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Thorough Background Check

A North Carolina woman called a few weeks ago. She had paid a local investigator $2,500 to do some surveillance on her ex-husband’s new live-in friend. She had also asked the investigator to conduct a background check on the friend to see if he had any criminal history. After meeting the friend on several occasions, she was concerned that he might have a criminal history. After a few days of surveillance, she was disappointed that it didn’t turn up much of anything.

I tried to explain that surveillance is hit or miss; it’s hard to blame an investigator for not finding the kind of information that the woman was hoping to find. Surveillance is almost always a crapshoot. You have to manage with the cards you’re dealt. The timing may not be right. The person may not be very active or doing the things that you think he or she may be doing. And there seems to be this vast disconnect between how difficult surveillance can really be and what the client expects to obtain from it (hint: it’s not like what you see on TV!).

But the woman was particularly vexed by the so-called background check performed by the investigator. The investigator had submitted a report to the woman that was 50+ pages long and filled with a bunch of information that was difficult to read—data that she knew wasn’t all that accurate and didn’t provide any real analysis by the investigator.

It was what I would describe as a data dump: a bunch of raw data from a number of sources including criminal records, address history, property records and the like that was effectively “dumped” into a report.

When the woman forwarded the report to me, I recognized it immediately. It was a “comprehensive report” from one of the main database providers for investigators that cost less than $20. These reports are extremely valuable to an investigator, but they are a mere starting point for conducting a real background check.

The client was convinced that the ex-husband’s new live-in friend had some criminal issues or a deep dark secret in his past, and the client was not confident that the report provided by the investigator was reliable.

“Comprehensive” background check reports may not be so comprehensive

After seeing the report, I confirmed her suspicions. These types of reports are not comprehensive whatsoever. In order to do a thorough criminal background check, research would need to be completed in each county or state that the person has resided. Specifically, the individual had resided in a number of states for which the comprehensive report did not have any mention of criminal coverage whatsoever, such as Illinois, New York and Connecticut.

In order to conduct criminal background searches in those particular places, separate and specific criminal searches would have to be conducted either at the specific court or in specific databases that cover those areas. For example, a New York criminal record search can only be completed with the New York State Office of Court Administration.

At the end of the day, after conducting a thorough criminal search in each of the necessary counties and states, we were unable to find any criminal history. However, the woman was comforted by the fact that we were able to thoroughly check criminal records in all the places where the ex-husband’s new live-in friend had resided.

I’ve talked about this a number of times on this blog (here, here and here): a “background check” to someone else might be a couple of Google searches or running a name through a $10 database. A thorough background check is much more than that; it gives you the confidence that there are no issues that you need to worry about.

The problem is that most people are unwilling to pay the fees to do an exhaustive search.

If you are willing to accept that a cheap background check is really not all that comprehensive and may not find some critical information, you can save yourself some money by going that route.

But if you want any level of confidence in the findings, you are better off paying for a thorough background check, because not doing so may haunt you in the future.

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7 replies
  1. Private detective Liverpool
    Private detective Liverpool says:

    Its even tougher in the UK where there is much less open source data, and what there is can be dreadfully inaccurate. Background checks here can be very time consuming, and not always as fruitful as hoped.

  2. Jimmy Maheux
    Jimmy Maheux says:

    Well I would agree to most of the things stated from the case of the wife who wanted to know the background check of the husband friend.

    But I would not agree at all that a comprehensive report are not useful or accurate. First when getting a Comp. Report any legit Investigator would not provide raw data’s to a client. Comp. Report are extremely important. useful and a must have when conducting information on any subject.

    Now that PI who gave the client raw DATA was not an experience Investigator or the story is fiction!!

    When I provide any report to my client, not only do we make sure that we compare with at least 1 other provider but we do the old school great investigative work. Every states, every counties of which the subject appeared in a C.P. is research to ensure that we have everything and all information accurate and most importantly complete. A report given to a client should have only the information that are relevant to the case. Every private information, locations, social security numbers, names…. of all other person that have nothing to do with the case are removed. Also social security numbers should not be provided to a client unless it is used for legal purpose and delegation.
    SSN are only to ensure that it is the right subject and match to the DOB and when, where it was issued is another way to ensure it is the right person.

    The best way to keep clients and to get more business from their referral is to provide a report that is:
    1) Case Information with names, adress, email, phone number, attorney (if any)…
    2) Easy to understand format
    3)In order by dates / time.
    4) Have a summary and have a table of contents.
    5) Conclusion
    6) Recommendation if needed to better the case.

    It takes us hours to put a report in perfect order and ready for the client.
    Template are great and using a case management provider or creating your own is a must have.

    Pictures, Videos, with time, dated in a mp4, mov, pdf… or format that is readable with most equipment.

    One more thing, I always tell my clients that Rushing an investigation is never a good thing. If they have a timeframe and most have the information I tell them that it would require more work or investigators to cover everything to meet their timeframe or deadlines.

    So that’s my 2 cents.
    Quality, accuracy, complete are what I think is the best report.

    After 17 years, I can say that getting it right was a journey that will never end with all the new types of cases and technology available.

    Every clients are now investigators with the data providers to the public and it suck because I know a few that are not only extremely accurate and complete but available for less than $50.

    It is up to us to put our career back into a professional services and not a has been industry.

    Clients need to understand that Whatever they get may be great but not so good when it is not admissible in court and even often a crime and breach of privacy.

    “The truth shall set you free”

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Just to clarify Jimmy – the private investigator she hired had 25 years in law enforcement and had been in the private sector, running a business for more than 20 years. I know, because I have seen the report. They handed her a TLO report. This is not a matter of not having experience.

      I see this all the time. This is not the first, nor the last time I will see it.

      • Amy Drescher
        Amy Drescher says:

        Indeed, Brian, you have covered this topic many times.

        It never ceases to astound, if not, sicken me that “experienced” investigators sell themselves and their TLO/IRB Report as be-all, and end-all.

        I’ve concluded it’s not necessarily because they are lazy; it’s that they are greedy and flippin’ clueless.

        As recently as yesterday-a “respected” Nashville agency provided my client with a gazillion page TLO Comprehensive for $500. SCREAM!

        Blah blah blah….

  3. Kalam
    Kalam says:

    Could you please advise which “comprehensive report” could give 50+ pages of reports for less than $20? We do KYC verification on our clients. Sometimes, this kind of data dump could be useful. Thanks very much.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      In the U.S. there are dozens of providers that provide this information including (in no particular order) TracersInfo, Accurint, TLO, Lexis Nexis and Skipsmasher.

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