Are they who they say they are?

Monday, July 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Destinations By Tim Wyatt / The Dallas Morning News

Access to Web-based public records databases is getting easier and the numbers of info Amerchants hawking their wares are growing.

Assuming that everyone understands that databases of personal information aren't perfect - and not always correct - we collected a handful of examples of who's keeping tabs on whom and checked how fast information can be pulled up. The results can be frightening, and we're not talking just about the price.


Like the ancient Latin-sounding name?

Fortunately, the pre-employment background check reports here are in plain English. Individuals need not apply, though. This page, like scores of others on the Web, specializes in creating reports for companies only. The $250 subscription fee, credit check and contract act to ward off unauthorized access to the detailed reports. Employers can log in to verify information provided on applications and résumés such as Social Security numbers, addresses, education, military and criminal records, even credit reports and workers' compensation claims. Search packages start at $10 and move on up. And up. And up.


Throw common sense out the window and pull out your checkbook to make sure you're not dating a person with the moral fiber of pond scum. That seems to be the theme here. While we wouldn't offer advice either way, $49.99 seems like a lot of money to find out if his credit card is going to be rejected on the first date. For the busy professional who has no time to get to know someone the old-fashioned way, however, this could really fit the bill. For that bill, customers are promised a name, address and phone number verification, list of real estate owned, a criminal history search and any nasty little civil actions such as bankruptcies, lawsuits and tax liens.


One private investigator site recommended this site as reasonable, fast and reliable. From what we could tell from the prices - ranging from $30 for a county criminal check to $70 for an extensive background check - "reasonable" is questionable.

Fast and reliable, however, seem to be fair. The one-to five-day wait for results, depending on what's requested, is good and makes up for the cost. The site is also monitored by The Public Eye, an Internet consumer-protection service that lets customers register complaints with DataLand. Here's one suggestion: Post out front if customers are billed for locator searches that come back with nothing.

KnowX, a subsidiary of a huge commercial seller of public records, has been on the Net a long time. Customers here don't have to pay monthly or annual subscription fees, and they're repeatedly reminded of how much each search costs. But they pay whether they get data back or not - and a lot of "not" can cost plenty. The price schedule includes some free searches, and most are $1 to $1.50 for each database. The higher prices kick in when customers order the details of a record, which can run $4 to $7.

Investigative Links

This link page from the National Association of Investigative Specialists is a great reference for state-by-state, Web-based databases and directories.

It says the site is posted only temporarily for nonmembers, but we've been skulking around here for years, and it's a pretty decent collection of county courthouse lists, regulatory and licensing agencies, public databases and the like. Visitors may not get every link to learn whether someone's past is storied, but it's a solid start - and it's free.

Privacy Place

There are folks out there - we know who you are by your unlisted phone numbers - who don't want their personal information bought, sold and exchanged over the Web. Privacy Place dedicates a lot of space to tracking infringements on personal information. Internet browser cookies, electronic junk-mailers and information brokers who use deceptive tactics to collect private financial data are just a few of the issues explained here.