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How to Read a Background Check

Background checks have been around since the first caveman applied for a job. But background checks as we know them have only been around since 1993. That said, the purpose of a background check remains the same – weed out candidates who aren’t a good fit.

There are many different types of checks, and depending on your role, you may need to utilize all of them. Which begs the question – how to read background checks? And equally important, how do you find quality background check providers?

Here’s the answer to both questions.

Understand What Information is Included in a Background Check

Background checks include a candidate’s identifiable info such as name, address, etc. The actual content of a background screening depends on the type of background check requested. Background check types include:

  • Motor Vehicle Records (MVR)
  • Address Check
  • Social Media Check
  • Credit History
  • Education and License 
  • Drug Test 
  • Criminal Background check


Typically, background checks include seven years’ worth of information. 

Common Elements of a Background Check

A few common elements of background checks include the type of background check, your company, candidate info, and a summary of the results.

Criminal Background Check Terms, Definitions & Abbreviations

Criminal background checks are one of the most common types of candidate history. That said, criminal background checks include unique phrasing due to the connection to the legal system. As a hiring manager, you must decipher the results of a criminal background check to make an informed decision. Here are the most common terms, definitions, and abbreviations

  • A&B: Assault and battery
  • A & Rob: Assault and armed robbery
  • AA/DW: Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • ACAF: Accessory after the fact – this means a person wasn’t involved in the initial crime but helped the perpetrators cover up the crime.
  • D & D: Drunk and disorderly
  • DV: Domestic violence
  • DWI: Driving while impaired
  • LARC: Larceny
  • PROB: Probation
  • UBAL: Unlawful blood alcohol level


These are just a few of the most common charges on a criminal background check. The complete list contains hundreds of different types. Working with your HR or legal department when reviewing a criminal background check is a good idea to ensure you translate these abbreviations correctly. Also, remember that not every crime is a major red flag for a candidate. 

For example, UBAL, unlawful blood alcohol level may have occurred in a person’s youth during college, military service, or other drinking cultures. And if that charge is seven years old and you can reasonably assume the candidate has learned from this mistake and moved forward, it shouldn’t weigh too heavily on your final decision. 

Employers should also abide by Fair Chance hiring practices when considering criminal background checks. What is fair chance hiring practices? Read on to find out. 

What to Look Out For

The main thing you want to be wary of on a criminal background check, besides extreme and egregious crimes, are crimes that may directly impact or put your business at risk of fraud, loss of reputation, or legal repercussions. For example, a person with a particularly shoddy motor vehicle record, including recent infractions, may not be the best candidate for transportation positions. Or, a person with recent financial fraud or identity theft charges may not be suitable for cash handling jobs. 

Speak with the department heads of the role you’re hiring for to get a deeper understanding of the job and what’s expected on a daily basis. You can use that information to spot major red flags in any candidate quickly.

Follow Fair Chance Hiring Practices

Fair chance hiring practices, mandatory in most states, ensure employers hire based on experience and qualifications rather than a person’s past. To that effect, they prevent employers from asking about age, sex, religion, and checking criminal records until an official offer has been made. If you’re in a state that mandates Fair Chance hiring, then not abiding by it can result in swift and severe legal feedback and a general loss of company reputation.

Ensure your hiring team is current on the latest changes to fair chance hiring laws and is aware of state or territory-specific modifiers.

Work with a Reputable Background Check Company

The best method to get the data you need when you need it is by partnering with a trusted background check company. That’s where KarmaCheck can assist you. KarmaCheck is an industry leader for background checks and offers advanced, reliable background check API that seamlessly integrates with your systems. This means it’s easier to stay compliant, find the perfect candidate, and streamline the hiring process. Explore your options today.


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