First of all, here's a basic review of how most of these sites function. There are three basic fee structures. These vary depending on the type of search and the nature of the data being accessed. Most fee structures fall into one of the following categories:
1. The Pay Per Use Plan is self explanatory. You are charged a fee to access data for a specific public records search. This is very common in reverse phone lookups. You enter a phone number in the search field and it reports some very basic preliminary data such as a list of potential results. You are then presented with the option to pay a fee to access more detailed information. Most sites claim to only charge if you receive a "hit" but they do not guarantee whether or not the result is what you were looking for. So be careful!
2. The “Bucket” based service plan is one of the most commonly used fee structures in the records search arena. You create an account with the public records site of your choice at which time you make a payment into your account. This payment is applied as a "search credit". The cost of each subsequent search may differ greatly depending on the data being accessed. A simple query may only cost a few dollars while a full background check may cost you thirty dollars or more. You essentially pay into a bucket that is used toward your searches. You can also look at it as buying credits toward searches. Once you run out of credits, you must pay more money. The cost of each query is presented to you prior to instigation and your remaining funds are also detailed. One major drawback is that, in most cases, you are charged for the search prior to seeing the results. This is done for obvious reasons but you can end up paying for the wrong information.
3. For most people, the Unlimited Plan is the most attractive. In this scenario, you are charged a monthly recurring fee or a one-time fee for unlimited public records searches. Please note that you are able to cancel at any time if the billing occurs monthly. For most people, this provides the best return for their dollar as it drastically limits their costs. Most sites also offer attractive introductory rates where you can try out their service for a short period of time at a very low rate. The only draw back is that you are somewhat limited in the type of queries you can run as well as the amount of data returned. For most people, however, the data offered is more than adequate for the type of information they are looking for. Again, this option is the most cost effective in our opinion. You pay a small monthly fee (usually around 20-30 dollars) or a one-time fee and you have Unlimited Public Search capabilities. Remember that on a monthly billing plan, you can easily cancel your account at any time without penalty.
Nearly every site you visit will offer an Unlimited Search upgrade at the time of purchase. This upgrade usually runs around ten dollars. So what are you really buying? It appears from the offer that you will be getting an unlimited amount of results for the type of search you are currently conducting. That may not necessarily be true! Most sites classify their data into one of two categories: 1. Direct Search data and 2. Unlimited Search data.
1. Examples of Direct Search information are Bankruptcy Records search, Birth Records search, Business Records search, Comprehensive Background search, Court Records Search, Criminal Records search, Death Index search, Email search, Federal Records search, Legal/Civil Judgments search, Marriage/Divorce search, People Search, Person Report, Property Records, Relatives search, Reverse Cell Phone search, Reverse Land line Phone search, Reverse IP search, Sex Offender Search, SSN Validation search, SSN Records search, Vessel/Watercraft Records search, and Warrant search. This information is much more expensive or difficult to access and thus cannot be offered in a truly "unlimited" fashion.
2. Examples of Unlimited Search reports may include Address history, age, date of birth, marital status, phone number(s), possible relatives and associates, property records, business searches, neighborhood checks, reverse IP search, people searches by name, phone and address.
So if you choose to pay for the "Unlimited" upgrade. Be aware that you will only have unlimited access to a subset of information. You will still be charged for each "Direct Search" you conduct.
So based on what you just read, why would anyone want to pay extra for the Unlimited service? The answer... because it can save you a ton of money! The trick is to use the Unlimited Search upgrade as a starting point for your Direct Searches. For example, if you want to do a Criminal Records search on a person by the name of John Smith who you know lives in a specific town in Illinois, you would use the Unlimited Search tool to make sure you have found the correct John Smith and then you would know that your Direct Search results will not be in vain.