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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Weigh anchor!


Walking along the crowded sidewalk was actually a welcomed experience. Maybe it was the warm December day two days before Christmas, maybe the rainy weather sending people to the covered walkway, or maybe the now open grocery store. For whatever reason, it was nice to see the Odenton Shopping Center busy with shoppers.

Odenton Shopping Center once had a grocery store and department store to anchor either end. Two years ago we wrote about the history of the shopping center and the endearing meaning it has had to the community in the last fifty years, Anchors aweigh!  The center had been on the decline since the department store closed decades ago and the grocery store closed in 2011. On December 14, 2015, Giant Food opened in the empty grocery store space. Once again bringing a major anchor to the shopping center.

Since the Giant opened, the parking lot, throughout the center, has been full. It’s only been a week but the other businesses should be seeing some residual effect. With all of the development taking place around Odenton, it is certainly pleasant to see the center full of people and once again a vibrant part of the community.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Pssssst…Need some speakers?


Some idioms you can live by-Can’t judge a book by its cover. Every cloud has a silver lining.  Do unto others as you would them do to you. Words to live by. With our primal drive to always get the best price on absolutely anything, probably the most important during the Christmas shopping season is-Too good to be true.

We are always looking for the better deal. Especially this time of year when our gift giving budgets are stretched and maxed. If it’s cheaper somewhere else we’ll drive half away across the State to save a few dollars. That’s what makes us particularly susceptible to con men and scam artists. The good ones prey on our sensibilities and that feeling that we’re getting over on someone. Willingly acquiescing to our negotiating prowess to make us feel like we won. When in reality they won big. Oh the elation we feel when the story is told of how we adeptly bartered with some rube until we got the item for almost nothing.

This is why people buy used luxury cars for less than half of blue book, only to later find out that the car was stolen and re-titled. Or why people buy jewelry from that guy on the street or stereo equipment from unmarked vans. It is also why we are so quick to give up personal information and send money to email and phone solicitors.

It’s like when the good you and evil you are on opposite shoulders, except now one is sensibility and the other is a dollar sign. You know it walks like a duck and even sounds like a duck but oh my goodness what a price!  You actually pause and think, “This can’t be right”, but you make the deal anyway.

Sometimes the police don’t come and take the Mercedes or the Klipsch speakers. Sometimes a Nigerian prince really does need your help. Most times, listen to the smart you.

If it’s too good to be true…close your wallet.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

No candy

Can you believe Halloween is next week? Retailers have even begun stocking Christmas decorations. Crazy, yeah, but let’s deal with Halloween first which is not a fun time of year for all. Safety and protecting children is always on parents’ minds. One topic that comes up every year is the identification of sexual predators in the community and whether or not such identification infringes on that person’s safety and rights.

Throughout the U.S., states have programs that prohibit registered sex offenders from participating in Halloween activities such as decorating or passing out candy. Many require that offenders notify the public by placing a sign on their residence indicating that they have no candy. MD Dept of Parole and Probation, who manages the Sex Offender Registry, has had a similar policy since 2005.

On October 14, 2015, A Federal lawsuit was filed in California claiming that such laws violate the First Amendment and puts sex offenders on parole in danger. The argument being that the signs compel speech and identify offenders who have no means to protect themselves due to not being able to possess firearms.

In 2012, Sex offenders in Simi Valley, CA successfully challenged a city ordinance in Federal Court citing a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Lawyers for the group California Reform Sex Offender Laws, CA RSOL, filed a lawsuit in Federal court during September 2013. That suit alleged that the city of Orange is violating sex offenders First Amendment rights by requiring the posting of signs on Halloween night. Lawyers felt that the ordinance placed sex offenders at risk. They also cited that there had not been a documented incident of a sex offender harming a child on Halloween night.

However these cases play out in court, nothing protects our children more than being involved. Chaperone your children, know where they’re going. Watch for and report suspicious activity.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keys to the vault

iPhone®s have a feature that enable users to share files via Bluetooth®. You simply activate Bluetooth® on your phone and search for the other person’s phone signal. Rather than send several emails or texts with photos it is simple file transfer. We successfully completed this method of file sharing in a public setting. Very simple and convenient. What was noted was the number of open Bluetooth® connections that were also within range. This is like walking around with your purse wide open or leaving your car keys in the door lock.

Bluetooth® use developed slowly, but once other technology caught up it’s use exploded. Bluetooth® was developed in the early 1990’s. It wasn’t until 2000 that the first mobile phone with Bluetooth® technology came to market. In 2001, laptops and peripherals (printer, ear pieces, car kits) came to market. The next several years produced everyday items that could connect via Bluetooth®, such as TVs, glasses, watches, and appliances. Around 2005 is when Bluetooth® became a popular feature on phones. After Smartphone’s took off in 2007, it became a standard feature and every year since more uses between phones and other devices have been released.

Hacking into Bluetooth began almost as soon as it became widely available on phones. Once consumers began using their phones for more financial exchanges and social media hackers seized on the opportunity to exploit users lack of knowledge in regards to security and Bluetooth® connections. Most phones at startup activate the Bluetooth® feature. The user has to purposely turn off the connection. However, few do, either because they are unaware or actually use features such as earpieces or car connections. When not using the devices users leave their phones in the discoverable mode.

Hacking exposure

As with Wi-Fi, hackers love sitting in public places scanning for phone signals in public places. They setup shop in common, high traffic (use) areas by sending an open Wi-Fi signal or intercepting Bluetooth® connections between phones and peripherals. Bluebugging is a term to describe identity theft by hacking access to mobile commands on Bluetooth®-enabled devices that are in discoverable mode. Your phone is tricked into thinking that it is connected to the peripheral when it is actually connected to the hacker’s device. Once intercepted the hacker can take control of the device and/or retrieve data.

In July 2015, hackers successfully hacked into the system of a Jeep Liberty, taking control of the vehicle’s comfort, operational, and safety systems too include braking. This was done purposely to prove the vulnerability to automakers. But if one person figured it out you can be sure there is a long line of others.

As of this writing, research revealed there was little data regarding the number of Smartphones or personal accounts used on Smartphones that are hacked. It is doubtful that the lack of data is due to a low occurrence, but rather lack of realization, little reporting and/or notice by the media. You may occasionally see a flip phone or non-Smartphone but these types of phones are becoming rare. Many carriers do not offer these types of phones. There are an estimated 183 million Smartphone users in the U.S. alone, 2 billion worldwide. Next time you’re in public take a moment to look around and let it sink in how people around you have phones. Probably safe to say everyone.

New target

Just as your home computer  became vulnerable in the 1990’s, your phone is now the target. Only with your home computer you almost have to invite the hacker in through malware or ill advised website visit. Your phone on the other hand is with you all the time exposing it’s signals to the public wherever you go.

Most times you won’t even realize that your phone has been hacked. Not until strange social media posts surprise you or you notice withdrawals from your bank account. You home computer will get a virus. You’re email account will be hacked. Your credit card information will be stolen. And growing every year, someone will be kind enough to file your taxes for you, for the small fee of receiving your refund.

Eventually your phone will be hacked.  The best you can do is try to limit your vulnerability by keeping the doors shut.  Limit you public broadcasting of a Bluetooth® signal and use of public Wi-Fi. Turn off your Bluetooth® when not needed. If you do use password protected accounts through public connections, change your passwords after each use. Watch your data usage for spikes. Constantly check your financial accounts as part of your regular security routine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What did you just say?

Just like online security, our day-to-day conversations with strangers can threaten our security. Most of the areas where we express ourselves online are password protected. We can go back and edit things that were written, change our personal data in profiles, Google even has an “unsend” feature for email. The spoken word cannot be retrieved as easily.  Sometimes we just talk too much to the wrong people. We either offer up personal information or unknowingly provide it when prompted by a stranger who knows how to extract information.

Every neighborhood has door-to-door salesman. Are they pushing product or gathering intelligence? Some criminals pose as salesman, going from house to house trying doors hoping not to run into anyone and making note of what they can; alarm signs, cars in driveway, shrubbery, lights, the presence of dogs, etc. Some are bolder by selling random products, services, or free estimates looking to speak to homeowners, gain their trust and glean the information they need through conversation.

A conversation was overheard between a female neighbor and a salesman. The gentleman was selling organic cleaning products. He was very charming, loquacious, and had quite the patter. Throughout a ten-minute, low key, no pressure conversation in which he demonstrated his product, the salesman was able to determine that the lady was willing to open the door, home alone during the day, with one, two-year-old child, and no dogs. By sight he could determine her age, physical makeup, and basic layout of the home as seen through the front door. He never really asked any direct questions, but through friendly conversation the lady was put at ease and freely provided the information.

Running con games on people isn’t the oldest profession but it’s been around long time. People trying to trick and deceive are excellent speakers. You can be in the middle of a conversation and giving up details before you realize it. They manipulate conversation to their advantage. Mind reading acts don’t actually intercept your brainwaves, they pickup on subtle cues that are provided through your words and body language. Pronouns and conjunctions can provide a lot of information if you know how to listen.

We do not want to be rude to others. We want to be friendly. So it’s easy for others to approach and engage in what seems like innocent conversation. The trick is finding that line that allows us to be nice without providing our biography.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

All expenses paid

Do you offer paid leave to your employees? How about paying for their vacations? A trend sweeping through the business world is doing just that. Companies are rolling vacation time, sick leave, and any other time off into one plan and offering their employees unlimited time off. While the concept is trending, the Society for Human Resource Management says that only 1% of U.S. employers are offering unlimited time off. Others are offering stipends, free adventure trips, and use of company properties to encourage employees to take a break. The consensus of all the new thinking being that happier employees are easier to retain and are more productive.

Abuse? There’s not that much. Companies that offer unlimited vacation tend to be invested in hiring responsible employees who can balance taking time off with getting their work done. While unlimited vacation can be hard for managers to implement, most employees aren’t taking advantage of the perk. They get overwhelmed by the possibilities or can’t find the right amount that they feel is a fair amount to take. Employees still feel that their reputation will be damaged if they are away from the office too much.

Americans only take about half of their earned vacation days adding up to some $50 billion in lost paid vacation. A study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association found that American workers averaged 16 days leave in 2013; down from 20 in 2000. While most companies praise workaholics, people that don’t ever take off may being harming themselves and the office culture. It’s been well proven that not being able to disconnect from work can be unhealthy, but those individuals may cause resentment and guilt among their coworkers. Oxford Economics conducted a survey that found that 13 percent of managers were less likely to promote employees who took all of their allotted vacation. The DIW Economic Bulletin published a German study in 2012 that indicated employees who took fewer days off earned almost three percent more than those who took all their vacation time. 
Too offer even more encouragement companies are giving cash or other incentives to use vacation days. Some are also experimenting with paying employees to take vacation by offering a percentage of their salaries as a stipend or bonuses to help pay for the vacation, with stipulations that they actually take a trip of at least five days and not just stay home. Companies that aren’t offering the time off or stipends are paying for Caribbean getaways or adventure type vacations. Again, the idea being that a company that is a great place to work will have higher employee retention. 
Those working at more traditional minded companies have countered with a plan of their own. Employees request what are becoming known as “workcations”. This is where the employee is granted leave (time away from the office) but they agree to telecommute while they are away. The employee pays for the trip, but the leave is not charged against their vacation days.

Critics wonder how much work is actually being completed while at the beach with your family. Some employers or tasks just aren’t logistically equipped to handle telecommuting. Those concerned for employee health question if employees are really benefitting from being out of the office. Workers like the idea of a change of environment and feel that more can be accomplished without the constant interruptions present in the office. Further they can get away while saving their leave for life’s emergency that pop up. Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute, says: “Is the workcation detracting from the vacation you were going to have, or is it enabling the vacation you otherwise wouldn’t have had?”

Either way, both companies and employees are getting creative with their use of paid leave. Traditional time off is definitely changing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

New Maryland laws

On May 12, 2015, Governor Hogan signed into law two bills that will affect pre employment screenings. These laws will take effect on October 1, 2015.

  • Maryland Second Chance Act of 2015-Authorizes individuals who have a non-violent, misdemeanor criminal record to petition the court to shield court records and police records after a period of three years under certain circumstances and conditions.
  • Criminal Procedure - Expungement of Records-Arrests and charges that did not result in a conviction may remain eligible for expungement, regardless of subsequent convictions.

            Mazzella-Investigative Solutions, LLC constantly monitors changes to statutes and regulations as they relate to employment law and pre employment screenings to ensure you are receiving the best possible service.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Enforcing company policy

The National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of an employee fired because of a rant on Facebook against the employer. Perhaps more significantly, the company cited violation of its obscenity policies, which the NLRB disregarded because the policy was found to have been unenforced in past instances. Underscoring the importance to enforce policies regularly and fairly. Not just when it is convenient for management. 
The case
By a two-to-one vote, a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board upheld an administrative law judge’s findings that an employer unlawfully discharged an employee because of social media comments, including strong obscenities that were personally critical of a company manager. (Pier Sixty, LLC and Hernan Perez, et al, NLRB Cases No 02-CA-068612 and 02-CA-070797, March 31, 2015.) 
The company’s employees expressed interest in union representation, based in part because of concerns that management treated them “disrespectfully and in an undignified manner.” Those efforts resulted in a successful organizing campaign, after which the Union was certified as the exclusive collective bargaining representatives. Two days before that election a long-term employee was working as a server at an event. During the cocktail service a company manager allegedly approached and in a loud voice and in front of guests addressed the employee and two other employees, using an unnecessarily harsh tone, and waiving his arms. Upset with the manager’s treatment, the employee took a break and, outside of the banquet facility, posted from his phone a message to his personal Facebook page. The message referred to the manger as a “NASTY M***** F***er” and a “LOSER!!!!,” stated “f*** his mother and his entire f***ing family,” and ended with “Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!” After being made aware of that posting, the company fired the employee for violation of its obscenity policy. 
The panel determined the firing violated the NLRA because the Facebook post was deemed to be protected concerted activity. Although the company argued that the employee had violated company policy regarding obscene language, it was determined that since 2005, the company had issued only five written warnings to employees who had used obscene language, and had discharged no one on that basis. Further, it was found that the employee's use of obscene language in his posting was not “qualitatively different from profanity regularly tolerated by the company.” 

The NLRB first ruled on “Facebook firings” in October 2012. The NLRB has ruled that postings on social media regarding the way employees are treated or working conditions are protected concerted activities under the National Labor Relations Act. The company’s defense of policy violation in the aforementioned case did not stand up because the policy itself was overlooked.

Employee handbooks and rules are necessary for a safe and favorable workplace. However, when violations of policies are overlooked the workplace can become a dangerous and/or hostile environment. Additionally, employee morale tends to be low because of managerial indifference or inequitable enforcement of violations. When policies are enforced as a “CYA” measure, reviewing entities rarely rule for the company.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A good interview

The interview is a major part of the hiring process. In addition to being encouraged by the EEOC, it gives the employer a chance to get a feel for the applicant’s character and a chance for the applicant to be forthright about their resume and anything in their past that may pertain to the job for which they are applying.  If there is a discrepancy, than a chance to elaborate.

We have clients that are not surprised by the findings of screenings, because they have conducted thorough interviews and learned of past indiscretions prior to conducting a screening. Sometimes though the applicant downplays, tries to hides, or refutes an incident. That is when a more detailed examination of the facts needs to takes place. 

Criminal record findings are based on the personal data supplied by the client. The results are not verification of the record. Once the person is identified with the record the original court records should be retrieved for actual verification.  Life is not as television would have us believe. There is not a single repository for criminal records. Records are not always found in the employers home State. To locate any and all records, queries should be made Federal, State, and even local courts.  ("National" record checks)

Here are some examples of how criminal records work with a good interview. Why are these special? It’s what they didn’t and did tell their prospective employers that makes the point. All were interviewed prior to the request for a pre employment screening. Some were forthright and explained past indiscretions. Others rolled the dice. 

  • Fully aware and consenting to a pre employment screening, the applicant admitted to being arrested for possession of marijuana during college, a lesser offense. When the results returned multiple counts of more serious offenses, the applicant continued to deny the convictions. State (Not Maryland) and county record searches revealed more serious charges, but experience tells us that sometimes the charges read more serious than the actual event. Further research of local court records revealed that the charges were accurate. The applicant was arrested and convicted of selling drugs to an undercover detective. A little more than mere possession.
  • The applicant said nothing of past criminal activity. Searches revealed multiple felony drug arrests and convictions. However, FCRA guidelines prohibit the use of criminal records more than seven years old in consumer reports. The deal breaker on this one was not the criminal record but truthfulness and character. The applicant arrived at the interview with an apparent injury saying that he was currently on medical leave, expected to return. During employment verification it was learned from the employer that the applicant was fired weeks before for skimming money.
  • Maryland and out of State searches revealed no records for the applicant. However, our routine searches of the Federal court system revealed past arrests. Again, FCRA regulations prohibited the reporting of the records. When the report was provided the client said that the applicant had admitted to the past federal charges during the interview process. The client wasn’t worried about the long ago indiscretions, but was more impressed with the applicant’s honesty and character.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggests that the report be presented to the applicant and the applicant allowed a chance to address the findings of the report. Before a decision of hiring is made. Allowing the applicant to talk about themselves can yield a wealth of information about the prospective employee. Allowing them a chance to honestly represent their past or defend the findings can yield much more.

Mazzella Investigative Solutions-Services

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Most of our small business clients have never conducted pre employment screenings. As the economy has tightened the need to hire the best suited candidate has become more of a focus (The cost of a bad hire can be upwards of $50,000). So smaller employers have sought to conduct pre employment screenings to give them more information about their candidates. They know the hiring basics (formal employment applications, conduct interviews, etc) but rarely have they delved into an applicants’ character and past. When they do, most have fallen into stereotypical hiring process traps that put them in jeopardy of a court visit. Last year alone there were millions of dollars awarded in class action suits for Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA) violations.

Some common mistakes employers make are:
  • Failure to have a disclosure of the screening separate from the application
  • Burying the disclosure of the screening with application questions
  • Failure to provide proper pre-adverse action and/or adverse action notices
  • Failure to include a copy of the report or a Summary of Rights with the pre-adverse notice
Small business owners don’t have the benefits of human resource departments. They have either just started a business or have been in business for many years. Whichever the case, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and guidelines set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are news to them. They are not intentionally trying to violate the rights of potential employees; they just don’t know the rules.

Fair Credit Reporting Act 

The Fair Credit Reporting Act  (FCRA) was passed by Congress in 1996 and went into effect September 30, 1997. As the Act is titled, it was initially passed to regulate the collection and use of credit information by credit bureaus. The goal being to provide consumers a way to access information contained in their credit bureau files. Due to the ever growing amount of incorrect information contained in these files, the act also provided a mechanism in which consumers could dispute the records. Basically, it is designed to protect the privacy of consumers and to guarantee that the information supplied by reporting agencies is as accurate as possible.

The FCRA has been amended several times since being passed. With negligent hiring and privacy issue complaints increasing since the passage of the Act, the FCRA was amended to apply to all consumer type reports. Too include the pre employment screenings completed during the hiring process. A consumer report (the information collected during the pre employment screening}, contains information about the applicant’s personal and credit characteristics, character, general reputation, and lifestyle.

The FCRA also provides procedures for obtaining consumer information and how it is to be used and disseminated during a pre employment screening. The Federal Trade Commission enforces all aspects of the FCRA.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The FCRA regulates how consumer report data is collected and used. Part of that data are criminal records. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ensures that the information found in the criminal records collected during the pre employment screening is not used to discriminate against the prospective employee. This is where the employers’ fall victim-How they react to and use the criminal record data.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, states that employers cannot reject or fire qualified individuals who have criminal records when the criminal history has no bearing on the individual’s fitness or ability to perform the job. The EEOC is quite clear in its position on employers’ use of criminal background checks for employee hiring and retention: “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.” In making a decision, the employer must consider the nature of the job, the nature and seriousness of the offense, and the length of time since it occurred.

The FCRA states that the applicant has a right to view the information contained in the consumer report and have a chance to dispute the record.  Following this lead, the EEOC encourages the employer to personally interview the applicant and allow them the chance to refute and/or explain the criminal record.

It’s all about being fair. The employer wants to make the right decision to avoid later costs and problems. The applicant is seeking employment. As with the decisions made in other areas of the business, the employer needs to make informed decisions by reviewing and understanding all of the information gathered during the screening process. This review process should include a personal interview so the employer has the chance to hear the rest of the story.

Scroll through our Information and Resources page regarding the FCRA, EEOC, and for helpful information.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Internet intelligence

Twenty-five years ago it was the personal computing industry’s goal to have a computer in every home. Today, over 65% of Americans carry computers with them in the form of smartphones. With personal computing permeating our lives (we check our phones over 50 times a day) Internet use has grown exponentially. Questions and facts are all answered and checked during conversations. It’s safe to say that there is nothing that cannot be found on the Internet. This includes details of one’s personal life.

I read it on the Internet

People become Internet detectives.  Quick to check friends, family members, and the pasts of love interests. Not sure what will be found, searchers often dangerously jump to conclusions, without properly vetting the information. In addition to the misinformation that circulates on the Internet, most people don’t understand exactly what they’re reading. In the case of criminal records one has to understand the difference between arrests and convictions. There are also terms of probation that affect the final dispositions. When criminal records are returned during a search, how do you know it’s the same person? Quick Internet searches, without proper analysis, can cause embarrassment as well as legal action.

How well do you know someone?

Employers often say that they only hire people they know or for whom others vouch, apply that to your personal lives. How well do you really know someone? Other than someone you are with 24/7/365, everyone has secrets. Has anyone ever thought so much of your relationship that you were listed as a reference to obtain a government clearance? Answering those questions about social habits and character can really open your eyes as to how well you really know the person.

Do not be so quick to pass judgment on what you find on the Internet. You might cause someone unnecessary pain or set your business up for a court visit.