What You And Your Client Need to Know
By Kevin Conrad
Complete Security Investigations in Dallas Texas
Let's pretend that you're
a hiring professional working in a
medium to large sized company. You have placed your ads for a new
employee on all the important sites, and the response has been
fantastic. After weeks of interviewing, you decide on one person and
offer him or her the job, contingent upon the results of a background
So now what do you do? Most likely, your company has already set up
some kind of a screening process, but how much do you really know
about it? Do you know what kinds of searches are being performed? Do
you understand what the search actually does, where it searches, what
it looks for, and what the results contain? Has your screening
company told you what constitutes a thorough background screening?
I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but the answer is probably not.
I imagine that the conversation went something like this:
Hiring Professional (HP) - "Hello, I need some help screening my
candidates. I Googled background checks and found your company."
Screening Company (SC) - "Great, we can help you out. What kinds
of searches are you interested in performing?
HP - "Well, I need their criminal background checked."
SC - "We can do that. We offer a national search that includes sex
offender registries covering all 50 states. It sounds like it would
be good for you, and it only costs $20."
HP – "Really? Wow, I would have thought it cost more than that.
do I need to do to sign up?" Now be honest; I know this is a really
shortened version of the conversation, but the gist of it is probably
I've been in this business for long enough to know how the sales
process works; the sales force is encouraged to give as little
information as possible on what really happens with the search, and
the accuracy of it. You may be asking yourself why that is, and it's
simple: the profit margin on the database searches is extremely high,
and the results are instant.
Hiring professionals and coordinators of volunteer programs are often
impatient; they want to get the results back, hire the individual and
move on to the next project as quickly as they can, and as cheaply as
possible. Does this cover your butt with the bosses? Yep, it sure
does, until there is either an issue with the employee, or new
information on their past comes to light. The results from this can
be disastrous.What is Wrong with Background Screening? There are several
things that I consider "wrong" with the background screening
industry. Some of the issues stem from misinformation, and some stem from
bad business practices. But the bottom line is that most of the companies
in the United States are not getting good information.
The biggest issue in my opinion is the misconceptions
concerning database searches. There are companies all over the place that
sell criminal record searches that are "national". But there
is no such thing as a national database search, period. Even the famous
FBI database search, the NCIC, has flaws. In 2005, the National Association
of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) commissioned a study on the
accuracy of the NCIC and the results were shocking to say the least. The
study found that in a significant percentage of searches, the FBI database
returned erroneous or incomplete information. The study found that the
FBI data lacks proper
identifiers to credibly link a criminal record with the subject of
Another finding concerned the large number of missed records and
false positives generated. For example, when analyzing a sampling of
93,274 background checks in the state of Florida, the research
revealed that the FBI database missed 11.7 percent of the criminal
records that it should have identified. Even worse, of the more than
10,000 criminal records found, 5.5 percent were falsely attributed to
those that were not convicted of a crime.
The statewide databases are suspect as well. For instance,
did you know that the State of Texas does not require, by law, its
counties to report their records to a state repository? If you are a
company here in Texas, and you are performing a statewide search, the
news is not good. The Texas statewide search is estimated to be only
60 percent accurate. How is that for comforting? Florida also has
severe issues with its statewide database, yet there are companies
that still access that Florida state database. Guess what? That
database has not been updated since December of 2002, and it's no
longer being updated. Florida has changed its statewide search; you
now have to access the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) to
run a statewide search, and the cost of running that search is significantly
The problem with the national database searches is that the
information contained in those searches is only as good as the
information put there, and also how often the information is updated.
Here is something to think about. The ONLY difference in the national
database searches is the number of data sources that the company uses
to get the information. The information all comes from the same
source. As far as the updating of these databases goes, ON AVERAGE the
records are updated only on a monthly basis. However, they are typically
only updated quarterly or annually.
You may be asking yourself what does this have to do with me and my situation?
Simply put, you are going to miss records. Let's say that
you interviewed me on Monday. I feel like I nailed the interview and
that you're going to hire me for my dream job, so I go out with my
buddies to the local sports bar to watch Monday Night Football.
Several hours, and several celebratory beers later, I leave the bar
and get arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). As the hiring
company that uses a database search, at best, you will not know about
it for 30 days after the date of arrest. How are you supposed to make
an informed decision based on outdated criminal information? You can't.
What Makes A Thorough Screening?
If you ask any reputable background screening company what
you need to do to make sure that you're screening candidates
thoroughly, you would probably hear the same thing over and over
again, with small variations. Here is what I recommend. First of all,
you need to understand that the ideal background search is accurate,
comprehensive, consistent, timely, and of course legal. Coordinating
all of these factors is expensive and time consuming (usually one to
three business days). But getting the most up to date and accurate
information available on your candidates is too important to the
employment process to let budgetary or time constraints limit the
The general rule of thumb that I tell my clients is to plan on
spending about two days of the candidate's salary on a good
background screening. Is it always going to cost that much? No, most
of the time it will be much less, but depending on where the person
has lived, and what searches you order, it may get close. If your
company is not spending anywhere near this amount, you may need to
check into exactly what you are getting for your money. Call your
screening company and ask them to give you search descriptions for
all the searches that you are currently performing.
Maybe the most critical search in the process is the Social
Security Number trace. This search gives me all the information that
I need to run a thorough screening for you. It tells me whether the
social security number that the individual gave you is valid, and it
tells me the year and the state it was issued in. Most importantly,
it gives me every address, in every city, state and county that the
person has resided in. You would be surprised how many candidates
omit the places that they have been in trouble in on their
applications. No matter what searches you do, no matter what company you
use, make absolutely sure that you run this search.
Next, I take the information that I gained from the Social
Security Number trace and I run county level criminal searches. I
recommend that you run AT LEAST the most recent counties of residence
in the last seven years. To be very thorough, run every county of residence
in the last 10 years. The beauty of these searches is that the county
level is where the records originate from; there is no
delay in getting the information from the court to the county clerk.
I have a researcher physically go to the courthouse, search the name,
date of birth and Social Security Number, pull the file on your
candidate, and report back on their findings. The county level
searches are the only way to get the most accurate and up to date
information available. Are they more expensive? Sure they are, but
are they worth it to you and your company? You bet.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs what a screening
company can and cannot report back to you. Within a seven year scope,
I can report back to you anything that is on the record. That means you
will get arrests, convictions, deferred adjudications, not guilty verdicts,
pretty much everything that shows up. After seven years, all you will
get is convictions.
Once the county level criminal searches are complete, then it
is time to run your ancillary searches. These would be selected by
you, the employer, and would depend on the position you're hiring
for. For instance, you would want to run a sex offender registry
search in all states of residence if your candidate is going to be
working with the elderly or with children in any capacity. A motor
vehicle report would be important to you if the person will be
driving for the company for any reason. If you were hiring an
accountant, I would suggest running a pre-employment credit check on
them. If they can't manage their own money, do you really want them
managing yours? There are a lot of ancillary searches, including
credit checks, sex offender registry searches, violent offender
registry searches, motor vehicle reports, workers compensation
searches, civil records, drug screening, and education and employment
Some employers prefer to do their own employment
verifications, but others have found that it is more cost effective
to outsource that part of the hiring process to screening companies.
Also, many employers don't perform civil searches at all, while
others want to know if their candidate has ever been sued for
anything. It's a matter of preference for employers on how much they
would like to know. For instance, if you interview a candidate, run a
background check and come up with several old charges, you may want
to run a federal criminal search as well, just to make sure that
he/she has never been prosecuted on federal charges anywhere.What to Look
for in a Screening Company
When it comes to finding a
company to work with, there are several
factors to consider. You have to find a company you feel comfortable
with, and that you feel you can trust. After all, you will be sending
them very sensitive information, so identities of individuals are at
stake here. You also want to ask that company to send you either a
sample report, or to run a couple of free searches for you so that
you can familiarize yourself with their process and get a first hand
look at how thorough their searches are.
If you decide to ask them to run a few free searches for you, make
sure that you send them over information on someone that you already
have results on, that way you can check them against what you already
know. Ask them if they are a member of the NAPBS. Most reputable companies
are, and they are proud of it, so they will usually have the NAPBS logo
on their site. However, the easiest way to find a member of NAPBS is to
go to their website at www.NAPBS.com. On that site there is a link that
you can use to find a background screening company in your area.
Make sure you ask a lot of questions. Ask them about their
online security measures, how you submit your requests, how they
return your results, and the process that they use for ensuring
accuracy. Let them know how important this is to you. Have them walk
you through the ordering process online for the first couple of
searches to make sure that you understand how it all works. They
should have no problem giving you a demonstration even before you
sign up. Ask if they have a contract, because some companies do, and
some don't. I can do it either way. However, I have had companies
that demand a contract and some that don't even want to hear the word
contract. If they don't have a contract, they should at least have a
service agreement that basically says that they are going to abide by
the FCRA, and they assume that you are going to do the same.
Find out what other resources they offer. Do they have a glossary of
terms? How about downloadable release forms? Check to see if they
have downloadable pre-adverse action letters, and adverse action
letters. In order to be compliant, you'll need all of these. What are
their identifiers to make sure that they have the right person? Are
all of their searches done in "real time" or do they rely on
databases? If you decide to run a database search, ask them to send
you a search description that details everything that is covered and
where the data comes from.
All of these things will help to make sure that you are
keeping your employees and clients safe. These days, the only thing
you can be sure of is that when it comes to people, you just never
know. As it says on my website, check them, before they cost you.
Kevin Conrad is the President and Owner of Complete Security
Investigations in Dallas Texas. He is a licensed private
investigator. His contact information is available at www.csidfw.com
Complete Security Investigations in Dallas Texas