There is no one central database from which private background check companies obtain their information. With so many sources of information available, investigators have options. In my experience, there are different levels of investigations into a person's background. It depends on how much one wishes to pay. It is scary how much an investigator can learn about a person at the right price.
If this is a concern for you, it would be advisable to do your own background check through LiveScan. This may not be all encompassing but it should produce information prospective employers are most likely going to see.
They say you get what you pay for, and this response is free, so take it for what it is worth. This is my opinion based on very limited information. My opinion should not be taken as legal advice. For true advice, we would require a confidential consultation where I would ask you questions and get your complete story. This is a public forum, so remember, nothing here is confidential. Nor am I your attorney. I do not know who you are and you have not hired me to provide any legal service. To do so would require us to meet and sign written retainer agreement. My responses are intended for general information only.
There is no general database providing the resources to the companies. Each company uses its own resources, many of which may overlap, to determine information pertaining to prior employment, arrest records, etc. In general, a Live Scan is a fairly comprehensive report and is used by many government entities for background check purposes. That being said, if something does not show up on a Live Scan, but it happened, that does not mean that another background check run through a different company would also overlook an incident.
There are different levels of background checks. Background checks can be superficial or can be detailed and intensive. It all depends on what the employer wants to pay for. Intensive background checks are more likely in certain kinds of jobs, and the areas investigated may vary with the type of job involved. Here is a brief overview:
In California, private and public sector employers and state licensing agencies most often use the California Live Scan (CLS) for a criminal background check. The CLS is inexpensive and takes only about 72 hours. You can request your own CLS check by providing your fingerprints and the $25 processing fee to the California Department of Justice, and following the instructions here: http://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/security.
In all states, court records are a common source of information for background checks. These records are open to the public and anyone can gain access to them. Many court records are available on the Internet and can be found easily and without charge. If you have been a party in a lawsuit (plaintiff, defendant, appellant, respondent, complainant, etc.), that information will show up in this kind of background check.
If an employer conducts a criminal background check, it will probably reveal all adult arrests and convictions for misdemeanors or felonies. Other related information will show up, too, such as diversionary programs, pre-trial intervention, conditional discharges and more. In some states, part of this information can be removed from public records by a process called expungement. Not all criminal records can be expunged. In California, there is no option to expunge criminal records. You may be able to set aside the judgment per Penal Code section 1203.4 or perhaps seal the record per Penal Code section 851.8. These options should be discussed with an attorney in a confidential meeting.
Expect that anything easily available in the public records will show up in a background check. This includes bankruptcies, residential property ownership, names of officers of corporations, and more.
Also, a lot of information can by found by a simple Google search. Try searching for yourself on Google. Put your name in the search box within quotation marks. Do a separate search for each nickname you have. For example, if your name is Oliver Wendell Holmes, you might search for yourself under all these names:
"Oliver Wendell Holmes"
Finally, background checks may contain incorrect information. For example, many employers use a service to conduct background checks; some of these services operate outside the country and may have little incentive to ensure accurate results. Also, some services arrange information in a confusing or misleading manner. Plus, clerical or other errors interfere with accuracy. If an employer conducts a background search on you and finds inaccurate information, you will probably never know and never have the opportunity to correct it. You just won’t get the job. For this reason, you may want to purchase a good-quality background check on yourself to see what is out there and what you need to do to correct information at the source.
* * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * *