Today Show Segment Reveals Background Check Risks

Background screening flaw gets national public attention

On a recent Today Show segment that criticized background screening companies for supplying inaccurate data to their clients, the report featured a woman who was denied employment at the Red Cross.

Like most non-profit organizations, the American Red Cross is sensitive to cost and is seeking the most affordable background checks.

Unfortunately, most non-profits – and many for profits – have no idea what they are getting when they order a criminal background check.

Over the past five years, some unscrupulous companies that control criminal databases have targeted the non-profit sector like a used care salesman targets a single working mother.

These companies have convinced non-profits by the thousands that they can effectively screen potential criminals with a nationwide criminal background check, and because these screening companies control the data, they can sell the records for literally ten to twenty cents each.

In fact, it’s quite common for these companies to sell “unlimited” background checks for a small fixed monthly fee of $75 to $100 per month. From a cost standpoint, this sounds extremely appealing – especially to a church or non-profit, but the devil is always in the details.

Unfortunately, criminal databases are frequently incomplete. This means they do not contain the most current criminal records from every county in the nation.


Because all criminal records originate at the county level but not all counties upload records to a nationwide criminal database. And among those that do upload their records, many counties do so infrequently, which means a crime that was committed just last month may not appear in the nationwide criminal database for several more months.

Moreover, criminal records are filed based on name and date of birth. With millions of people in America sharing the same name and date of birth, and with millions of others victim to identity theft, it’s quite common that a criminal database record will implicate the wrong person.

So what does all of this mean?

Any non-profit that relies on database records for criminal background checks is placing their employees and the people they serve at risk. It’s quite possible they are hiring dangerous criminals and would never know it. This is especially alarming for any non-profit that serves children and the elderly.

Additionally, if they rely on the database record alone – without verifying the record’s accuracy – they may be preventing some very highly qualified and deserving people from getting a job.

The Today Show segment revealed that a woman applying for the Red Cross position was excluded because another woman, by the same name, with the same date of birth, was a convicted felon.

With strict reliance on criminal database records, this kind of “mixup” happens frequently.

At Precise Hire, we always verify criminal database records against other sources, including the county where the record originated. Because we do this, we reveal numerous cases of mistaken identity every week. Fortunately, our internal Quality Assurance process enables us to catch these before they create any problems for our clients.

The bottom line is this: the most reliable source of criminal information is the original record on file at the County. The database searches are good supplemental searches, but any records revealed in these searches should always be verified.

If non-profits continue to be duped by unscrupulous screening companies, or continue to opt for the cheapest and most unreliable source of criminal data, the next media segment could portray a lost child instead of a lost job.

I sincerely hope this never happens.

FOLLOW UP: This problem was recently highlighted again in a Crain’s New York Business article, describing inaccuracies by Sterling Infosystems.

In an effort to ensure rapid turnaround, many larger background screening companies have created turmoil for innocent people and risked legal exposure for their clients in the process. The fact is, public database searches are the primary culprit in most of these cases. We’ve been in business since 2000 and we have NEVER been sued for delivering bad data or missing a record. This is because we emphasize the use of criminal records based on the applicant’s address history, we use reputable, experienced researches to obtain these records from the courthouses, we carefully review every database record internally before releasing the information to our clients, and we encourage all clients to verify every database record by accessing the original criminal record on file at the court. This approach may take a little more time, but it’s the most effective way to prevent the kind of errors that seem to be plaguing the larger companies.


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