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October 2006 Vol. 6, No. 10

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Newsletter and Legal Update

1. Employers, Consumers and Online Daters Beware: No Standard Definition for a “Background Check”

2. Terrorist List Can Impact Innocent Americans

3. SCAM Alert: New Hospital and Jury Duty Scams

4. ESR Speaking Schedule – from Napa to Tampa

1. Employers, Consumers and Online Daters Beware: No Standard Definition for a “Background Check”

The term “background check” has become a common phrase in today’s business vocabulary. There are numerous news stories about the need for background checks or efforts made by various organizations, such as churches, charities, or businesses to obtain “background checks.” More recently, “background checks” have become a popular topic in the online dating industry with some sites offering “background checks” before you meet that dream date.

However, there is one significant problem: There is simply no one definition as to what constitutes a background check. A “background check” can vary from a one county criminal check, all the way to an in-depth FBI type investigation that costs thousands of dollars.

Why is this important? Because employers and consumers can be mislead into making certain assumptions about a person because they have been the subject of a “background check.” The biggest assumption: That the person must be safe or qualified because they passed a “background check.”

Unfortunately, nothing may be further from the truth. Unless the business or individual relying on the background check knows exactly what was checked and when, and the limitations and value of the checking that was done, a “background check” is NOT necessarily the same as not being a criminal or having an authentic resume.

The area where there is the greatest potential for a false sense of security is probably criminal records. Dating sites and private employers do not have access to the official government criminal history, the National Criminal Information Center, or NCIC. That is only available to entities that have been approved by the government, such as schools needing to check teachers. Even that system is subject to errors.

Some websites tout that they are doing a background check by use of a so-called “national” multi-jurisdictional database sold by private firms. The problem with this database search is that it can give a “false negative,” where a person is cleared as being a non-criminal even though they have a criminal record. They can also give a “false positive,” which means a person is incorrectly identified as a criminal, even though they are not.

Although those “national” searches can be very valuable as one part of a real background check because it is national in reach, it is not a substitute for a criminal search of county courts at the courthouse level. These databases may have millions of records, but they are assembled from a hodgepodge of different sources and there are substantial issues as to their accuracy and completeness

The bottom-line: Employers, consumers and online daters should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because some site has performed a ”background check,” unless you know exactly what was checked, how it was checked and when.

2. Terrorist List Can Impact Innocent Americans

According to a recent news story, the son of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, was prevented from buying a house in Arcata, CA, a small town several hours north of San Francisco. The problem? The homebuyer was in no way related to Saddam Hussein. The buyer was born and raised in Michigan. However, when he went to buy his first home, his credit report was routinely checked against a government terrorist list. The buyer’s middle name was Hassan, and that was enough to trigger an alert, suggesting he could be the son of Saddam Hussein. Rather than exercise some commonsense and good judgment, the mortgage company, according to the story, denied financing.

This story once again underscores the danger of blindly utilizing databases without taking steps to investigate negative information. In this case, the database used was the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC.

Following the events of 9/11, it was discovered that the terrorists were able to bring money into the United States to finance their activities. Part of the Patriot Act was designed to prevent money laundering that can be used for terrorism. Financial intuitions, which can even include car dealers and travel agents in addition to banks, are now required by law to increase their “Know Your Client” procedures, which include running clients’ names against the OFAC list.

However, use of the list has some drawbacks. First, the list has very few identifiers and is based primarily on name matching. The list currently has a large number of names of Middle Eastern origin, so misidentification can easily occur. Secondly, a terrorist presumably knows if they are on the list, and can take measures to use a different name.

As a result, the database can produce both” false negatives” and “false positives.” A false negative is where a person is in fact a terrorist but is able to circumvent the list so a database search falsely clears them. A “false positive” is where a person is mistakenly associated with a terrorist because of a potential match of the name or even part of the name.

The news story underscores the need to carefully examine the results of all database searches, and to understand that people can be missed or improperly identified. It is not entirely clear how a person who is a victim of misidentification can prove they are not the person on the list. There have also been news stories of Americans who are mistakenly on “no-fly” lists. A well-known United States Senator (and brother of a former president) even had difficulty getting off the “no- fly” list. A victim of misidentification may need to contact a lawyer to prepare documents showing that they are not the person on the list if they are having difficulty with a financial transaction.

More information about the OFAC database and 13 other commonly used global terrorist databases is available at:

To see if you are on the list, see:

3. SCAM Alert: New Hospital and Jury Duty Scams

Two new scams are in the news. According to the September 2006 Security Management Magazine (from ASIS), imposters have shown up at hospitals pretending to be inspectors from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). For hospitals, a visit from a JCAHO inspector is a major event, similar to a health department inspector showing up at a restaurant. Since JCAHO now does unannounced inspections, the imposters had a better chance of getting in.

A fraudulent person on premises, of course, can do a great deal of damage. According to the story, the hospitals asked for identification, which resulted in the imposters leaving. However, the incident underscores that any security-sensitive facility needs to take measures to know who is on premises and not simply assume that an authentic looking badge, letter or uniform is for real.

Just when you thought you heard it all, here comes another scam. You get a phone call from someone who identifies themselves as a “jury commissioner” that wants to know why you did not show up for court. You may even be told that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. When you say you never received any notice, the “commissioner” asks for your full name, date of birth and social security number. Being a good citizen and not wanting to get arrested, you give that information over the phone in order to clear it up.

That is all a scammer needs to steal your identity and go shopping under your name! This reinforces a basic rule of modern day life: never give a stranger, or anyone over the phone, personal information, no matter what they tell you.

4. ESR Speaking Schedule – From Napa to Tampa

ESR announces that the Safe Hiring Certification Training is now available in four separate mini-courses, in addition to the intensive 30 Hour course. The smaller course allows participants to focus in on just those areas of immediate interest and need. This is the first and only online educational and professional development course designed for employers, human resources and security professionals, and anyone responsible for risk management and due diligence in hiring.

The Safe Hiring Certification Training is a self-paced, on-line course that can be accessed at any time from anywhere, including at work.

Features of this course include:

  • Convenient 24/7/365 availability through any online connection
  • 21 self-paced lessons on Safe Hiring practices
  • A printable, 190-page workbook to facilitate note-taking and preparation for review quizzes
  • Review quizzes after each lesson featuring more than 300 questions about safe hiring
  • Easy access to useful Safe Hiring web-links
  • Sample safe hiring forms to help guide your own form development
  • Industry certification in Safe Hiring
  • Additional audio pointers by author Les Rosen (requires speakers but not a requirement for course completion)

Through this course, participants will obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to implement and manage a legal and effective safe hiring program, including employment screening background checks. Upon successful completion, participants will receive a Certificate of Completion, marking a significant professional accomplishment. The course is offered at no charge to ESR clients.

The course is available at

More information is available at:

  • ESR wrote the book on background checks! – The Safe Hiring Manual, now in its third printing, is available from BRB Publications. Click here to read more. The definitive book on pre-employment screening, “The Safe Hiring Manual-The Complete Guide to Keeping Criminals, Terrorists and Imposters out of Your Workplace,” has undergone its third printing since its introduction a year ago. The new printing also contains updates and new material.

ESR is pleased to participate in the following seminars across the United States, including three nationwide SHRM Conference: the SHRM National Conference, the SHRM EMA Conference and the Global Screening Conference.

Current 2006 Schedule

November 1, 2006-Palo Alto, CA-“Avoid Negligent Hiring-Best Practices and Legal Compliance.” The HRNetworx. Click Here For More Details

November 6, 2006-Long Branch, NJ–Pre-employment Background Checks,” Garden State Council (New Jersey State Council) SHRM Statewide Conference Garden State Council

November 8, 2006–New York, NY “Background Checks and Recruiting Practices and Legal Compliance” Kennedy Information’s Recruiting 2006 Conference and Expo.

November 9, 2006–IPMA-HR audio conference–Public Sector Pre-employment Background Screening –Trends, Legal Developments and Best Practice Click Here For More Details

November 13, 2006 –Tampa, FL – Keynote address at the Annual Pre-Employment Screeners Conference (Intended for background firms and record retrievers) “The Top Ten Ways for a Screening Firm to Be Sued Out of Existence by Employers and Consumers” See:

November 20, 2006— IOMA audio conference–“Background Checks: Legal Use in the Hiring and Talent Management Process

November 29, 2007-San Francisco, CA-“Avoid Negligent Hiring-Best Practices and Legal Compliance.” The HRNetworx Click Here To View Website

December 5, 2006–Sonoma County, CA “Avoid Problem Employees: Effective Hiring in the Wine industry” NCHRA conference (details to be posted)

Contact ESR for further details.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR)

1620 Grant Avenue, Suite 7

Novato, CA 94945


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