Security primer: Outsourcing employee background checks

What companies need to know when hiring a screening solutions firm


“What that does is two things. First of all, it allows the company to electronically verify the information submitted by the employee regarding their Social Security number, their alien registration number, their name, their date of birth and it makes certain that that information, whether it be for a citizen or an alien, matches the data that is both in the Homeland Security database and the Social Security database,” he said. “The second thing it does is it allows the government to profile that information and to begin to locate questionable activity such as the verification of a single social security number being verified 25 times in 15 different states all within the same two or three days. That type of activity would obviously raise concern any to law enforcement agency regarding the theft and use of that Social Security number for fraudulent purposes.”

Another aspect of background checks that organizations need to consider is the type and depth of screening that needs to be done. There are different tiers of background searches which can be conducted on prospective and existing employees. The depth of the search typically depends upon the type of information or assets a person would be privy to within the organization. In other words, the night janitor of a specific facility might not be subjected to as intensive a check as an incoming CEO who would have access to all of the company’s funds and financial records, information secrets and facilities.

“The more intense the information is the individual will be handling, the more thorough the background check you want to do. The main thing is you want to guard your company and your company’s secrets,” said Collins.

Whitford says that it may also be worth considering utilizing sources beyond the screening firm when it comes to high level positions.

“Firms like ChoicePoint are good for due diligence on the run of the mill employee. If (a company) is looking for a CFO, they’re probably going to go hire a private investigator and will [also] use some information from a company like ChoicePoint,” he said.

How background checks are conducted

According to Collins, HR Plus pulls its information from a variety of sources, as well as directly from the courts in the jurisdictions where the employee lives. The company then checks it against the information they have for the individual to make sure it matches. That information is then submitted to the company, which will make a pass or fail determination of that person.

In most cases, Collins said the background check process can take just a matter of hours. If the information is incomplete or something raises a red flag, the process of verifying and finding information could take up to several days.

To avoid potential lawsuits, Collins recommends that the screening firm companies have an onsite compliance department to ensure that when a background check is done, that it is conducted within federal and state guidelines, which are frequently changing.

Collins said that the cost of a background check averages about $45, and he said that is small price to pay, compared to the alternative of hiring an unethical or unsafe employee. Those companies who don’t conduct or minimize background checks open themselves up to the “pool of undesirables,” according to the HR Plus president, which are people who seek out companies that follow such practices.

In the case of ChoicePoint, which conducts background screening in over 190 countries, the company offers a Web based solution in which its clients can log onto their CPScreen interface and enter in the employee’s information and select a package of services based upon the different verifications that may be needed for that position such as education, work history, criminal history, drivers license, etc.

According to Whitford, the average process for ChoicePoint takes anywhere from two to five days and costs range from $20 up to $100, depending on the type of information that’s requested.

Employee background check compliance issues

Lynn Mattice, former chief security officer for Boston Scientific and current chairman of the board of advisors of the Security Executive Council, warns that just hiring a screening firm may not protect a company from making a bad hire.

“I’m a little concerned about the move that’s taken place to go to what I call ‘production background investigation firms.’ It’s a ‘background-investigations-in-a-box’ kind of thing,” said Mattice. “I don’t think they typically get the depth and breadth of investigations that are necessary and many times they don’t have the oversight within companies that they should have to make sure that they have built the proper structure into the background investigation method that they’re using.”