Thinking about moving in with your new boyfriend, or signing a partnership contract with that exciting and convincing local entrepreneur? Be careful. Charming and interesting people can have a dark past. While we have all made mistakes, which ones can affect others? A life-altering choice with someone else can bring great benefits, but it can also be dangerous. How can you stay on the safe side? A good start is to learn if someone has a criminal record.

A criminal record entails a person’s history with the law. While not all criminal records are a reason to cancel a partnership or avoid a romantic relationship, some –like a restraining order or a sexual abuse conviction– are. The good news is, you no longer need to travel to different states to get a person’s criminal record. Some online services allow you to perform a quick search that compares hundreds of publicly available records and organize them in an easy to understand report. While most of these services use similar technology, they are not all the same.

UnMask allows you to compare and contrast background check sites and learn about their most important features. Some of the things you want to check are ease of use, pricing, and privacy policies.

If you want to save some money, you can try to run a criminal background check by yourself. Here are a few resources:

United States Court System: They keep case files, and some of them are available for public consultation at PACER (Public Access To Court Electronic Records). Searching their system can be a bit overwhelming for people with no legal background, but they do offer to register for free to consult files. It is important to note that PACER only gives you access to federal court records (not state or county records).

Some states and counties also offer the possibility to consult public records online. To find out if a county or state has this specific service, just open google and tap county or state name and “public court records”.

Google always helps. A simple name search followed by “criminal records” may give you valuable information. If you have more data, such as a location or date, type it in. Be aware that a Google search can also give you misleading or confusing information, so try to keep it simple.

Cross-check social media. You may find instances in which someone talks about a particular case or mentions the name of the person you are searching for. Again, be careful as social media can also be misleading or give you false results.

Remain on Legal Grounds

Some court records are sealed or expunged. In order to have access to a sealed record, you need a court order, so beware of any website or service that offers to give you sealed information. Remember that everyone has a right to privacy. Also, understand that not all information can be used indefinitely. For example, you can’t immediately deny someone a job because of a past conviction, and some states have very specific non-discrimination laws regarding people with a criminal record. If you are unsure about how to move forward, stay safe, and ask for help from an attorney.

Criminal records can be the result of some bad teenage choices, and people should not carry the weight of a mistake for all their life. But your safety must come first. After getting results from a criminal background check, what matters most is your common sense. When deciding to move forward with a business deal or other type of relationship (personal or professional), there are many other factors to weigh-in.