Is a Criminal Record Check Enough?

Is a Criminal Record Check Enough?

Hello and welcome to our website. If you haven’t poked around yet, feel free to do so. Fathom Research Group is all about Internet research and we know many of you share a similar interest in finding out about people, places and things. Having had a long standing and extremely interesting career in national and international law enforcement operations, we have witnessed and lived in a world of very clever and powerful criminals. This is a world that most people (including many law enforcement officers) never see. It is a world of secret codes, foreign languages, conspiracies and dangerous people working in concert with each other throughout the world. The only difference is their set of rules and “court process” is well outside our standard civil dispute mechanisms. Many of the techniques we used in the past were covert and designed to uncover the darkest secrets of criminally minded people… how they think, react and ultimately predicting their actions in the future. As the Internet developed, it progressively became a valuable tool that we used routinely in our investigations.

Finding information held within layers of data on the Internet is the bread and butter of what we do and we love it. In our previous profession, we used many sources of information to establish a picture or profile of a person or group. The operative word here is “many sources”. When we limit ourselves to a simple indices check, we limit the scope and true representation of the person or group we are looking at.

Criminal record checks may provide a false sense of security

There is a lot of weight that is placed on a criminal record check that is ultimately misleading.

This leads me to my first discussion…criminal record checks. There is a lot of weight that is placed on a criminal record check that is ultimately misleading, incomplete and could leave a person with a false sense of security. Don’t get me wrong, it is still an important tool but will likely have limited value on it’s own.

The most dangerous and sophisticated suspects that we pursued in large conspiracy cases did not have criminals record at all. In some cases they did, however their records were minimal and irrelevant to the activity they were pursuing during our investigations.

The reality of getting a criminal conviction is that it requires a lot of things to go right before you get there. Take for example a fraudster. He goes about his business right along the edge of the legal fence where he can’t be prosecuted. Maybe he steps over the line from time to time. Now you need someone to make a complaint. Then you need to get the police to fully investigate (good luck) and hopefully gather enough evidence. If that goes well, you need a prosecutor to lay a charge and prosecute the case. And finally a trial may occur and, if warranted, a conviction. Remember too, not every conviction leads to a criminal record. So if the system is not able to put all of these elements together, you will not have a criminal conviction. Criminal record or not, in most cases, it will not reveal a pattern of behavior or associations that the fraudster may display around your friends, family or employees?

Cheap and fast background screening is usually insufficient

A criminal record check frequently doesn’t provide
sufficient information about someone’s background.

In most pre-employment screening, background checks are conducted going back seven to 10 years. The reason? There are some limitations to how far you can look back into someone’s past, but the majority of times it simply comes down to cost. The farther you look back into someone’s past, the more expensive it gets. This is a step that most people won’t take, mostly because it costs too much. I recently, phoned a background check company and asked for advise on a hiring checks for a friend’s company. They recommended a criminal record check and a reference check for $59.00, if I do several of them. This, simple check, will not provide sufficient information to access someone’s background. However, most companies will consider this process complete and move on. The cost to replace, train and protect your assets, reputation and employees from a bad hire are astronomical compared to a$59.00 check that will not give you the information you need. Though inadequate, it is cheap, fast and is what passes as a corporate background check service because the lay public isn’t aware of the often cursory nature of the service.

The other downside in just using a criminal record check is the subject knows what you are doing and can easily get around the search. Remember, the only way to ascertain a positive criminal record for an individual is to be fingerprinted, which is not often done. A criminal record check is usually limited to a specific area or country, which will not capture international persons.

Comprehensive background investigations
– a risk management decision

In the end, it all comes down to a risk management decision and what an organization’s bottom line is. I have seen many companies install sophisticated systems to keep people out, but little research when they bring an employee in. Frankly, I’ve been surprised on what we can learn about a person’s character and associations using special techniques and databases held on the Internet. I have found in most cases, that a criminal record has minimal use as compared to a person’s associates and identifiable pattern of behavior. I have also found that the mere suggestion of a comprehensive background investigation will deter most persons that are attempting to defraud or mislead you. If you require a focused background investigation, it’s really not that expensive and we would be glad to provide a consultation and figure something out for you.

In the end, criminal record checks are an important part of the background check process, but they are incomplete and often fail to uncover critical information, leaving people with a false sense of security.

About the Author

Pat Fogarty is a former organized crime investigator now leading Internet research and investigations at Fathom Research Group. Read more about Pat.