Legitimate Background Check Questions Answers

As we have discussed at length (here, here and here), a background check comes in all different shapes and sizes. The range includes everything from a $10 background check you can find on the Internet to a pre-employment background check (which typically lacks depth) to an FBI-like background investigation, which would cost a few hundred thousand dollars.

While I would argue that a $10 background investigation (or even worse, a “free” background check) is almost completely useless, regardless of what type of background check you do, there are a few basic questions that every background check should answer.

Are there any serious issues in the person’s past?

Not only are you making sure that you are not dealing with the proverbial “ax murderer,” but you also want to make sure that you are not dealing with somebody who has been charged with or convicted of any serious crimes.

The investigation may turn up a history of drug dealing, petty theft or indecent exposure — or even serious offenses like grand theft, larceny or assault. Even if these issues occurred quite some time ago, they can be quite revealing (repeat offender numbers are staggering).

For example, a major city leasing land to a private company would be interested to know that the CEO of that private company is a convicted felon.

The trouble is that most low-cost background checks are so poor at identifying criminal records, they aren’t even worth using.

Most low-cost background checks are so poor at identifying criminal records, they aren’t even worth using.

Is the person who they say they are?

In the simplest terms, you want to make sure that the person’s name, date of birth, address history and Social Security number match the person they claim to be. Effectively, you want to make sure that you are not dealing with a complete con artist.

In addition to confirming some basic details, every effort should be made to verify details of the subject’s employment history, education history or, if applicable, professional licensing.

Recently, we were asked to conduct a background check on an individual whom somebody had met through a dating site. We were able to confirm that the person really did exist, that she lived where she said she lived, and that she wasn’t an ax murderer. But we also found that she was not a licensed nurse (as she had claimed) and that she didn’t work for the local hospital where she said she worked.

In another case, we were able to determine that our client’s fiancé had been married and divorced three times, despite the fact that the prospective groom claimed to have never been married.

In both cases, these were some pretty serious warning flags.

Are there any potential warning signs of what is to come, or other character issues that may exist?

This question is a bit more nuanced. Warning signs typically don’t slap you in the face and scream “look at me!”

What you are looking for here is a history of repeat behavior that may lead to problems — like a person who has been involved in numerous lawsuits (you might be the next on their list).

Or a history of financial troubles that may lead to bankruptcy.

Or even lifestyle issues, such as photos in far-off places, that may indicate someone living beyond their means.

Or a recent DWI may be a sign of potential alcohol problems.

Falsification of work or education history may not be the only white lie someone is telling.

It also may reveal potential issues that may be out there, but may not necessarily be widely known or publicly available. More likely than not, this type of information may only be obtained with further vetting, like through interviews or surveillance.

For example, numerous photos of someone out on the town may not be too sinister at face value, but interviews may reveal a secret drug addiction.

Closing Thoughts

The truth is that most background checks cannot confidently answer these questions, in part because answering these questions confidently comes at a price, and a “free online background check” couldn’t answer these questions in a million years.

Not only do you have to do a comprehensive criminal record search, but you need to have the knowledge and experience to be able to identify and analyze the warning signs.

More often that not, a pretty simple search can identify an individual with serious felonies or the proverbial ax murderer; but a legitimate background check will answer the more nuanced questions necessary to make critical decisions.

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5 replies
  1. Chief Milton Agay, Director of Public Safety (ret)
    Chief Milton Agay, Director of Public Safety (ret) says:

    One other thing many people don’t know or pay attention to; was someone allowed to leave a job with a resignation in order to avoid a firing and/or criminal charges. Thus they would not have to indicate they were ever “fired” on a job application.

    Another, was just touched on in the article, was a minor criminal conviction on a persons record, say a misdemeanor or even certain civil infractions. Are they the result of a plea bargain having reduced a felony, serious misdemeanor charge or of dishonesty or moral turpitude arrest (theft, indecent exposure for example) as most of the time the “charged offense” in not disclosed on an internet or basic public background check. Normally only the actual “conviction” is seen on these types of background checks. There are ways for someone that knows how to do a good an background to look deeper, but as noted would be more costly.

    Also, for public employees, was there a sudden change in employment, or end of employment with a unit of government? Often in order to avoid long termination processes government entities will “make a deal” with an employee to seal their personnel file for a resignation to avoid a firing. Again, being able to avoid having to indicate a termination when looking for another job, and preventing a background investigator from seeing their actual personnel file, even with a waiver from them. Bells should go off for someone doing a background investigation who is given a “sanitized” personnel file, or one that just basically contains dates of employment.

    And my last comment, is an applicant that shows a time gap in their work or educational history. I once had someone putting on an application, that required an accounting of the applicants time since high school, that they were on sabbatical, doing research and reviewing religious material for self improvement. They were actually incarcerated in a prison during that time, but didn’t feel they misrepresented themselves because while in prison they were reading the Bible. But absent a detailed background having been done, they avoid any mention of being convicted or incarcerated on their application.

  2. Pat McManus
    Pat McManus says:

    I may print this and ask potential clients to read it before we discuss the reason and cost of the background check. I’ve actually had clients call and think they can come in and sit at my desk with me for an hour or so while I get it done. Client satisfaction comes from setting expectations and exposing the myths about what resources are needed and how long an actual investigation of any type may take. Well said.
    Thanks Brian!

  3. David Childe
    David Childe says:

    Some of the best inputs on background investigations come from reading the court case jackets, doing a deep internet search, and speaking with former neighbors. These three things take time to do but are well worth doing.

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