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Background Checks; Lots of Sizzle but No Steak

Background Checks Marketed to the Consumer: Lots of Sizzle but no Steak

The expose of by Kirsten Grind, Gregory Zuckerman and Shane Shifflett in the March 9 - 10th, 2019 edition of The Wall Street Journal Engenders Everything that is wrong with the Background Check Industry aimed at the American consumer.

The low cost background check and why it may be better to not run one at all then to give the consumer a false sense of security. According to the Wall Street Journal article “ suggests that customers purchase additional screening packages, which cost $59 to $300.” If you were to google “background checks” you will find Ads touting background checks for as low as $10.00. The problem with their pricing structure is that thorough and diligent background investigations should start at the $300-$500 range (depending on the State) and more in-depth background investigations continue up to the $1,500 - $2,500 range. To be clear, I am not beating up on They have responded to the Wall Street Journal Article by altering their website, and they now offer a very good explanation of what is offered in their background screening packages and the limitations of their packages, and they are outsourced to a highly reputable firm.

Why so much money?

If you are in the densely populated Northeast you are less than an hour’s drive from another State, and much of that drive time is traffic related not distance.In order to be diligent they should be checking the bordering States regardless if the subject resided there.That means your direct costs alone on Criminal Record Searches are going to run $125-$175, if there is a “no record.”Don’t forget that each state has different fees and definition of what constitutes a separate search that requires an additional fee.Married and divorced twice in New York, that’s three separate searches at a cost of $195.00. Let’s say there is a criminal record found. Before you can take an adverse action (not hire the person) you must send a pre-adverse action notice to the subject and pull the actual criminal court file and verify that it is indeed your subject, and the conviction is or isn’t being appealed, wasn’t overturned by a higher court, nor did the judge rule that it hasn’t been sealed for employment purposes. That just refers to criminal records, Civil Litigation checks both as a plaintiff and defendant are frequently the neglected part of consumer background checks. If the subject has sued their last three employers or was sued for negligence, they may not be the best hire for taking care of grandma. The screening firm is sending runners to the local or county courts houses to check for criminal records where they aren’t available on-line or through a central depository. Frequently independent contractors, to be sure, many of these are hardworking, diligent individuals, but when you have a list of 100-250 names to search, and they are being paid by the name, errors are going to happen. The consumer thinks okay, according to my $59 background check they aren’t a sex offender, they have no criminal history, driving record is clear it’s now safe to leave grandma with them. But what did they miss, were they an RN whose license was revoked for drug abuse? Did they live in Connecticut but were convicted in New York for possession with intent to distribute cocaine? So when Grandma says my jewelry is disappearing are they going to believe Grandma or think the background check came back clean, so Grandma is just being forgetful until all of her irreplaceable family heirlooms (valuable or not) are gone!? On the other hand if they didn’t run that $59.00 or $300 background check, would they be extra vigilant when Grandma says “I can’t find a necklace?”

The False Positive.

You’ve just spent $59.00 for an on-line background check and person you wanted to hire has a criminal record, so you don’t hire them. We’ll leave the Fair Credit Reporting Act issues alone for now and talk about my friend “Bob.” Bob is a real person, I’ve changed his name, but everything I tell you about Bob's experience is true. Bob works in the defense industry. The nature of Bob’s work requires that he have and maintain a government security clearance. Security clearances must be renewed every so often. Among other things, Bob cannot have a criminal record. Bob does not have a criminal record. But Bob got curious and if you were to believe the on-line $79 background check he ran on himself, he has a criminal record. Perhaps someone with the same name as Bob has a criminal record. But it isn’t Bob. So much for accuracy of the $79.00 background check.

The Lazy Private Investigator.

Private Investigators have access to many wonderful on-line services that are tailored to our needs. They will compile public records for us into 40-50 Page Reports that we can print-out on our letterhead or with our logos printed on each page.They are wonderful tools. But what they are not is an investigation.They are not Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Compliant. They are not exhaustive. They can be outdated. Yet there are plenty of Private Investigators who sell them for $75.00 - $150.00 as Background Checks, as Asset Searches, as skip tracing reports, without verifying the information contained from original source materials. We do no one any favors by taking shortcuts that do not exist.

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