By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Editor

With the end of the year 2010 now upon us, the time seems right to look back at how much the background check industry has changed since the year 2000. In slightly over a decade, background checks have gone from a luxury to a necessity, from a primarily  government run endeavor to a substantial private sector business with a large number of firms providing service, and from a mostly expensive time and labor consuming task to, in some cases, a totally automated paperless solution.

Due in large part to the shocking terrorist attacks that unfolded on September 11, 2001 and led to increased security on all fronts in the United States, the background check industry has increasingly helped employers keep criminals, terrorists, and imposters out of their workplaces. Other factors behind the increased use of background checks include well publicized incidents of workplace violence, multi-million dollar negligent hiring verdicts, a sharp rise in cases of resume fraud including some well publicized examples of fake degrees, and a national awareness of the dangers to children and other vulnerable groups when unqualified or dangerous persons are allowed access to them.

Below are comparisons of background checks in 2000 and 2010 in six critical areas that have changed in the industry:

1. Number of employers performing background checks:

2. Industry standards for background checks:

Many changes have occurred with respect to background screening industry standards in the years between 2000 and 2010.

  • 2000: There is no national trade association, industry standards, or definitive publications on background screening. Steve Brownstein, Publisher of the Background Investigator, holds the first ever background check industry conferences in Long Beach, California and then larger events in Tampa, Florida. Employment Screening Resources (ESR) founder and President Lester Rosen is the keynote speaker at these first industry conferences.
  • 2003: As a result of the Tampa conferences, momentum builds for a professional trade association for the background screening industry. ESR President Lester Rosen serves as the chairperson of the steering committee that founded the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®), a non-profit trade association representing the interests of background check companies, and serves as the first co-chair. NAPBS seeks to “…promote ethical business practices, promote compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and foster awareness of issues related to consumer protection and privacy rights within the background screening industry. The Association provides relevant programs and training aimed at empowering members to better serve clients and to maintain standards of excellence in the background screening industry.”
  • 2004: ‘The Safe Hiring Manual – The Complete Guide to Keeping Criminals, Terrorists, and Imposters Out of Your Workplace’ by ESR President Lester Rosen is published, the first comprehensive book on employment screening.
  • 2010: NAPBS launches the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP) for a singular background check industry standard representing a background check company’s commitment to excellence, accountability, and professionalism. The Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) is the governing accreditation body that ensures background check organizations seeking accreditation meet or exceed a measurable standard of competence. To become accredited, a background check company must pass a rigorous audit of its policies and procedures as they relate to six critical areas of the BSAAP: Consumer Protection, Legal Compliance, Client Education, Product Standards, Service Standards, and General Business Practices.

3. Sources for background check information:

  • 2000: Background check information is mostly limited to traditional sources such as criminal records, driving records, verifications, and reference checks.
  • 2010: With the advent of new technology like the Internet in general – and new media such as blogs, videos on YouTube, and social networking sites like Facebook in particular – there are many more potential outlets from which employers may gather information about job applicants.

4. The need for international background checks:

  • 2000: Before the rise of outsourcing, much of the workforce is perceived to have lived, worked, and been educated inside of the United States, so the idea of international background checks for job applicants seems expensive and unnecessary to most companies. There are also limited resources available for such background checks.
  • 2010: According to recent U.S. government statistics, there are 38.5 million foreign-born U.S. residents representing 12.5 percent of the population, more than 1.1 million persons became Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) of the United States in 2009, and the unauthorized immigrant population living in the U.S. reached an estimated 10.8 million in January 2009 and grew 27 percent between 2000 and 2009. Given these facts, U.S. companies must be prepared to perform international background checks on job applicants with global backgrounds. Numerous resources are now available for background screening firms to conduct international background checks, as well as resources concerning international privacy and data protection.

5. Compliance issues concerning background checks:

  • 2000: Background check companies must comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), originally passed in 1970, that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information and is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • 2010: Background screening has become an intensely legally regulated endeavor. Background check companies must comply with a myriad of industry regulations in addition to FCRA requirements such as the Fair And Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACT Act) of 2003 (which amended the FCRA), Sarbanes-Oxley, the Patriot Act, E-Verify employment eligibility verification, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discrimination issues against protected classes pertaining to the use of criminal records and credit reports for employment purposes, and new consumer data privacy protections regulations such as “Safe Harbor” and privacy laws that protect the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of consumers. Another source of intense legal regulations are state laws regulating credit reports and criminal records. California, for example, completely revamped its background screening laws in 2002 and added new requirements in 2010 when PII is sent offshore beyond the protection of U.S. privacy laws. Many states have their own version of the FCRA. 

6. Technology used in background screening:

  • 2000: Most employers are required to fax orders to a background check firm. The idea of entering orders into an online system or making information available online is only in the beginning stages.
  • 2010: Technology in the background check industry has increased substantially, with the use of online processes to not only enter orders but to have paperless systems with electronic signatures and integration into Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) so background checks can be ordered with the click of a mouse. With the advent of Web 2.0, employers may expect to see more advances in the technology for the background screening process. The downside, however, is that Internet entrepreneurs have seized upon background checks as a way to make quick money and in some instances are playing off the fears of Americans by offering cheap and instant checks that are based upon databases never intended to be a substitute for a background check. 

Much has changed in the background check industry in the years spanning 2000 to 2010.  Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – founded in 1996 in the San Francisco area – has kept pace with advancements in the many changes regarding background screening. ESR is recognized as:

  • An accredited background screening firm by the NAPBS,
  • The company that wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by founder Lester Rosen,
  • The third U.S. background check firm to be ‘Safe Harbor’ Certified for data privacy protection, and
  • One of the first background check firms to introduce an online system to place orders, view status of orders, and retrieve reports.   

To learn more about Employment Screening Resources in 2011, visit the ESR web site at or contact Jared Callahan, ESR Director of Client Relations, at 415.898.0044 or [email protected].

Happy New Year from Employment Screening Resources!