Instant Checkmate in a paid online search service that claims you can look up records on anyone in the U.S. and see if they have any felonies, misdemeanors, divorces, sex offenses or any other public information that you may want to know (and they may want to hide). Instant Checkmate promises this search is confidential – meaning the other person won’t know you are looking – and cautions that “the content of the report might surprise you, so please prepare yourself for the unexpected.”
Instant Checkmate and The FTC
In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission accused Instant Checkmate of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), allowing people to access consumer reports that were not legally allowed to do so and failing to ensure these reports were accurate. Instant Checkmate agreed to pay a fine of $525,000 while neither admitting to nor denying the allegations; they also promised to amend the language on their website.
As a result, when you visit the Instant Checkmate website, you are notified in several places that it is not a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) and the information contained within should not be used to make decisions about credit, hiring, insurance, or other sensitive issues. Instead, Instant Checkmate says the information provided can only be used to “satisfy your curiosity, protect your family, and find the truth…”
What is a CRA
A Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) are officially recognized agencies that are able to provide information about a person’s credit, employment history, and more; however, these can only be accessed by potential creditors, landlords, or employers, and not the “curious” general public.
These CRAs are also supposed to supply individuals with a free consumer report if an adverse action is taken against you or provide one for less than $11.50. A full list of official CRAs can be found here.
Again, it should be noted that a) Instant Checkmate is not a CRA and b) the general public is not allowed to request information from a CRA.
The Instant Checkmate Pitch
The Instant Checkmate appears to use fear, curiosity, and anticipation to lure potential sleuths. First, the warning popup window cautions you to BE CAREFUL when using the site and that the information you find can be “shocking.”
Once, you click the I UNDERSTAND button, you are taken to a slick webpage that allows you to enter a first and last name and location criteria. We did a test search and found it took at least 9 screens of confirming information, adding relatives or associates, and checking “I Agree” buttons before getting to a page that lists any kind of pricing or asking for credit card information. The intervening popups appeared to show Instant Checkmate “searching” marriage licenses, firearm sales, felonies, etc:
Screenshot of Instant Checkmate's website
By the time you’ve reached the end of this somewhat lengthy process, you are perhaps so worried and/or curious as to what they’ve found that you are willing to sign up for one of their plans to access this information. (You also may succumb to decision fatigue, which has been shown to make people more susceptible to impulse purchases.)
Instant Checkmate Pricing
Instant Checkmate eventually lists 3 plans:
- $22.86 a month (until you cancel) – this is the “Recommended” and “Most Popular” package.
- $44.58 for 3 months for “Moderate Users” – this is listed as $14.86 for 3 months which are billed at once. You are billed again every three months until you cancel.
- $59.16, listed as $9.86 a month for 6 months for “Power Users.” You are billed again in 6 months.
Also, if you wait too long to make a decision, the page refreshes to a special $1 offer for 5 days of access. After that time you will be billed $29.63 every month until you cancel.
Finally, if you ignore that screen (or refresh the page) you will be presented with another offer for a one-time download of $29.95 for the report you originally searched for.
They promise “No Hassle” cancellation by website form (within 72 hours) via phone at (866) 490-5980 (they promise hold times less than a minute) or by email (you will be contacted “shortly thereafter”).
Bottom Line: Is Instant Checkmate a Worthwhile Service?
It’s no secret that Instant Checkmate itself has had some run-ins with the law, as outlined above. And, if you do an Internet Search on Instant Checkmate, you can see a long list of people complaining about their experiences with the service.
Many people talk of issues cancelling services and deceptive billing; some state the reports they ordered were incomplete and were told they must pay additional fees to “unlock” more information.
Perhaps they are cleaning up their act: Instant Checkmate did become accredited with the BBB in January of 2014 and currently have an A- rating. The BBB does list 1033 complaints within the last 3 years with more than 600 having to do with problems with the product or service. However, the BBB states these have been responded to and resolved, and the company seems to be attempting to respond and reach out to individual negative consumer reviewers.
But do you REALLY need to use their services to find out this information? An investigation of our own revealed many ways to track down public records for free. If you are trying to find out information about a former or current friend, spouse, boyfriend, etc. you could:
- Google them and see what you come up with or look them up on Facebook.
- You may be able to find some information on people using the State Court Websites listed here; however, as the site notes this is not the same as a background check as the information may be incomplete, inaccurate, or sealed.
- You can look up sex offenders on the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Website for free.
- You can also read this PC World article on How To Run a Background Check Online For Free.
Remember, this is merely for information gathering and can’t be used against people.
Did you try Instant Checkmate and was it as easy and informative as they promise, or do you feel you were ripped off? Let us know below!