Why A Background Check?

For anyone who would background the house or car they buy,  but not their date…

Are Public Records A Bad Thing?
Are you a privacy nut?  Or someone convinced that free public records mean the end of the world?  Or maybe you’re less extreme than that, but just a little alarmed because there’s far too much public information freely available online.

Well, to quote Bill Clinton: I feel your pain.  There’s a lot on the Internet that can be used to stalk people, defame people, or simply harass people. Too much hate, too much bullying, too much social media.  And yes, too many YouTube videos with annoying pop up ads.

So what are you going to do about it?  Without a time machine, we’re stuck in the here and now.  And like fire, which is good in the oven but terrible on the curtains,  so is the free information you’ll find on the Internet.

Think back to all the amazing inventions.  And the opposition they all received. The VCR allowed you to illegally copy.  But with it you could watch all your favorite programs without the commercials.

And what about the Internet?  It made huge numbers of teens more isolated, more asocial and even more into pornography.  Yet it also allowed bedridden grandmothers to Skype their distant grandchildren.  I could talk about the car, the iPod and the smartphone.  But you get the gist.  The technology is neutral.  What counts most is what we do with it.

So let’s stop the complaining. It’s now time to make the lemons into lemonade.

Trust But Verify
Too many times I get the question: Why do a background check?  Sometimes I’m even accused of being  a snooper or stalker.  The people who ask these things tend to think there’s something shady when you look someone up online.  Their concern is that the mere act of backgrounding someone creates inherent feelings  of mistrust.  And that it’s better to be ignorant than poisoned by unfounded suspicion.  In some cases they may be right!

I agree that it’s what’s in our heart that matters.  It harms us when we always suspect others of being liars or underhanded.  But this doesn’t mean we throw away our intelligence or our caution.  We live in an age where people are no longer in communities.  A time when people are no longer accountable.

Unlike a century ago, people now have the power to run away from their own heat.  They can escape their own bad reputations.  So you’re an abuser, a liar or a cheat?  Simply cut off old ties, move to another town and reinvent yourself.  Who will know?   Unless of course, there’s a trail of all the harm you’ve caused.  A trail that can be found easily and for free by those with a need to know.

Your Need To Know
As employers, parents and singles, we all have a need to know.  We have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our friends and our families.  We need to know who we’re going to hire or date or allow near our children.

As Ronald Reagan once said when dealing with the Russians, we should  “trust, but verify.”  This means we start out in good faith and with the best of intentions.   But we’ve got to do our homework as well.  We cannot close our eyes to the realities that surround us.

As the mom of little red riding hood, would you let your little girl wander alone in the forest?  And what about the man you invited home for dinner?  Are you so sure he’s not the big bad wolf?  How can you tell?  As in the story, the wolf wears many disguises.  And the faster you know it’s a wolf, the faster you can protect those you love.

When Is A Good Time To Do A Background Check?
So now you’re seeing wolves and want to do a background check.  But when is a background check appropriate?   It’s all about balancing your desire to trust verses the risk of being too trusting.  The threshold of trust is different for everyone.  It’s your life.  So only you can answer that question.

But allow me to make a few suggestions.  Do a background check whenever the stakes are high.  At the the very least, I recommend it when dating, hiring, renting out your house, or when investing in someone’s business.

I also recommend a background check when you notice something is wrong.  It could be that someone’s story doesn’t add up.  Or that an employee has a pattern of acting strange or erratic and you’re unable to figure out why.

What Do I Look For In A Background Check?
What to look for in a background check all depends on why you’re doing it in the first place.  For example, if your dating someone, their age and marital status may be more important than their DUI of 20 years ago.

If you’re checking out a renter, take a look at any incidences of violence or prior evictions, destruction of property, etc.  Also find out if they ever sued their landlord.

For investors,  you’ll want to check out their honesty and their competence in financial matters.  Do they have recent bankruptcies or defunct companies they ran into the ground?

Were they ever charged or convicted of fraud or embezzlement?  How do they manage their assets?  Checking out what they own tells you if they’re good managers.  It may also reveal if they have undisclosed conflicts of interests.  For example, are they asking you to invest in something they have hidden ties to?  Is it a Ponzi scheme or a company secretly owned by their kid brother?

Lies, Omissions & Funny Business (My Law School Days at ASU)
Often we have no clue what a person has done or even what to ask them.  In other words, we don’t know what we don’t know.  But if something suddenly appears fishy, it’s time to do a background check!

A great example of this occurred in my law school days when I met a a self proclaimed millionaire named Mike Davis.  Mike was smart, affable and seemed like a really nice guy.  But I should have suspected something fishy when I caught him waiting on the financial aid line.  Law school was a lot cheaper back then.  Millionaires didn’t need or qualify for student loans.  That was my first clue something was definitely amiss.

Years later at a party, I confessed to him, “Mike I’ve known you for three years and you’re still f*n inscrutable!  I know as much about you now as the very first day I met you!”  Mike grinned at me and said “just ask away little buddy!”  I was  silent.  What could I ask him?

A few years later Mike made national headlines.  And I so badly wanted to go back to that party and ask him: Hey Mike, by any chance, is your real name Walter Waldhauser And before I knew you, did you ever flunk out of a Texas law school and serve 9 years in prison for killing people to collect on their inheritance money?   And by the way, if you hadn’t plead guilty and ratted out your accomplices, do you think you too would have died by lethal injection as they did?  Just asking little buddy.  Just asking…

But again, you don’t know what you don’t know.  That’s why you should do the background check as soon as you know something’s fishy.   If there’s water dripping from the ceiling, don’t sit around until the roof caves in.

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One thought on “Why A Background Check?”

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