Some common practices that have given internet criminal record providers a bad name are:
1. Exaggerated services.Nationwide criminal record database searches, for example, are advertised as: "Find criminal records on anyone!!" A fair Service Description would state up-front that "nationwide" searches are only 40% complete, are usually missing critical details, and are not up-to-date. They may not be used for any business reason (unless verified through a county search).
2. Trial Memberships that refuse to go away.Trial memberships can be more difficult to cancel than it originally appeared. Once you sign up, the company wants to keep you, and often (though not always) put up various barriers, making it hard to get out. In the worst cases, despite your cancellation request, they just start charging you the full price every month.
3. Post Transaction Marketing.This is deceptive marketing in pure form: After your purchase—without your knowledge—your credit card is used to sign you up for some service with another company that you never heard of, and which will continue to charge you until you cancel (and sometimes even after you cancel).
4. Confusing pricing plans."Free criminal records!" is often proclaimed, but are in fact not free at all. Instead, they are tied to memberships or to programs offered by 3rd party companies that you never heard of. It is very easy to buy a lot more than you ever intended to.
5. Free does not mean free.Free means you must enroll in a membership program (typically around $20.00 per month). Some companies are straightforward about this true cost ("free with membership..."); other companies bury the fact of the true cost in fine print. If you miss the fine print, then "free" really means "not even close to free."
6. Burying the law in fine print.The advertising says "Check out anyone!" (with no clear indication that the law prohibits you from using the report for things like employment, tenant screening, business transactions, etc.). This critical fact should be stated right up front, but instead is buried deep in the fine print on their Terms of Service link. If you miss the fine print warning you are at risk of legal action by the person you searched as well as by the Federal Trade Commission.
7. Bait and Switch."Get unlimited background searches for $1.00" (for example) is announced all over the site, and gives the very clear impression that it includes criminal records. Sounds like a good deal, right? Wrong. In the ordering section, in small print, the definition of "Background searches" suddenly changes. Turns out, it is just a "people search" which will get you little more than a historical phone number and an old address. The criminal record data? Turns out that’s a "premium" search, available for more like $28.95 with a revolving membership that adds up to about another $60 per year. So you pay $90.00 for 1 search, instead of $1.00 for unlimited searches.
8. Tricky language."Find out the truth about anyone!" Your "comprehensive report" may include "Felonies!, Misdemeanors! Warrants! Arrests! And More!" The tricky part is the phrase "may include," which has the same meaning as "may not include." In fact, it is much more likely that you will not receive anything, since most "comprehensive" reports contain just a fraction of all existing criminal cases.
9. Fake Review sites.There are a lot of sites on the internet geared toward reviewing the quality of a product or company; these can be very helpful for customers to make intelligent purchase decisions. But many times the reviews are fake. A more extreme version is where the entire review site is just a front and all the reviews are fake: they are written by the company itself (or by someone getting paid a commission) pretending to be customers who had a "fantastic experience...great value..." etc. These type of sites tend to be easy to spot if you are aware of them.