DennisBeaverJune 1, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

Are you just about to click “submit” on an Internet-based “Background Search” website, checking out a possible new employee or maybe the love of your life?

We have all seen online ads, which for $20, in just a few hours time, claim to: “Accurately and reliably provide credit, information, lawsuits,  all arrests and convictions using databases from the 50 states, including felonies, misdemeanors, DUIs and sexual predators.”

Sounds like a great way of protecting yourself or your company, for only twenty bucks, right? That’s exactly what Mack thought. He is an elder in a small Central Valley church and on the selection committee for a new pastor. “We didn’t consider using a private investigator, as the online service advertised what we needed,” he told You and the Law.

It would prove to be false economy.

“One pastor impressed us so much during the interview and we were afraid of losing him to some other church. We asked him to give us 24 hours to do a background check, which we did using an online service which advertized the best database in the country and could uncover everything negative about anyone.

“Nothing bad came back, except that he did seem to move around a lot, which was explained as part of his religious devotion, and that answer pleased us all, so we gave him a yearlong contract.”

For their little church, it would prove to be a mistake of Biblical proportions.

Can’t stop talking — Spent time in jail for fraud

“With his first service, we had very bad second thoughts. He can’t stop talking — his sermons go on for almost two hours — and we discovered a nasty temper if you don’t agree with him. He will yell at you over nothing! Someone left us a voicemail that he had been arrested for beating up his wife and did time in jail!

“Hearing that, one of our members hired a private investigator and four days later we learned that the reason he moved around so much just might have had something to do with his convictions for bad checks, spousal abuse and embezzlement, not to mention being sued left and right for all kinds of things! But none of that was shown by the online service, and we feel ripped off.

“How could they have missed all that negative information?” Elder Mack asked.

Online background check services inadequate

As a private investigator and research administrator for Southern California-based Parker and Associates Professional Investigations, Jane Parker hears that same question “several times a week, when customers learn just how inadequate many of these online background check services really are.

“You cannot afford to hire or get married to trouble, and yet, so many employers — or folks with a bit of money who are about to say ‘I do’ — so often fail to protect themselves by having a comprehensive background check conducted before taking that next step. Regardless of the advertising claims, $20 often buys you a false sense of security,” she observes, explaining why:

“Less than 40 percent of courts across the nation report to various data providers. While you can run social security numbers — seeing where someone has lived for the past many years — real due diligence requires going much deeper. You have to send in researchers at the county courthouse level, looking into the court files to verify that there is nothing there which does not come up on public records.

“So, the problem with these cheap online background checks is that they tend to be strictly data driven, and unless you pay them a lot more, they do not send in actual researchers to probe at a much deeper level. This means that significant information is left out,” she stressed.

“Just because something does not come up on a public record is no assurance at all. That’s an important point to keep in mind. You cannot just trust data alone!”

Ask this question

“You must always ask, ‘Where are you getting your information from?’

“If they say ‘It is all obtained online,’ this is just an invitation to trouble. It will almost always be a less than thorough background check, and could leave you wide open for all kinds of fines and penalties under the Fair Credit Report Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among others.

So, how much does it cost to have a real background check conducted and how long will it take? What will it reveal that data searches alone will not? What information must you already have before speaking with a research company? And how can you find a qualified company?

We’ll have the answers — and a very strange story — next time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.