Bamboozled March 31, 2016: How to get your FBI Rap Sheet

Consumers are often willing to pay extra for a service if it means convenience, or because they don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves.

Such as hiring a tax preparer instead of doing your own tax return. Using a gardener instead of mowing the lawn. Or hiring a housekeeper, or a painter, or even a dog walker.

But some convenience pitches are sketchy because the company doesn’t make it clear that the consumer can do the service themselves for free or for far less money, such as getting a copy of your property deed.

That’s why we wanted to learn more when we got a pitch from a company that offers to help consumers get a copy of their FBI Identity History Summary, more commonly known as an FBI rap sheet.

The FBI says your rap sheet is a listing of certain information taken from fingerprint submissions kept by the FBI. It may be related to arrests, federal employment, naturalization or military service.

155236162J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI Headquarters, Washington D.C.

If the fingerprint submissions are related to an arrest, the Identity History Summary includes the name of the agency that submitted the fingerprints to the FBI, the date of the arrest, the arrest charge, and the disposition of the arrest, if known, the FBI website says.

You could have a rap sheet even if you’ve never been arrested.

That’s because of the growing problem of identity theft.

It’s possible that a criminal took your private information and rather than open new credit lines or file fake tax returns, the crook created a new identity based on yours.

That means someone wrongly using your name, birth date and Social Security number could be wanted in New Jersey or elsewhere.

The crook, armed with your identity, could get into all kinds of trouble that you may never see on your credit report.

If you want to be sure that hasn’t happened, a copy of your rap sheet is a great way to find out.

Not everyone will have a rap sheet — it all depends on your personal history.

You need to submit your fingerprints to get a copy of your own Identity History Summary or proof from the FBI that you don’t have one. You can’t order one on someone else.

To get it, you must put the request in writing and send it, along with your fingerprints and a completed credit card payment form, certified check or money order for $18, to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

Then you wait 13 to 15 weeks, the current processing time, to receive the report.

There’s another way to get your rap sheet, and that’s where third party companies come in.

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So-called “FBI-approved Channelers” are private businesses that contract with the FBI to submit such requests on behalf of customers. You can see a list of approved Channelers here.

These Channelers can actually get your rap sheet faster, and you’ll need to visit one anyway to have your fingerprints taken.

One of those Channelers is MorphoTrust, the Mass.-based company that sent Bamboozled the pitch about ID theft and rap sheets.

MorphoTrust charges $45 to use the company to get your rap sheet. It’s running a 20 percent off promotion through June.

That may be twice the cost of doing it on your own, but some consumers may think it’s worth the cost considering that Channelers will get you your results much faster that dealing directly with the FBI.

“MorphoTrust electronically transmits your biometric and biographic information directly to the FBI, which processes a report and emails it directly to you,” a spokeswoman said. “The results are typically delivered within 72 hours.”

MorphoTrust doesn’t currently offer rap sheet services in New Jersey — it says it’s pursing permission from the state — but consumers can get it through the company’s IdentoGO Center in Philadelphia. The company also has a partnership with H&R Block, and consumers can order their rap sheets at certain locations.

There’s another way to see what information the government keeps on you. You can file a Freedom of Information Act request.

“The Freedom of Information Act allows any person—except fugitives, federal agencies, and foreign intelligence agencies—to request information about organizations, businesses, investigations, historical events, incidents, groups, or deceased persons,” the FBI website says.

This request probably won’t cost you a dime. There is usually no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication, and if the cost will exceed $25, the agency will notify you in writing.

What will you get? That depends on your history.

You can get information beyond what the FBI has on your rap sheet. Some government agencies will accept FOIA requests online  while others, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the National Security Agency, require the request be made in other ways, such as by letter, fax or email. Check with the specific agency on how it will accept requests.

If you make any of these requests, let us know what you learn about yourselves. Our request has already been made. More to come!

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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