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Friday, December 12, 2014

Just checking local Internet records is not enough

Service industries that put employees in personal/private contact with clients and/or a client's property are being scrutinized for not only failing to conduct background checks but for doing them improperly. Most recently a national ride sharing company received criticism for both. At first, the company was not screening its drivers, which resulted in employing drivers with violent criminal pasts and questionable driving records. They upgraded their screening process, however, the background investigations were not thorough. Checks were only being made for in State violations with no verification of the person’s identity or the records.

This is just one example of a service industry company not ensuring they have a proper screening process. With Internet access to almost anything, most small employers try to do the background screenings themselves, only checking the local records for which they have access. This is not a thorough background investigation. Much can be missed. Records can exist in all States, at all levels of jurisdictions. Matching records to employees and understanding what the records mean are paramount. (What is the price of not doing a backgroundcheck? July 9, 2013)

Employers need to make sure that their vendors are checking all jurisdictions where the employee lives or has lived, backing up the findings with court records, and verifying that the record is actually that of the employee.
Don’t risk your business by taking shortcuts.

Friday, October 17, 2014


We often have clients who come to us to perform self background checks. They have had an indiscretion long ago and wonder if it will appear during a background check. Or they have had records expunged and want to make sure that searches will not reveal the records. The search techniques used and the diligence of the background check company can often uncover records thought to be vaporized by the delete key. As records become more digitized it is increasingly more difficult to erase yourself from the digital world. Just like the picture from a sophomore year party that a friend posted on your favorite social media page, once it’s out there-it’s out there. Removing it can be difficult and time consuming.


Similar to those unwanted pictures, records of your past, even expunged records, can be found in the digital world. The legal term “expunged” has different definitions in different States. Some allow for the records to be sealed and treat the case as it never happened. Some change the conviction to dismissed but the other details of the case are the same. In Maryland, it means to remove from public inspection. Although records are expunged, they are filed somewhere.  

Once you receive an order to have your record expunged and it is served, the judicial system possessing the record will remove it from its online court access. Anyone searching your name would not see the record. Contrary to what the fast working TV detectives would have us believe, there is not one government sourced database of criminal records. Records of arrests and adjudications are kept at the local courthouses and county jurisdictions. The closest to any semblance of a national database is the FBI’s fingerprint database, to which only law enforcement has access. [See our April 11, 2013 blog- “National” record checks] Third party vendors must rely on court reported data offered by State and local governments.

As with your personal information and shopping habits, court data is downloaded and bought and sold every day. Vendors collect the data from several sources. As the data is shared and stored and restored it ends up in narrower access points allowing for the production of a single report.  If the vendor then resells that report, the record moves to another database. You get the idea. Just like the unwanted picture, although expunged from the government files, your record is sitting in who knows how many vendors databases waiting to be accessed. 


The criminal record you had expunged was downloaded, bought, shared, compiled, stored, all the digital speak etceteras long before the record was expunged. The best, and least expensive, way to rid the record from existence is to deal with the source vendor directly. Most companies that deal in personal information are forthright about the data that they dispense and pride themselves on accuracy, which means they are more than willing to help. Sending them a copy of the expungement order along with a request to have the record removed usually will suffice. The problem is finding all the places where the record is stored. This can be a tedious and long process for the individual. There are companies that will chase the record and do the work for you, but of course fees are involved.

The bottom line is, you cannot be 100% sure that an expunged record will not turn up in a background search. Be honest about the existence of a record with the requester and provide copies of the expungement order when the record is requested.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The thrill of the hunt

One of our specialized services is locating people. This service is performed on a regular basis with much success for business and individual clients. One of the most common requests received are to locate estranged family members. Whether it is a child or grandchild, most just want the peace of mind that the person is OK. However, domestic locates have myriad liability issues.

Why won’t you help me find…

We are frequently asked why we do not always accept domestic locate cases.  Although we try to vet the client’s reasoning as thoroughly as possible. There is always the chance hidden agendas could be missed. We do not want our skills to be the reason someone is harmed. Nor would we want to hear about harm coming to someone because of the lead that we provided.

Most people are not trying to erase themselves from society as much as they’ve just relocated. Good investigators can easily find most people. Why the person relocated is as much a question as where they are. Some people do not want to be found or do not want to be found by particular person/s/. Defining the reason the client wants to locate the person can be tricky.  The problem lies in the fact that there are people in the world who wish to do harm to others.

Our policy is to find the individual, introduce the situation to them, and let them decide whether or not to contact the client. We do not provide the client with the person’s information until that permission is granted. In most cases, if the sought after person wanted to speak to the client they would not have gone into hiding in the first place. We have lost potential clients due to this policy. Besides our own moral standards, the United States has a very litigious environment. We cannot put ourselves in a position to be sued because of someone else’s desire to harm.


            The best moments come from the client’s emotional reaction to the find as well as the difficulty of the search. Here are some of our proudest successes.
The original owner of a 1954 class ring had ordered the ring but left school prior to receiving it. The ring traveled from Indiana and eventually ended up in the personal collection of a Maryland resident. Never really giving it a close inspection, the present owner was examining the female ring under a magnifying glass and noticed the tiny markings of a high school.  Working only off the high school name, graduation year, and initials, we were able to locate the original owner and return the ring. The original owner fell on difficult times during high school and never thought she’d ever see the ring. When she answered the telephone and heard the story, her elation and gratefulness were well worth the effort.

            A businessman sought the current contact information of a former partner from the 1980’s in order to close out old files. He came to us with a name, occupation, possible location (in 1984), and that the person was a runner up in a state beauty pageant. Through archival pageant, marriage, and newspaper records from the 1960’s we located enough information to piece together a timeline to the present. Corroborating that information we were able to locate one highly probable person, putting the client in touch with the former partner.

         We’ve located persons who defaulted on payments, former employees, and condo owners who have changed their contact information. There are many instances where a person is sought outside of a domestic issue. You don’t know your chances of locating people until you talk to professionals.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gauging one's appearance

Dining at a fine fast food establishment known for their customer service and the founder’s high moral standards, it was noticed that the server had a rather large flesh colored earring. Looking closer, it wasn’t an earring, but a nickel sized plastic plug to close a hole in the server’s earlobe. It was interesting but soon forgotten. A week later, a HVAC technician arrived for a service call. The technician had the same kind of plug in his ear. Remembering the fast food server brought up the question-Are the earlobe plugs imposed by the companies or voluntary?

Called ear gauges, the devices are used to incrementally stretch a pierced hole in one’s earlobe to a desired size. The stretching is a form of body piercing and has grown in popularity over the last decade. Most people wear the gauge in the hole, while others wear larger, ornamental designs.

One’s ability to perform a job should not be based solely on their appearance. But employers can have policies in regards to image, professional attire, and safety in the workplace. These policies have to be equitably enforced and cannot discriminate against ethnic or religious appearances. The policies differ with how each company addresses and defines appearance.

In regards to ear gauges, an informal survey of local businesses found that they would not desire an employee with gauges. Citing the image that is presented would not reflect the image of the company. A few would not mind as long as the employee did not engage the public and there were no safety concerns. One would allow piercings but specifically had a policy against gauges.

That seems to answer the question about the employees seen with the flesh colored earlobe plugs. Businesses seem to be more tolerable about ear and facial piercings than they are with the gauges.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What not to wear

The examination of the California tech explosion of the 1990’s introduced the world not only to the “dot-com” industry but also to casual business attire. The staunch days of business suits gave way to casual Fridays and in some cases, casual every days. Businesses began to realize that employee’s did not have to dress formally for work, especially if they didn’t leave their desk or interface with clients. 

Dress codes
Some businesses have formal dress code policies. Most have some sort of rule, either for safety of image, which is conveyed to employees. The way employees dress and present themselves represents the company’s image. But, if the company does not provide clothing for a uniform way of dressing, then there has to be a policy to ensure the desired image is presented.  Companies can delineate what that image will be.

As the workforce and upper management become younger, dress codes have been relaxing. The business acumens regarding formality and attire are becoming more casual on a daily basis. Formal dress around the office isn’t seen as necessary to completing tasks. A Harvard business school study indicated that dressing down and standing out may offer an air of influence. In retail, luxury store sales staff perceived shoppers dressed in sweats as being more willing to buy than shoppers who wore fancier clothes. The refreshed policies are more about being effective rather than the way one looks.

When policies are written they have to consider other areas of appearance as well as clothing. There’s make up, earrings, piercings, and tattoos. In more recent years policies must also consider religious garb and grooming.

Religious reasons
Dressing a certain way for religious reasons has further defined office dress codes. Employer policies have been tested and the issue has been through the courts. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in March published a fact sheet and a Q&A to address employer concerns with dress codes. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must make allowances to permit employees to follow religious dress and grooming practices. The EEOC guidance on Religious Garb and Grooming can be found on the Information/resources page of our website.

Having clearly defined and fair policies regarding employee dress provides for a congenial work environment and protects your business.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

If you can't beat them...

Note: This post was originally published on March 18, 2014 and has been updated with new information.

If you can’t beat them…
Employers are gearing up for their next big challenge and it’s not health care or minimum wage. It is the road to Phoenix, the NCAA basketball tournament. March madness is about to tear through the country and the business world. Every year businesses struggle with the dilemma of keeping productivity at optimum levels while not dampening morale. In recent years, companies have experienced another problem…clogged networks caused by streaming videos.

Most games tip off in the middle of the work day. A 2014 MSN survey said that 86% of those polled said they plan on devoting some of their work day to the tournament. Turner Sports, which operates the NCAA website, said that visitors who watched games online averaged one hour and 51 minutes of open stream time. For unprepared companies the demand on networks can be strenuous, at the least. Responding to the expected demand, companies are better planning for late March and staffing their IT departments.

Over 10.7 million people watched the tournament in 2013, the highest since 1994.  A Challenger, Gray & Christmas study revealed that 50 million Americans participate in some sort of March Madness office pool. Further, companies stand to lose $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour in the first week of the tournament. On the flipside, Quicken Loans is offering a billion dollar prize for the submission of a perfect bracket.

…Join them
Employees will find a way to watch, if not through the office network, then through their personal phones and tablets. Some who are wary of snooping supervisors have installed apps that have “boss” buttons, which quickly turns the image into a spreadsheet. Blocking websites and strictly enforcing policies may not be the best for morale. Society for Human Resource Management revealed that human resource professionals found that morale went up with office sponsored pools. Experts are saying that companies should embrace this time of year. Offer office pools or challenges. Provide televisions to discourage streaming.

You can’t fight it. Employees are going to watch games, check scores and stats, and compete in pools. What is really going to affect morale and productivity is how your business handles it.

Friday, February 21, 2014


A manager of a small business, who was obviously very busy as she was filling in for a shorthanded staff, told me that one of her employees had quit via a text before the shift was to start. Is this what can be expected of the new generation of workers? I don’t think the finer business schools are teaching students to avoid human contact. The cause may be due to a lack of business training or the product of informality that has beset the up and coming workforce. Either way the Millennial Generation will find a difficult way through their job searches until this form of communication is the norm.

The ability to text via a mobile phone has been available for the last 20 years although it has only recently hit its stride. Once standardized billing became available and texting became basically as free as a phone call, texting took off. In the last few years texting has become a common verb and replaced actual conversations. Jerry Seinfeld recently said, “Talking has become too much of an effort.”

Texting has availed us of the face-to-face confrontation and is seeping into the business world.
All of us have wanted to avoid an awkward conversation at one time or another. There are plenty of stories of love lives having ended via the text. But it’s not like your ex is going to be interviewed as to your qualifications as a companion. Well, maybe a dater’s resume does get around, but that doesn’t affect your livelihood. Some people will leave jobs on bad terms and then will list that job as a reference. One cannot expect a positive recommendation after quitting through a text.

How important are references to a job seeker? Very. References still play a big part in the application process. Most companies ask for character references and almost all ask for at least one contact from a former employer. And the fact that employers are asking isn’t just an empty question. They are checking with the contacts that are listed. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), close to 90 percent of HR professionals do check references and found that a little more than 50 percent of candidates had provided false information.

Whether the barista gig isn’t working or you have a lousy boss, leave any job with professionalism. Even burned bridges have a way of rebuilding themselves and hurting your chances at that dream job years later.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Can I see some ID?

By now you’ve probably seen the video of the guy who crashed the Super Bowl MVP interview. Matthew Mills claimed to be a 9/11 “truther” and couldn’t believe it when he was able to get so close without proper credentials or reason to be there.

Mills was quickly apprehended and escorted out of the room. His post arrest statement explained how he had made it to the podium. Mills said he told officials that he was running late for work and had to get in. He was allowed to pass. Mills did not think that he would get as far as he did as he moved further and further through each level of security. Once past the final gate and into the stadium it was just a matter of jockeying to the podium.

The NFL and local law enforcement had concentric circles of security that had an extended perimeter well beyond the stadium. So how did an individual get so close as to snatch the microphone away from the podium? Apparently, walk fast and act like you belong came into play here as Mills just talked his way through.


Impostors are regularly in the news portraying doctors, lawyers, and professors. In 2009, Michaele and Tareq Salahi made headlines when they were found to have crashed a State dinner at the White House. Without invitations, they looked and dressed the part of invitees and were able to penetrate several layers of security. One the most famous imposters is Frank Abagnale. Abagnale impersonated airline pilots, doctors, and attorneys, all before his capture at the age of 21. He simply looked and acted the parts. It’s how phone scammers are able to get people to wire their life savings to a complete stranger. They are confident and convincing in whatever it is they’re selling.

Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying, “Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.”

Everyone falls for a scam of one kind or another at some point. Whether it’s helping a Nigerian prince get his money to safety or giving money to a panhandler, we all have either fallen for it or been hit on. Why does it work? Most people are trusting and want to see the good in others. We trust authority and are vulnerable to financial gain. When you get a call from a “reputable” company announcing a refund you’re more likely to give up personal information.

Matthew Mills probably caught security at just the right moment. The big game is over and suddenly someone rushes up excitedly saying he’s late and needs to get to his job. The game is over. Who’d be trying to sneak in then?

You don’t have to be gullible to be taken by con artists. Even the FBI and Secret Service have their moments. Remember, just because someone “looks or speaks the part” doesn’t mean it’s true. A lot of times a few questions will get through their mask.

Keep your guard up and be safe.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Have you been convicted of a crime?

convicted of a crime, ban the box
Screening job applicants to find the most qualified for the job is becoming more difficult. In addition to skills and qualifications, employers are under pressure to also consider safety for their current employees by not introducing a potentially violent person to the work environment. Employers conduct pre employment screenings, which include criminal records, to provide them with the information necessary to make those decisions. However, most employers fall into the trap of making decisions based on the findings of the screening, and not the qualifications or character of the applicant. This type of hiring practice can open the employer to litigation and sanctions from Federal authorities.

Law enforcement strategies of the past twenty years has gone through different variants of zero tolerance policing and stricter enforcement of quality of life crimes. Then there is the ongoing war on drugs. These strategies have increased the chance that employers will encounter an applicant with some sort of criminal record. It is becoming the rarity, rather than the norm, that applicants would have no involvement in the criminal justice system.

A recent study published in the journal Crime and Punishment addressed the number of young people who have some sort of arrest record, other than traffic. The findings were based on an annual Bureau of labor Statistics survey of 7000 young people who answered questions between 1997 and 2008. The authors found that 49% of African American men, 44% of Hispanic men, and 38% of Caucasian men have been arrested by the age of 23. For women the numbers were slightly lower-20% African American, 18% Caucasian, and 18% Hispanic.

Ban the box

The “Ban the Box” movement advocates the removal of the employment application question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime”. Advocates would rather the applicant have the opportunity for a face-to-face interview before the discussion of criminal records or background checks take place. Ten states currently have statewide “ban the box” laws for public employment applications. Of these ten states, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have banned the box for private employers as well.

There are currently fifty-six jurisdictions in twenty-two states that have enacted ban the box laws. This number is growing annually, in November 2012 there were forty-six. These jurisdictions in the Mid-Atlantic region have enacted laws: Maryland, Baltimore, Wilmington, DE, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond.

Corporations are beginning to catch on also. In October 2013, Minnesota based Target Corporation enacted policy that removes the criminal question from their application.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has endorsed the idea of “banning the box”. The EEOC is clear in its position on employers’ use of criminal background checks for employee hiring and retention, stating, “Using such records as an absolute measure to prevent an individual from being hired could limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups and thus cannot be used in this way.” The EEOC specifically addresses the consideration of criminal records in its updated Enforcement Guidance published in 2012. The guidelines suggest that employers consider the nature of the job, the seriousness of the offense, and the length of time since the offense occurred. Also, employers should include an individualized assessment that allows the applicant to speak to the circumstances of the record. The EEOC is specific that criminal records only be used as they pertain to the job being sought and cannot be used against an individual without the consideration of other factors.

Banning is a strong word and does not mean that employers cannot view criminal records during the hiring process. Employers do have to be educated on how the records are used. Realizing the difference between an arrest and conviction and understanding the EEOC guidelines and Fair Credit Reporting Act as they apply to hiring will keep employers from incorrect use of records.  

The evolving school of thought is that criminal records be discussed after the personal interview and review of qualifications. An established hiring process and detailed documentation as to the decisions made all go a long way in supporting the employer’s final assessments.