background screening firm

10 Things to Know Before Selecting a Background Screening Firm

Selecting a background screening firm can be a daunting task. An online search for background screening firms will reveal countless organizations that provide these services. This certainly muddies the waters enough to make any selection more than a little difficult. Choosing a reputable and proven background screening firm is one of the most critical business decisions you will make.  Yet, the background screening industry itself has not helped to make this an easy decision.

Unfortunately, a lack of transparency still forms the foundation of the screening industry. A close examination of listings will reveal that screening providers are more focused on providing what they want to provide rather than what is needed. What does that mean?  It means speed and low price has become the key competitive advantage points.  And quality often takes a backseat.

Granted, the efficient use of technology can drive down costs AND shorten the turnaround time.  But when screening companies purport to complete background checks not in days, but in minutes, I take pause.

Yes, more and more courts records are becoming automated and readily accessible.  However, many courts records still necessitate a court researcher to do the job correctly. In certain regions of the U.S., clerks are required to do the search. Sometimes, when a county has upper and lower courts that are not connected, each has to be searched separately.

When I read that a screening company is completing a background check in minutes, it leads me to conclude that they are relying on databases and they are neglecting to search lower courts. Nor do I have any idea what they are doing with the counties that require a county clerk to conduct the search.

Background screening is a risk-management solution.  This is not a process that allows you to check a box and claim you have done your due diligence. Poor research can foster complaints of negligent hiring and negligent retention as well as give rise to a proliferation of federal lawsuits related to federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations.

We understand that it would be impossible for a lay person to know many of the problems inherent in the screening industry, so we have assembled a list of questions that should be asked of your prospective screening companies.

  1. How do you define a background check? There is no standard definition; however, background screening relies heavily on incomplete public record sources.  A thorough background screening program should consist of multiple checks and balances that include identification, multi-state databases, county criminal searches and federal courts.


  1. Is the background check instant? There is no such thing as a dependable instant database search.  I assume that if a background check is “instant” that it is a database only search. There is no single database, not even the FBI’s NCIC, that is comprehensive enough to stand as a single-source screening program.  Using only a database for employment purposes can open up FCRA violation issues.  It is not even a viable option for volunteer organizations because most databases have a high failure rate even for convicted sex offenders.


  1. Cost of a background check? You cannot do quality background checks for $5, but at the same time, it should not break your piggy bank.  Comprehensive employee background checks should range from $20-$40 for a core national criminal background check.  Volunteer checks can range from $10- $20 for a core criminal check.

Always Read the fine print carefully.  Many screening firms do not clearly articulate all of the hidden costs e.g. aka names, additional counties, expanded past 7 years, etc.


  1. How far back do your background check reports go? This is a question you should always ask as there are several factors that impact this answer. A thorough background check should go back as far as allowed. We believe it is critical for our clients to have all the information they need to make informed decisions. Even so, there are strict guidelines from the EEOC, FCRA as well as state and local laws that must be followed. Consequently, what factors can impact how far back a background check extends?
    1. Convictions vs Non-Convictions. The federal FCRA restricts reporting of non-convictions to no more than 7 years unless the salary for the position is $75,000 or more. Some state laws further restrict convictions or do not allow their reporting.
    2. Individual state. Several states have further restricted the reporting of adverse information.
    3. How far back court records go. Some states maintain criminal records that extend 30 years or more. Other states purge misdemeanor records at 10 years.


  1. How are alias names searched? Alias names bring up thoughts of Jason Bourne and espionage, but really, it is a fancy way of saying any other name your candidate has been known by.  With name-based background checks, it is critical to include any possible alias names to ensure your candidates do not have a criminal history under a former married name, maiden name, birth name, etc. Many screening firms do not include this service in their pricing and then, clients are unpleasantly surprised when hit with additional fees because a candidate has 3 different names.  We do not charge extra for searching other names. We consider it an important part of a thorough search.  It is included in the original quote.


  1. Are employees of the screening firms screened regularly? It seems like a question you would not need to ask, but I would encourage you to inquire about the backgrounds of the people you will be trusting with such sensitive information.  Some screening firms “offshore” parts of their screening process like verifications.  How do you ensure that none of your sensitive data on your employees, vendors, volunteers are not being sent to another country with little to no quality control?  One of our large international volunteer partners told me that several of their affiliates were adamant about using a specific local background screening company.  A quick internet search by our partner revealed that the screening firm operated out of a house where the owner also sold jams and jellies.  This was not the secure environment they had hoped for. We re-screen our employees on an annual basis.


  1. Security of Data. We mentioned in #6 that some screening firms “offshore” data which creates security issues for how the data is transferred. More importantly, what happens to it on the other end where it could be taken, printed, sold, etc.?  Security is a huge concern with all of our data, and you can be confident that our screening firm uses industry ‘best practices’ for securing your data both in transit and at rest.  What does that mean?  We use SSAE 16 and provide quarterly reports.  In addition, we engage with cyber security experts to perform penetration testing to expose any vulnerabilities in our software.


  1. Is compliance a core mission? Complying with federal laws such as FCRA, DPPA and EEOC should be part of the core mission of any screening firm. The majority of compliance is incumbent upon the end user; however, you want a screening partner that will keep you abreast of changes and what is happening in the industry.  We provide a number of educational opportunities each month i.e. live training events, live webinars, articles, and email communications.


  1. Customer service. Yes, everybody claims to have it but very few organizations truly do.  With unemployment at all time lows in most communities, hiring is extremely competitive. When you have a question about a background screening report, you should be able to receive an answer quickly.  We have removed all barriers to customer service communications by appointing a Chief of Client Strategies who oversees a team that works all day, every day, with clients. All of our clients have access to a direct line to the team, email, and chat.  We believe technology is key to the background screening process, but we will not remove human eyes from the equation.


  1. Education.  Things change in the background screening world very quickly.  New movements like “Ban the Box” can start sweeping the nation making it critical that your screening partner provide opportunities for learning and education.  We provide almost daily education opportunities with articles, live training, live webinars and one-on-one events.


In summary, a background screening firm should be more than willing to answer these questions.  If they are not, move one.  There are numerous screening firms that will.  You do not want to place the safety and security of your background screening process in the hands of an organization that is cutting corners or providing low quality products or services.  If a company won’t take the time to answer your questions in order to win your business, how responsive will they be when you are a client?


Please give us a call or an email, we are glad to answer any questions you have or provide an audit of your current screening program:  Toll Free  866-434-0002 or

10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm

background screening firmIt is very rare these days to have an organization say they are not interested in criminal background screening.  I am not saying it does not happen, it does, but that is a different article. However, once you have made the decision to implement a screening program, the biggest obstacle you will face is selecting a quality background screening firm.   Why?  Because historically the screening industry has promoted low quality products and services.

Yes, there are federal and a few state laws related to screening but they primarily address consumer protection and do not define a quality background check.  So they do not require screening companies to provide deep, comprehensive criminal record checks.  And many of this laws only apply to employment screening.

Have I ever mentioned that I resisted entering the background screening industry when several of our consulting clients asked me to in 2003?  What changed my mind?  When a large school district hired 2 sex offenders who had passed a state-mandated criminal background check.

How could that happen?  I discovered it could happen very easily.  I quickly learned how few screening firms provide quality background screening services.

And through the process of auditing the screening industry for more than 8 years,  I have compiled a list of 10 questions you should ask a background screening firm before hiring them:

  1. How do you define a comprehensive background check?  There is no standard definition.  It could be an instant database search or a single county criminal search limited to 7 years.
  2. Is the “national” background check instant?  If yes, then it is not a comprehensive screening program.  There does not exist a single database, including the FBI’s NCIC, that contains all criminal records.
  3. What is the cost of your background check?  A quality background check does not have to break the bank but it cannot be done for $10.
  4. How far back do your criminal searches go?  A 7 year search is the standard.  This is scary.  What if your candidate raped someone 10 years ago?
  5. How do you handle alias & other names?  As a rule, most screening firms will search only the name you enter (even if misspelled) or they will charge each name as an individual search.  A screening firm focused on safety and security will include alias/ other name searches.
  6. How many sources does your criminal database contain and how is it configured?  Not all databases are the same.  They can vary from a handful to hundreds of sources.  And a database should be configured to allow null DOB searches since the majority of sources do not provide a full DOB.
  7. How do you screen your employees that are handling our sensitive data?  It is not unusual for screening firms to apply their same low standards to their employees who are handling your sensitive information.  A quality screening firm should conduct deep criminal, civil, credit, reference and motor vehicle checks on an ongoing basis.
  8. How do you secure our sensitive data?  Quality screening firms will maintain an ongoing certification of their online system like CyberTrust, SAS 70 or SSAE 16 and be PCI compliant.  They should also have strong internal controls and a privacy policy.
  9. Do you assist with legal compliance?  Quality screening firms will provide education, templates and assistance with all forms of legal compliance, particularly with the very specific requirements of the FCRA.
  10. Who handles our questions?  Questions are a natural, normal and frequent part of the background screening process.  Many of the large screening firms have attempted to automate this process which leaves you frustrated and vulnerable to making a mistake.  A trusted screening partner will provide easy access via email, telephone or Twitter so you can find answers to your questions without slowing your process.

If a background screening firm cannot answer these questions, then I would suggest moving on in your selection process.  Do not place the safety and security of your organization in the hands of a firm that is cutting corners or providing low quality searches.

For more information, download  our whitepaper 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm.

Dr. Carrie Cate-Clements, Customer Service & Background Screening Firms

background screening firmsI thought I would take a detour and dedicate this blog to tooting the horn of our staff.  When I launched Safe Hiring Solutions in 2004, I had studied background screening firms and quickly realized the background screening industry did not offer:

  1. High Quality Background Checks; or
  2. Quality Customer Service

So are most organizations settling for low quality background checks and poor service?  Absolutely.

Why?  First, I don’t think most organizations know their background screening program is inefficient.  Secondly, I think poor service is the norm not the exception and we accept it.

Not me.

If you check out websites of some of the background screening industry giants they all purport to have great service.  Although, not according to the large number of clients that have switched to us in the past few years.

Yes, call me Mr. Skeptical.  However, I have had too many companies tell me they have great service only to find out the hard way that they have no service at all.

Do they think I am that stupid that I won’t figure it out?  Or are they banking on me sticking around because it takes a little effort to switch?

Here is a recent example.  A couple weeks ago, I was looking for a company to convert a new website to WordPress…  I know you can’t wait to hear the rest of this story.  Anyway, I selected a company because their website listed recognized brands as clients and they claimed to have “Kick A--“ customer service.

Now, I have never experienced Kick A—customer service so I took it hook, line and sinker.  Gullible I think is the word.

Let me define their Kick A—customer service:

  • Slow communication
  • 48hr turnaround time is nearing 3 weeks
  • Cost has almost doubled

I think I read it wrong and it was actually Kicked in the A—customer service.

The truth is that companies that provide good service do so because they value their clients.  It is not a marketing scheme.  It is the fabric of who they are.

And companies that don’t provide good customer service…  Well, you tell me.

When I launched Safe Hiring Solutions I made two commitments:

  1. We would offer the highest quality background checks available; AND
  2. We would provide unbelievable customer service.

Notice I did not say we would always be the cheapest.  You can always find cheaper, low quality background checks and poor service if that is what you are after.

Every single one of our 18 employees must reflect my vision for quality and service.  Not one or the other, but both.  And they do.

We have great people that care deeply about what they do.  That is why you will see them at our office from early morning until midnight (or later) this time of year as schools are back in session.

Jim Dermody, Superintendent of New Prairie School District, recently commented to me, “Safe Hiring Solutions has old school customer service.”  Right on.

I have described our company as cutting edge technology and old school customer service for years.  Don’t believe me, give us a try.

Dr. Carrie Cate-Clements, HR expert and education consultant discusses how she decided on Safe Hiring Solutions for her consortium:

Are you looking for a quality background screening firm partner?    Is it hard to navigate all of the marketing materials?

Download our 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm.

Hilton Head, Customer Service & Background Screening Firms

background screening firmHuh?  No, the sun has not fried my brain.  There really is a connection between Hilton Head Island, customer service and background screening firms. It is 6:45AM on beautiful Hilton Head Island and I have not even made my trek across the street to Java Joe’s for my morning kick start.  Who really needs coffee with the sight and sound of waves crashing?

The island has everything I could want in a vacation:  beach, ocean, local restaurants and great service.

The beach, ocean and local restaurants are a given.  However, I have begun to realize that great service is a dying trade.

Maybe I have had too much time to think this week while sitting on the beach but the last couple of weeks have driven me crazy as we have tried to form a partnership with a new information provider.

We want to give them money.  Lots of it.  Month after month

Seems simple enough right?

Well for two weeks we have called, emailed, left voice messages and to date have still not gotten any response after the initial email that generated all of our questions.  I have emailed and left messages with two of their VP’s.  Nothing.

Did I mention we would be spending thousands per month?

What is the chance I get a phone call returned if we have a support issue?  Or a complaint?

Did I mention we are going to spend thousands per month on this?

So what the heck does this have to do with background checks?  A lot actually.  When I launched Safe Hiring Solutions I made a commitment to ALWAYS provide the highest quality background screening service and GREAT customer support.

Read that again.  I did not say we are perfect.  We strive for perfection.

So our commitment to you still stands.  If you call during normal business hours we will answer the phone.  If you email us, we will email you back quickly.

This is not a marketing ploy for us.  It is who we are.  We have the greatest people who care deeply about what they do.  And they know you need the best information as quickly as possible.

And if you have a question you need it answered now.

So thanks for letting me vent a little while on vacation.  The truth is I expect the same level of service from our business partners as we provide our clients.  Maybe my expectations are too high.

So be it.  Great service can and does still exist.  The team at Safe Hiring Solutions proves it every single day and it makes me proud.

You deserve it.

What is the Most Important Quality of a Background Screening Firm?

background screening firmThere is nothing like an early morning run on the beach to clear my head and think.  You guessed it.  I am still on vacation.  Kids are sleeping….well, our kids are.  The 3 little guys next to us are moving around the pool like Indy cars and the look on mom’s face says vacation is not that relaxing.  Been there? Anyway, for the past couple months I have spent a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the background screening industry.   Yes, I have been a critic of the low quality background checks that dominate the industry since the day I launched Safe Hiring Solutions.  And will continue to be for the foreseeable future as cheap, risky screening solutions are still being peddled as “national background checks.”

National background check does NOT automatically mean comprehensive.  Actually it rarely does.

The only way to know for sure is to educate yourself on background screening so you can ask the right questions of a background screening firm.  We prefer to put all the marbles on the table so you can see what we do and how we do it.

Transparency is critical but it is not the #1 most important quality of a background screening firm.  It hit me this morning while running that the most important quality is integrityIntegrity is defined as doing the right thing even when nobody is watching.

It is easy to do the right thing when people are watching, right?

I have spent the past 20 years working to end violence against women and children.  One consistency over the years is that perpetrators of domestic violence often do the right thing in public and brutalize their partners at home.  Do you know how many neighbors of perpetrators that I have interviewed over the years that described the domestic terrorist as a “great guy”?  The majority.

Now, this is going to be a bold statement but it is necessary.  The public face of a background screening firm always looks nice.  The peddler of cheap background checks relies upon crafty marketing and an uneducated market.

What you are looking for is a screening firm that has integrity.  That does the right thing when nobody is looking.

A background screening partner with integrity will be honest about pricing, limitations of criminal databases, disclose how far back their searches go and how they handle alias or other names.  Integrity in background screening means we are more concerned with the safety and security of your organization than profit.

Are you ready to work with a background screening firm that has integrity?

Download the 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm so you choose a firm with integrity.

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Background Screening Firm

background screening firmYesterday, I hustled out of church after purchasing three chicken and noodles dinners in support of our homeless ministry.  The sun was shining and I had two goals:  cut the grass and finish staining the deck. Unfortunately, after eating quickly, Mother Nature opened the clouds and dropped buckets of rain.  I have lost track, but this must be about the 1 millionth straight day of rain.

I eventually gave up hope of cutting the grass and staining the deck and settled into a comfortable chair and read the final 50 pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo before sitting down to write this blog post.  It was just me and the pitter patter of rain.   The kids had scattered to grandparents or were napping.

I started thinking about a recurring conversation I have had with potential clients.  What makes us different than many of our competitors?  What they were really saying is that all background screening firms look the same on paper or a website?

Amen.  You have to cut through layers and layers of crafty marketing to determine what a company really offers.

This has placed us at a disadvantage because we are transparent but have not always done a great job of educating potential clients on what background check best practices look like.  That is changing and you will see a lot more video testimonials on our website in the coming weeks.

So I thought I would share the 7 habits of a highly effective background screening firm:

  1. They Do Not Offer One Click Background Checks as a Screening Program.  The lure of instant background checks is hard to resist.  Cheap and fast.  In your heart you know this is too good to be true and it is.  I don’t care what the firm is telling you.   ALL instant criminal database searches are incomplete.  These searches are a tool to be included in a package not a screening program.  A reputable background screening firm does not market these searches as screening programs.
  2. They are Focused on the Safety of Your Organization.  A quality background screening firm should place the safety of your organization as the top priority.  Firms that sell cheap criminal searches for $10 are placing profit above safety.  Every single employee at Safe Hiring Solutions from our CEO to administrative assistant has children or grandchildren in a school, church or volunteer organization we provide screening for.  Your safety and security is our mission.
  3. They are Transparent.  Conduct your due diligence when selecting a background screening firm.  Apply the same hiring process to your vendor selection.  A reputable background screening firm should be open and honest about background screening limitations, pricing and turnaround time.
  4. They are a Committed Partner.  Background checks require ongoing communication between the client and the screening firm.  You need a partner you can trust and who responds to your questions quickly.  Partnerships are based on honesty, trust and open communication.  We provide a client service representative to every client.  Our staff members work closely with you and monitor the quality and timeliness of your screening reports.
  5. 5.       They Provide Legal Guidance.  Navigating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, EEOC and individual state laws can be overwhelming for an organization.  Quality background screening partners will provide training, education and sample forms to steer you in the correct legal direction.  Ask firms about their policies related to legal compliance.  Do a Google search and you might be surprised how many large-brand screening firms have been sued for FCRA non-compliance.
  6. They Hire Great People.  Great organizations have great people.   We look for character, integrity and great personalities.  Skills can be taught.  We don’t have to market great customer service, we provide it.  Ask our clients what they think about their client services representative.
  7. They Use Cutting Edge Technology.  Highly effective background screening firms provide online software platforms with integrations to HRIS, applicant tracking systems and the ability for custom integrations.  We have gone one step further and developed an Applicant Tracking System that allows us to configure a link so applicants can sign an e-authorization, input their data and initiate the entire background check without paper or labor.

You obviously care deeply about your organization and the doing the right thing or you would not be reading this article.  So do not settle for anything less than a background screening firm that is committed to these 7 highly effective habits.

Download our 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm.