In the internet age, free public records are readily available online. Some are useful and important, others need to be viewed with a bit of caution.
Because some records should be viewed with skepticism, it may be a good idea to disclose to your candidates that you will be conducting a search for records to verify information contained on documents submitted. If you give them the specific records you are looking for, they may even provided them for you.
This ends up being the best of both worlds, you have the records and you don't have any liability.
If you are in a position where you need to find them yourself, the question is which ones should you use?
The best ones to use are the federal, state and county records. There are a number of records available for free and easily found online. Examples include,
As you can see there is a wealth of information available. It often depends on your state or county if the records are online.
While it is good to look at free online records, it is important to remember they are free, therefore, should be taken as a verification of information already in possession. For example, if a candidate claims to be a registered professional engineer, but the candidate's name is not listed on the state's online database. This does not mean the candidate does not have a PE. It means you should find another way to verify the PE.
One should proceed with caution when examining court records. For example in Orange County, CA, the superior court records are available online. Before entering the site there is a disclaimer that warns the user the record is only a public service and subject to errors and omissions. This means if you use these records they are for reference only and should not be assumed as factual.
The end result is that you should read all disclaimers and warnings about the information being provided. Use your information to add to your knowledge of a candidate. Verify what you know. Be sure to seek other means of verification if the information gathered raises questions and you have a great free resource.