In recent years, there has been an explosion of Internet Research Service data brokers that offer to “find out anything about anybody,” no questions asked. Typically, these services offer public records searches, including criminal records, for most jurisdictions. A word of caution: Many Internet sites advertise low rates for public records searches, but the advertised rates may be deceiving. The more jurisdictions you want to search, the more you are likely to pay.

There is a question as to whether such Internet Research Service firms are “consumer reporting agencies” and thus subject to the FCRA. The Federal Trade Commission’s staff issued an opinion letter in 1998 that said a company that collects public records and sells those records to third parties, including companies for employment purposes, is a consumer reporting agency. www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fcra/leblanc.htm .

In our opinion, if you are conducting a background check for employment purposes, you should avoid dealing with any Internet search service that does not show compliance with the FCRA. For more on this, see how to choose a company to screen your potential and current employees.