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August 9, 2016

There has been a lot in the news about background checks lately. And while most of that has been focused on background screening for gun ownership, corporate background checks are a critical tool in helping companies prevent loss or employee harm. However, it’s been our experience that when companies do the checks themselves, especially small to mid-sized operations, a lot gets missed. Here are the top things that companies miss, why, and what can be done.

Aliases: What’s in a Name?

Question…what is your name? That’s an easy one, right? Not so fast. Do you use a nickname, such as Mike instead of Michael or Liz instead of Elizabeth? Perhaps you are married and changed your last name to that of your spouse. Maybe you’ve done that more than once. While unintentional, you may have a trail of aliases that make searching your history difficult. Court records use the name provided on documents as the permanent part of your background. 

For example, a potential employee may have a driver’s license in your state under the name Mike Smith. You can use that information to search for any criminal activity. However, Mr. Smith may have had a past license under the name Michael Smith, or Michael A. Smith, or Mike A. Smith. To the court records, that is a total of four people, not one. It gets even more confusing when someone changes their name for any reason, including maiden name to married name…and back in cases of divorce. With all the different name combinations people use, what’s the best way to find full information about the person applying for a job at your company? “A Social Security Trace is a tool we use to discover a person’s background, ” said Marsha Hernandez, Managing Director of Pinkerton’s Employment Screening Division. “While they may change their name through the years, their social security number never changes. So, we can pull information from that number and get a much more accurate picture of an applicant’s past.” But just knowing all of their names is not enough because records are very geographically limited. Finding out all the places a person has lived is also essential.

Location, Location, Location….

If everyone was born, raised and lived their entire lives in the same location, background checks would be much easier. But the reality is, people move…a lot. Think of your own background and count how many different addresses you’ve had. It adds up, doesn’t it? Determining a person’s true background takes some time and effort…and money. “Too often, companies will forgo a deep background check because of the cost. Aliases are one reason, too many names to search. But location is a problem too. If you have to search addresses for each separate alias, that can add up.” In the United States, we recommend people start background searches at the county level if they can. However, there are more than 3, 100 counties in the U.S. So, searching all of them for each alias is just not practical. 

Start with their current county of record and then search at the state level, moving on to each state in which the applicant has lived for the past seven years. “County databases in the US are usually the most accurate, ” recommends Hernandez. “State database accuracy varies depending on how often they are updated. While some state databases are updated in near real-time, others are only updated annually. A crime committed after the last update could be almost a year old by the time it’s part of the person’s searchable record.” Criminal background and location checks can be done through public records in most countries. But a mistake many companies make is not verifying information potential employees provide in their applications.

The Truth Is Out There

9% of job applicants falsely claimed they had a college degree, listed false employers, or identified jobs

that didn’t exist.  

*Source: Resume Inflation: Two Wrongs May Mean No Rights, by Barbara Kat Repa

Employment background and educational information are standard sections of hiring applications. They are so standard that a lot of companies take it for granted the applicant is telling the truth when filling it out so, they fail to verify the information.

34% of all application forms contain outright lies about experience, education, and ability to perform

essential functions on the job.  

*Source: Wall Street Journal, 2003

Several years ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was rocked by a scandal when it was discovered that its dean, Marilee Jones, had falsified her resume and employment application to land the position. Further, she had perpetuated the falsification for the next 28 years while at M.I.T., never correcting the information. A quick call to any of the three colleges from which she alleged she had graduated would have uncovered the falsehood, since she not only did not graduate from any of them but, in fact, had no college degree at all. “Many times applicants will falsify small parts of their background, like the time and duration of where they worked, just to make their application more appealing or to raise fewer questions, ” says Hernandez. “A call to their former employers can clear that up but, many times the hiring company won’t bother. While companies won’t normally release information about why an employee no longer works for them, they will provide basic title and date information. And that can help employers discover discrepancies.”

No Drug Testing

Testing for illegal substance use can be an effective way to avoid issues like employee injury in the future. However, it is also expensive to manage an effective, ongoing substance abuse detection system, which is a main reason why many companies do not implement one. Hiring someone to manage the system is one cost while the testing and results gathering is the other. It also requires knowing all the laws pertaining to legal and illegal drugs, which has been changing lately with the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use in several US states. “There are certainly costs involved, ” says Hernandez. “But the risks, especially for employees using machinery or driving vehicles, can be great. Some insurance companies even require a substance abuse detection system to be in place.”

Reputation Management

A “soft” but still real risk is that of damage to a company’s reputation if they hire someone with a controversial past or an association with groups that have questionable reputations. “Especially with executive hiring, knowing what a person brings to the table in terms of potential backlash based on their past is essential to avoiding public relations issues in the future, ” explains Hernandez. When doing a background check, Pinkerton can do a media search to see what, if any, content has been published about an individual and report the findings to the hiring company. An association search will also reveal if a person has ties to organizations that are not in line with the company’s reputation. “This is a step that a lot of companies just won’t take the time to do. But it’s worth it as another way of ensuring the hiring you do will not backfire.” Many companies do an outstanding job of pre-screening applicants on their own or with help from Pinkerton or another firm. We stress to our clients, though, that there is no foolproof method for predicting behavior once a person is hired. 

The best you can do is be vigilant in following a background screening process that aims to mitigate risks as much as possible. Learn more about Pinkerton’s Background Check Services.

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