again. They are not going to bother getting a record if they know that you thus will not hire them. Oh, and if you want me to order the records for you from Ottawa, the applicant still has to go to the police station to get fingerprinted, so he might as well get the record while he is there.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is: READ THE FINE PRINT. Do not buy from a service that will not tell you the source of the records. Ask how current the info is and ask if it contains what we in the US consider misdemeanor and felony arrests and convictions or dispositions.

If you have any doubts about the accuracy of the info in this article or what you’ve been told by another international background check company, call the Embassy in Washington for the respective country you are concerned about. Ask to speak to the legal attaché. Ask them how one obtains REAL criminal history records from that country. That’s what I did, and that’s how I started doing REAL international background checks. That’s why I am an expert that other people call.

Kit Fremin is the owner and founder of Background Check International. Since 1994 BCI has served clients a varied as: the LA Times, Department of Defense, Mars, Inc., the UN, the NTSB and Calvary Chapels nationwide. His website is: and he can be e-mailed at