What is a National Criminal Database?

In our last article, “What is an SSN Trace”, we talked about the importance of a SSN Trace for the background checking process. It helps identify aliases and addresses that the applicant may have used but did not report on their application. This time, we’ll talk about the next step in the background checking process: National Criminal Database Search.

A National Criminal Database (sometimes just called, “Nat Crim”) is an aggregate database of criminal records from different jurisdictions across the nation. Every day these jurisdictions put the details of arrests, court cases, and offenses online on a publicly accessible web portal. Database aggregators then go and collect the data from all of those cases in each jurisdiction and put them into a central database which they’ll sell access to. This sure beats having to manually go to each of those courthouses for each applicant. This way it’s all in one easy to access database.

Most Nat Crim databases contain a name, DOB, offense/conviction date, offense description, and a case number. In some cases, there will be a photo to go along with the record (mostly sex offenders and arrests). The background checker will search for the applicant using their name (and all of those aliases they found from the SSN Trace) and their DOB.

Any records that they find must be verified with the courthouse! A lot of people think that Nat Crim databases are a one-stop-shop. This is not the case and can get them in a lot of trouble. Instead, these records can be used as pointers to the reportable data.

For instance, if a CRA was running a background check on John A Doe, they may start with an SSN Trace. From the SSN Trace they may find several first names: John, Jon, Johnny, and JD. From there, they can take his aliases and DOB and search across the nation using a Nat Crim database. If they find a record for Johnny Doe with a matching DOB, they need to go to the courthouse with that case number and get the details.

It is also important to know that not all Nat Crim databases are created equally. Most, in fact, have a lot of missing jurisdictions. There are approximately 3,000 counties in the US and less than 80% of them have publicly accessible websites. This means that there’s about 600 counties which very few (if any) Nat Crim databases have records for. This is why the address history in your SSN Trace is so important.


This article does not constitute legal advice. Before making any changes to your background checking procedures, please consult an attorney familiar with such laws and regulations.

The authors of the information presented on this page are not attorneys nor are they affiliated with attorneys. The information presented on this page does not constitute legal advice. Before acting on any of the information obtained from this page or any others on this website, please consult your own legal counsel.
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