What is public records technology?

From the days of dusty basement file cabinets and lengthy requisitions to mountains of data at the touch of a button, public records remain a vital asset in any investigator’s toolkit. You may call it a “people finder,” “locate tool,” or “investigative software,” but whether you’re searching for a person, fighting fraud, or managing risk, your search is built on public records technology.

What is a public records provider?

Put simply, a public records provider gathers, organizes, and maintains a collection of public records for use by its customers. These records can range from motor vehicle registrations to phone records, criminal records, and corporate filings. While, by definition, public records are public, they are all too often scattered across different organizations with incompatible platforms, inconsistent formatting, and varying accuracy. Public records providers excel at overcoming these hurdles to deliver the most efficient and usable public records search experience.

Most providers’ services function like a typical web search. A user enters a piece of information, typically a name, and the provider returns a report or list of public records that are connected to that individual. However, a typical web search returns a list of results that require the user to determine which is most useful. (We all know the frustration of clicking through link after link only to discover old, incomplete, or irrelevant information.) In contrast, the best public records services use sophisticated technology to filter inaccurate, out-of-date, and duplicative information to deliver only relevant results.

Not all public records providers are the same

There are many kinds of public records providers that serve several different purposes and industries. It’s easiest to think about providers in terms of level of detail and task.

People finders

This group of providers is typically considered “people finder” services. They are available to the public and offer basic personal information such as name, address, phone number, social media, and names of relatives. These providers are the most easily accessible and lowest cost – just a few dollars per search. But they also have the highest risk for inaccurate or out-of-date data. These providers are typically best for non-professional people finding and light background checks. A person may use these providers to conduct a search on a new babysitter or locate a long lost relative. Example: Whitepages.

Background checks

These providers are professional background check services. Unlike people finders, most of these services are not publicly available. Nearly all require customers to have a business use for their products to comply with federal regulations, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). These providers deliver similar information as that delivered by people finders and include criminal records, as well as verification of education, work, and identity. Due to the nature of their offering, these providers may mix public records research with traditional investigative techniques. Their data is typically more accurate than people finders but can be limited by access to records above the local or state level. Often requiring a subscription or monthly plan, these providers are used by businesses and government agencies for hiring and benefits eligibility. Example: HireRight. 

Enterprise identity verification

These providers specialize in identity verification and related services for medium to large businesses and government agencies. Customers of these providers often deal with high volume and significant potential risk, requiring more sophisticated tools. These providers leverage many of the same records other providers use but place more emphasis on financial records and business ownership. Their data is typically very accurate as their products often must meet strict federal regulations surrounding Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer laws. This level of accuracy also means these providers command a premium price. Their customers rely on them to ensure their employees, clients, vendors, and constituents are who they say they are and do not pose a potential risk. Example: Trulioo.

Integrated public records platforms

Unified platforms connecting multiple products and services, these providers deliver solutions for investigative uses. Alongside robust people finding solutions, the best platforms integrate identity verification and risk assessment tools to enable clients to prevent, detect, and investigate wrongdoing.  These platforms have the most complete, accurate, and current data sets, and provide workspace and collaboration tools to integrate with other products or existing workstreams. Used by Fortune 500 companies and major government agencies, these products also are higher cost, but typically deliver the best outcomes for clients. These tools are used by a variety of different industries from law enforcement to government fraud, waste, and abuse investigators, and financial risk and fraud departments. Integrated platforms enable users to locate, identify, and make critical connections between people, businesses, and assets that other providers can’t. Example: Thomson Reuters CLEAR.

What does this mean for me?

While there are many uses for public records technology and just as many providers, it’s important to make sure you choose the solution that best meets your needs.

  • People finder providers are best for non-professional people finding.
  • Background check providers are best for employment/application related searches.
  • Enterprise identity verification providers are best for vendor/client/customer onboarding.
  • Integrated public records platforms are best for professional investigative applications that require the most accurate data and/or a full suite of public records applications.

Regardless of your needs, there are three critical components you should look for in your provider.

  1. Accuracy – Incorrect information will slow you down and frustrate you. Many times, you won’t know you’ve got inaccurate information until much later, costing precious time and resources.
  2. Timeliness/Currency – With the pace of change and the new data it creates, having access to the most current data is crucial. Some providers rely on monthly or quarterly updates to their databases, while the best providers have live gateways to public records sources.
  3. Transparency –  Confidence in the source of your results is critical. Any provider can deliver results, but there can be a big difference between a subject’s name retrieved from social media and retrieved from their driver’s license.

For all users of public records, confidence is critical. Effective public records technology enables you to move more quickly and reduce wasted effort. By arming yourself with knowledge about the different types of public records providers, you can choose a solution that enables you to act with confidence.

Learn more about public records technology with Thomson Reuters CLEAR

Locate people, businesses, assets, affiliations, and more with online investigation software