How Does A Fingerprint Background Check Work?


If you work for the federal government or a large corporation, served in the military, been arrested or become a United States citizen after living in another country, it’s highly likely that you have been fingerprinted. Organizations will record your fingerprints in order to identify information about your life such as your name, employment history, arrest record and addresses. Over time, your fingerprint records are stored in a database at the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI).

How A Fingerprint Background Check Works

When an organization wants to check your background information to determine if you are a qualified candidate for overseas travel, adopting a child, employment, housing or specialized licensing, they may make a request to the FBI, an FBI channeler or identification Bureau that handles background checks in your state.

The fingerprint database at the FBI will hold your “rap sheet,” which is a list of all the information that identifies you. This will give the organization running the background check a profile of your history. In some cases, a police report may be linked to your fingerprint records, which would show insurance information, vehicle accidents or statements that you may have made.

How Are Fingerprints Taken?

In the past, the fingerprinting process was much more cumbersome than the electronic version that we have today. You would take your fingers and press them down on a fingerprint card, which would then be sent into an expert who would compare them to fingerprints already in the database. The process would take a number of weeks. Fortunately, the system has now changed. Fingerprints are captured by utilizing a digital scanner. There’s no more messy ink to deal with and records are more accurate.

Delivering Results

When a fingerprint background check is run, it may take between 14 to 30 days to receive results through the United States postal system. By choosing to use an electronic application method, the process is much faster. You can obtain results within 24 to 48 hours by transmitting prints to the FBI electronically. However, this may only provide a small amount of information regarding criminal history. In some cases, it may provide no information at all if that individual has never had their fingerprints taken and submitted to the database.


If you’ve ever watched a television show where they catch a criminal and run their fingerprints to see if any past history comes up in their database, the process will usually work. While this makes good TV, it really isn’t best to only use this method when running a background check.

The database that holds fingerprints is notoriously incomplete. Sometimes during an arrest, figure prints are not even taken. When the system was initially set up, it was never intended to be used as a screening tool. While it is one avenue that can be taken during a background check, it shouldn’t be used as the only solution.