Criminalsearches.com, new Web site, offers criminal histories for free
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Karl Turner, July 28, 2008
So you think your new suitor, sitter, boss or neighbor really rocks?
Try lifting a few rocks at criminalsearches.com before sidling up to this
"Do you really know who people are?" the new Web site asks ominously.
Bryce Lane is president and chief operating officer of criminalsearches.com, which
launched last week. He calls the site the "most comprehensive source of criminal
Punch in a name, and the snoop site ferrets out millions of public records to find
an individual's criminal history -- anything from traffic tickets to sex offenses
to murder. With another of its tools, you can type in an address and see a Google
map with the names, addresses and criminal histories of nearby ex-convicts. For sex
offenders, there's even a photo.
"Whether on a date, renting a room, spending time with neighbors or meeting new
friends, people have the right, and now the means, to know if there is a criminal
in their life," Lane's firm says in a news release.
That "right" has come at a price: A host of competitors in the red-hot "people search"
industry offer services ranging from a $7 basic criminal background check on up to a
full-bore private-eye pry for $300 or more.
"Now it's free," proclaimed Lane.
(He insists, by the way, that he is not the same Bryce Lane who, according to
criminalsearches.com, pleaded guilty to two speeding charges in North Carolina back in
The new Web site's parent company, Peoplefinders.com, is one of the most successful
and aggressive pay-for-backgrounder-data competitors. Over the past 20 years, it has
amassed thousands of public-records databases -- marriages, divorces, births, deaths,
phone records, property transfers, lawsuits and more. For a fee, Peoplefinders.com
mines that data for a wide range of clients with an even wider range of needs.
The Sacramento, Calif., firm decided to split off the cops-and-courts records into
a free-to-use site.
Other sites on the Web tout themselves as "free" criminal-records portals. But they
generally are little more than indexes -- aggregators of links to hundreds of separate
state and county databases. A thorough search by a prospective employer, landlord or
parent would mean checking them all one at a time -- the kind of tedium that would
drive users to pay someone to do it for them. By happy coincidence, of course, the
vendors offering the "free" indexes also offer to do the background check themselves,
for a fee.
The folks at Peoplefinders.com, though, figured a free record-checking site would
draw so much traffic that it could generate even more revenue from advertisers than it
would have from users. In the site's first week, the Internet buzz it generated drew
so many users that Lane's firm had to add new server computers to keep
criminalsearches.com from slowing to a crawl or crashing.
But the searcher has blind spots, Lane concedes. Even though court records are all
public, it's up to individual states, counties and local courts to decide how to make
them available, and some jurisdictions won't release or sell entire databases wholesale
to resellers. So the only truly comprehensive criminal-check database is one that
hardly anyone outside law enforcement can use -- the FBI's National Crime Information
Consequently, the data that criminalsearches.com compiles don't include every
Unfortunately, criminal records from the Cuyahoga, Medina, Lorain or Summit county courts
are among those it doesn't see.
So a check of the neighborhood you might be considering buying into could show a handful
of bad-apple neighbors busted in Portage County or Portland, Ore., but omit a locally
convicted kidnapper or drug kingpin.
And unless a perp from one of those counties is currently in a state prison, subject to
prison authorities' post-release supervision or in a nationwide sex-offender database, a
search on the crook's name could come up deceptively blank. On the other hand, it can be
deceptively full -- of dark and closeted skeletons such as improper lane changes, fishing
without a license and open-container violations. Sometimes the minutiae of those charges
is clear; other times, the data are so incomplete that a user can't tell whether the
"crime" in question was for making speed in a meth lab or merely speeding in a school
Acquitted? Charges dropped? Too long ago to care or remember? No matter -- the blot
still may show up.
But so will the fact that your ex-husband just got popped for DUI (again), or the detail
that the gal who asked you out last night looks better in person than she does on her
prison mug shot.