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Background Checks Lessons Learned The Hard Way

Confused by all of the "Instant Background Check" hype? Maybe you're frustrated because you tried "free" or low-cost access to public records but the information you received wasn't worth much either. If this describes you, then this article should help. No, I don't represent a public records information company. I am, however, an investigator who has used many of the top public records services to physically track down hundreds of people for civil and criminal court matters.

I have also wasted many dollars and hours on the road being led to wrong or outdated addresses. What follows are the basics of discussions I found myself having everyday with my clients and others who have found themselves in the same situation. You Already Know An Internet Search Engine Has Its Limits If you are reading this, I will assume you are at least vaguely familiar with internet search engines. When you enter search words like "background check", the search engine combs through millions of pieces of data to try to bring back the most relevant sites. In most instances you get what you need. Yet, you may still get results where the "background check" site is a place where you choose the actual background color on the checks you get from the bank and not a site where you can get personal information.

In the same way, background check databases sift through millions of pieces of information. Some of that information may have a name and address (utility bill) or maybe a name and date of birth (some court records). Most records do not have enough information to definitively connect it to other pieces of information. In order to tie those data together, the database uses a process similar to your internet search engine with, in many cases, similar results. You probably would not consider believing every fact in every article on the first page of internet search results. Instead, you would probably try to see which articles really apply to your search and then determine which facts in which articles you can actually verify, believe and use.

You have to use the same approach of human intervention, quality control, and filtering when analyzing data from personal records databases in order to have any substantial success. I Thought I Was Unique - I'm Not! Like most people, I have never met anyone with my same first and last name. However, it shocked me to know that in the state of Texas there are 167 of "me". That means when I visit Texas, there is another "me" within 40 miles of wherever I am.

In my defense I then convinced myself that they really aren't "me" because "me" is my age with my middle initial. Unfortunately I had to then learn there are 9 "me"s in the country with my first name, middle initial and last name, who are also within 2 years of my age. Since then I no longer hope for unique, now I just hope that all of those "me"s have good credit and pay all of their speeding tickets. Coincidences, and lack of coincidental data, can easily make two people look like one, split one person into two, or link two unrelated people. I have seen entire family trees linked because John Doe's mom is Jane Doe who lives 200 miles away, but John is linked to a second Jane Doe who is only 50 miles away. The James Browne Effect Consider a fictitious family: James Robert (Dad) and Joan (Mom) along with their sons James Robert Jr.

and Ronald John. Now imagine a bucket filled with 100 of their public records you need to match with the correct person. The names on those records are Joan, James, Robert, Bert, Jim, Bob, Jim Bob, John, Jack, Ronald, Ron, Ronny, Bobby, Johnny, Jimmy, Jay, JR, RJ and Butch. To confuse things more, half of the records have the last name "Brown" and the other half "Browne".

One more thing - the father's Uncle Ron Browne shared the same address for 5 years and now lives a block away. Unfortunately, anyone who tracks people for a living will tell you that this seemingly outrageous example is very close to the norm. In fact, where I have seen this most is when one or more people in a family are involved in criminal activity and the confusion is intentional. For example, neither James Browne Sr. nor Jr. has a record, but, Robert Browne and a James Brown (no "e") both have felony records.

Criminals also use other intentional misrepresentations that look like typing errors such as using a 1 instead of a 7 in their social security number. Not All Phone Books Are Created Equal "Find Anyone's Phone Number and Address- Millions Available" is the ad which I may or may not admit I responded to on several occasions. At the time I never thought to ask - which phone numbers? a.

Historical - Every number in every phone book in the US for the past 10 years. b. Current - Every current phone number as reported by every phone company in the US as of this morning and updated hourly. c. Relational - Every phone number people put down on utility bills and credit reports.

The answer is critical because all of them are needed. In most cases, people never ask. When you do ask - I can tell you that the reps at the company providing the data won't know the answer for sure or will make one up. Take, for example, the recent trend in promoting "cell phone directories". A reasonable person could believe that such a database would be the current records as reported by each cell phone company. In the instance I know about - you would be wrong.

As confirmed by one of their company reps on a TV news show - the records they have come from self-reported cell phone numbers that people used as references on other records. How long ago the number was reported and whether or not the number is active is unknown by them. The 5 Hard Lessons Learned On Background Checks 1. Use an Investigator. From the examples above, you can see why I laugh when anyone tells me about an "instant" computer background check.

Good background checks take interaction between the requestor and investigator. The results naturally raise more questions than they answer. 2. Expertise is Invaluable.

In order to get the right answer, you have to know what to ask. One common mistake is when someone is checking for past spousal or child violence by researching criminal records. If the person was actually convicted of beating or molesting there should be a criminal record. However, in many states protection from abuse and restraining orders are civil matters - not criminal. Ask the wrong question and even a good answer could put someone in jeopardy. 3.

A Full Check on a Person is Only Half of What is Needed. People's lives are webs of relationships with family and friends. It does little good to perform a background check on only the daycare provider when her husband is a registered sex offender. 4.

No Guarantee - No Deal. You should not have to pay for incorrect or outdated information. You don't pay for shoes first and then see if they have the style and size you need.

Finding people and background checks should be no different except that you may need to pay the investigator some small fee for the effort of trying. 5. Never Give Them Financial Information. It amazes me when people know I have access to most if not all of their personal records and then turn around and want to give me their credit card or other banking information. The company that maintains access to both is asking for an identity theft nightmare.

I hope this helps you more fully understand the situations surrounding background checks.

Chris Skinner is President and Chief Investigator for InnerCircle Research Corporation. Additional resources for this and similar topics regarding Safe Dating, Background Checks, and Child Support Enforcement can be found at the InnerCircle Home Page and InnerCircle Blog.

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