Background Checks Can Prevent Future Headaches

Hiring the wrong person can damage a store’s reputation, lower morale, stunt business growth, and even result in the theft of money and merchandise. Background checks increase your odds of hiring the right person.

Thanks to the Internet, conducting a background check is no longer a time-consuming and expensive process. But before you use the ’Net to gather information about a potential employee, the law requires that you ask the applicant to sign a release. Check with your attorney to make sure the format and content of your release form comply with local and federal law.

Here are six online options that cost less than $20, plus one traditional method:

Due Diligence (www.diligence.com) can search outstanding warrants (people who are currently wanted by the authorities for major crimes) and identify people with a criminal conviction filed in a court. The service performs statewide searches in 18 states. Countywide searches are more generally available and uncover criminal activity in about 10% of searches. Nationwide criminal searches are restricted to the FBI and law-enforcement agencies.

Due Diligence checks felony and misdemeanor records and can provide the case number, charges, arrest date, file date, disposition date, verdict, sentence, and details of the court case. Most searches trace back only seven years, but you can order more extensive searches. A typical search takes one to four days.

Due Diligence searches for civil records in the upper court of a given county but can’t search statewide civil records or lower courts such as small claims court. Searches cost $18 per county. Extra charges apply for searching beyond seven years and for including additional people ($15 each) in the same transaction. For information, call (406) 728-0001.

KnowX (www.knowx.com) offers databases of public records. The background check option includes lawsuits, judgments, business dealings, liens, and bankruptcies. Searches cost $1 to $5 per database and return a list of matches. Viewing the details of a particular match costs between $6.95 and $15.

United States Mutual Association (www.usmutual.com) is a national affiliation of companies that provides employment screening services, primarily for department stores and high- volume retailers. The organization offers independent jewelers a valuable resource: access to confidential reports on employees who were fired by retailers for dishonesty. Because many of these employees are not prosecuted, a criminal background check won’t catch them, but their information would reside in USMA’s database. Files come from thousands of retailers nationwide and go back seven years. Fees are approximately $4 per inquiry.

Employers who obtain information from USMA must agree to submit information about any of their employees who were fired for dishonesty. “If you fish in the pond, you must be agreeable to stocking it,” says Robert Ralicki, USMA’s marketing vice president. USMA also provides criminal-conviction searches for approximately $12 to $15 per county. Call (800) 860-0343 for information.

Credit agencies. Credit information remains a reliable element of background checks. You can check an applicant’s credit online at Experian (www.experian.com), Equifax (www.equifax.com), and Trans Union (www.transunion.com). Searches are governed by legal protections for current or potential employees. For information about the Fair Credit Reporting Act, visit www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fcra.htm. Call Experian at (888) 397-7342, Equifax at (800) 997-2493, and Trans Union at (312) 258-1717.

Social Security records. You can verify a job applicant’s Social Security number and ID by visiting the Social Security Administration online at www.ssa.gov/employer_info/quick_ref_guide.html. Searches reveal that applicants with criminal records often use Social Security numbers of deceased persons. For information, call (800) 772-6270.

Web searches. Use Internet search engines to see if an applicant’s name turns up any negative news items. For example, go into www.infoseek.com and type the name inside quotation marks. Although this rarely reveals anything, it takes only a few minutes and is worth the effort.

You can also search the Nexis/Lexis database for criminal case histories and news articles that may uncover illegal activity by an applicant. Most universities and local libraries offer the service for a fee. For information, call (800) 346-9759.

Private investigation firms. Jewelry retailers who want to move beyond the inexpensive online route to more in-depth background checks can engage professional help. Call the Jewelers’ Security Alliance at (800) 537-0067 for referrals to private investigation firms with experience serving the jewelry industry.

Miles Z. Epstein, a freelance writer in Park Ridge, N.J., is a frequent contributor to JCK.