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Free Criminal Searches: Useful Information, or Unnecessary Worry?

Free Criminal Searches: Useful Information, or Unnecessary Worry?

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Criminal, the new free criminal background checking service launched today (July 21,2008) by the friend-finding search engine, already has Internet searchers, as well as Internet bloggers and reporters, in an uproar.

Mistaken Identity?

Bloggers (like this one) and Internet news watchdogs are already pinning a red caution flag on, launched earlier today. The new service allows users to do a free criminal background check on any name, where they will be given information such as what that name has been convicted of, where, and around what year. Users can do a more thorough search if they wish, including the person's home address and middle name, but a first and last name is all you really need.

Unfortunately, a first and last name is also what many people have in common. What appears to be making people wary is the quandary between being able to force legitimate criminals out of their protective anonymity, and being able to mistakenly assign criminal status to your neighbors who happen to share a namesake with them.

Is your name Jim Jones? If so, you, sir, have a very common name -- in fact, you share it with about 50, give or take, other Jim Jonses who live in California and have been convicted of crimes, including sex and drug offenses. Let's hope your criminal searching neighbors don't find out about you.

Mike Johnson? You, sir, have almost the same record, and you can tack behavioral crimes on yourself as well. Fortunately for your neighbors, your criminal prime was in the '50s, so you're likely too old to be much of a bother to anyone. Still, don't park your car next to mine, please, and don't expect my kids to visit your house on Halloween.

Being sure, the easy way

Of course, like I said, users can do a more thorough search and eliminate you from their list of similarly named felons, but how would they? Do your neighbors know what your home address was in 1986? Do they even know your middle name? They might not be sure it's you coming back on their monitor, but they can't confidently eliminate you unless they have that information. This, of course, brings us to the problem that they can either be rude and ask you directly, or take the path most neighbors would take -- don't bring it up, and hope you're totally honest. That's what we do every time we walk onto a used car lot anyway, right?

So, you want to keep your own, clean record and retain the respect of your friends and neighbors? Remind them to take this new service, as they should any Internet device, with a grain of salt. Even if it's stolen salt.

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