IRS Has Been Watching Too Much Shawshank Redemption

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.  For those of you living under a rock, it’s a story about a man named Dufresne who is sentenced to prison for a murder he didn’t commit.  Andy was a highly educated man and when the prison warden caught wind of this, he used him as an accountant for the illegal business he was running through the penitentiary.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  You won’t be disappointed.  It’s one of those films that you could watch over and over again and never get tired of it.  Well, clearly some folks at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) think so.  Check out the Chicago Tribune story below.

Your tax return practitioner, certified under a new U.S. Internal Revenue Service registration program, could be a jail bird.

In 2011, 66.9 million taxpayers paid for a professional to do their taxes – accounting for more than half of all individual returns sent to the IRS.

There were 962 prisoners or former convicts who received an IRS tax preparer identification number in 2011, according to an IRS inspector general report released on Thursday.

Forty-three IRS-certified tax return preparers are serving life sentences, the report said.

The IRS regulations do not prevent prisoners from getting identification numbers. The IRS said those incarcerated preparers will have their identification numbers suspended.

Prisoners and other questionable tax return preparers can slip through the certification process in part because the IRS has tabled a decision on background checks.

Earlier this year, the IRS proposed a background check and fingerprint requirement to be processed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for certain preparers. The preparer community resisted this requirement, saying it would be too costly.

The background check requirement is still “under study,” and the IRS has no timeframe for announcing a decision, an agency spokesperson said on Thursday.

The truth is that these people might be very good a preparing tax returns, but let’s think about the exposure here: Social Security Numbers just waiting to get stolen, people’s home addresses along with a full understanding of their financial situation, birth dates, etc.

I cannot begin to tell you how much money companies like ours have spent complying with government regulations on data privacy, and in truth, I don’t begrudge it.  It keeps all of us safe.  But how can the same government allow this to happen?  What type of background check do you think these people would have to undergo for this type of job if they weren’t in prison?

Screening Employees: You Get What You Pay For

By Jason Morris, President & Kevin Bachman, VP of Quality Service.

We have made a conscious effort over the years to NOT make our blog a self-promotional site.  In fact, it’s with great care that we let you draw your own conclusions from the information that we put out.

On Sunday a story hit the AP wire that has made its way around our industry.  The article, points a wicked finger at the screening industry as dangerous, lazy and careless.  The article calls out a few background check companies, also known as Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA’s) for reporting incorrect, and un-verified information to employers. Employers use these inaccurate reports to deny people jobs, hurting innocent people simply looking for work.

We love to take strong positions against inaccurate reporting. We find no more pleasure than calling out news that is wrong, looking smarter than some reporter looking to make his bones by writing a careless expose… WE CAN’T DO THAT HERE.  The reporter was right in all aspects except one; WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME!

Are there companies that are careless and quick to pass along outdated or inaccurate information? YES. Are there companies that use only databases and don’t research actual court records? YES. Are there companies that simply scrape data off of court websites and don’t check it for accuracy? You guessed it, YES AGAIN.  It’s these companies that give us all a bad name; pushing onto employers the idea that screening is a commodity then sell the cheapest product possible to fit neatly into the world they’ve just created.

There are reasons for this.  Conducting background checks is a complicated business. The employers are generally unaware of the nuances of local, county, state, and federal laws, their processes, problems or regulations. And that’s not their fault. It’s not their business.  But without this knowledge, and with all companies claiming to do the same thing, it’s easy to discount claims of service and accuracy and simply look at price and whiz-bang technology systems.  On the other side, these screening companies know this; and their use of terms like “criminal search”, “instant” and “national background check,” combined with bells and whistles software allows them to perpetuate a higher degree of accuracy than their processes actually provide.

Last week we wrote about our experience at the Criminal Records and Employment Conference at Cornell ILR Law School in NY.  We wrote about the civil rights activists that were upset about all things screening.  We still stand tall and disagree with many of their positions; however, it’s stories like this that help us realize why they are so upset!  People are getting hurt everyday by these careless background checks and companies hiding behind loopholes in the Fair Credit Reporting Act rather than taking personal responsibility for their actions.

Its because of all this that EmployeeScreenIQ takes a “No Shortcuts” approach to all things screening.  “No Shortcuts” is more than just a tagline or fancy marketing campaign. It is the foundation for how we operate our business. This mantra is employed at every level of our organization so that you can make informed hiring decisions. One of the worst things you can do in your background screening process is to make a hiring decision based on inaccurate data. Rather than just reporting raw, unconfirmed information, EmployeeScreenIQ takes the necessary steps to ensure the results are reliable, accurate and up to date. Three fundamental principles of the Federal law WE choose to follow.

Before reporting criminal records to you, our Public Records department actually confirms that the information we’ve found belongs to your applicant. They also actually consult our 50 state compliance guide to ensure that the record is legally reportable. Believe it or not, the same methods apply to verifying other pieces of adverse information such as employment and education verifications. We’re all for streamlining the process and reducing turnaround time, but it should NEVER come at the expense of a quality product. Want proof that our methods work? Only .017% of all county criminal checks we complete are disputed.  (A dispute rate that this article points out screening companies are unwilling to publish!!!)

The proof is in the pudding.  EmployeeScreenIQ has successfully achieved compliance with the National Association of Professional Background Screeners accreditation program and is formally recognized as Background Screening Credentialing Council Accredited.  This recognition affirms EmployeeScreenIQ’s commitment to excellence, accountability, high professional standards and continued institutional improvement. Less than 2% of employment screening companies have earned this distinction and we are pleased to share such a small stage.

Accreditation is an important seal of approval that all companies should look for when choosing a provider as it is the only program in our field that proves their procedures are compliant with industry best practices. It also affirms security protocols, industry knowledge and expertise.

AP IMPACT: When your criminal past isn’t yours

Class Action Against Capital One Has Applicant Asking, “What’s in Your Wallet”

I just saw a press release from an attorney who is leading a class action in Maryland against Capital One on behalf of those who say that the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) for the manner in which they conduct employment background checks.  The suit alleges that the company has harmed their job applicants by:

  • Burying the Applicant Release and Disclosure form in the job application
  • Not providing the proper Adverse Action notifications and copies of the background check result when an applicant was denied employment
  • Using improper formatting requirements on the release (font must be a certain size)

If true, this could lead to either a large settlement or verdict against the company.  If so, you can be sure that the attorneys leading the class will be asking the company “What’s in Their Wallet!”

Whether these allegations are true of not (and it is our hope that they are not), employers should take note that it is far easier to comply with the FCRA than to face this type of action.

P.S. Even though I know the reason why, I still can’t get over law firms sending out press releases on the cases they file.

EmployeeScreenIQ to Present at HR.com Quality of Hire Conference

EmployeeScreenIQ’s president and chief operating officer, Jason Morris and chief marketing officer, Nick Fishman will present “Your Applicants Have Something to Hide: Why You’re Not Finding It” at HR.com’s Quality of Hire Virtual Conference on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:00am est.

Whether it’s illegal drug use, violent crime or any other criminal conviction, many job applicants have a secret they would rather not reveal to a potential employer.

That’s why HR professionals need to attend a new webinar from the industry experts at EmployeeScreenIQ, the leading global provider of background screening services. The webcast is titled, “Your Applicants Have Something to Hide: Why You’re Not Finding It.”

The HR Certification Institute has pre-approved the webinar for one general recertification credit.

The informative workshop will explain why smarter screening equals intelligent hiring. Drawing from 13 years of company experience, EmployeeScreenIQ’s webinar will explain how to ensure accurate criminal background checks without taking shortcuts.

Webinar attendees will learn the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, including how courts are organized, where criminal records are housed, and the various methods for conducting criminal research: In Person County searches, Clerk Run searches and National Criminal Record Database searches, plus “Screen Scraping” and more.

The webcast will also explain the differences between federal searches, statewide searches, and using the FBI’s fingerprint database. Finally, attendees will understand how limiting the scope of a search—whether by number of years or jurisdictions—can imperil the entire process.

For more information on the presentation and registration, please visit http://www.hr.com/en?t=/contentManager/onStory&StoryID=1321561674790

1/26/2012 Your Applicants Have Something to Hide: Why You're Not Finding It (Speaking Engagement)

EmployeeScreenIQ’s president and chief operating officer, Jason Morris and chief marketing officer, Nick Fishman will present “Your Applicants Have Something to Hide: Why You’re Not Finding It” at HR.com’s Quality of Hire Virtual Conference on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:00am est.

Whether it’s illegal drug use, violent crime or any other criminal conviction, many job applicants have a secret they would rather not reveal to a potential employer.

That’s why HR professionals need to attend a new webinar from the industry experts at EmployeeScreenIQ, the leading global provider of background screening services. The webcast is titled, “Your Applicants Have Something to Hide: Why You’re Not Finding It.”

The HR Certification Institute has pre-approved the webinar for one general recertification credit.

The informative workshop will explain why smarter screening equals intelligent hiring. Drawing from 13 years of company experience, EmployeeScreenIQ’s webinar will explain how to ensure accurate criminal background checks without taking shortcuts.

Webinar attendees will learn the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, including how courts are organized, where criminal records are housed, and the various methods for conducting criminal research: In Person County searches, Clerk Run searches and National Criminal Record Database searches, plus “Screen Scraping” and more.

The webcast will also explain the differences between federal searches, statewide searches, and using the FBI’s fingerprint database. Finally, attendees will understand how limiting the scope of a search—whether by number of years or jurisdictions—can imperil the entire process.

For more information on the presentation and registration, please visit http://www.hr.com/en?t=/contentManager/onStory&StoryID=1321561674790

12/15/2011 EmployeeScreenIQ Holiday Schedule

With the holidays upon us, we wanted to communicate that the EmployeeScreenIQ offices will be closed on Monday, December 26th in observance of the Christmas holiday and on Monday, January 2nd for New Year’s.  Other than those two days, we will be open for regular office hours.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you and your families.  May 2012 be a happy, healthy and prosperous year for us all!

Background Check Revealed Criminal Past on Accused Molester

If you needed a reminder of what a sick world we live in, just follow stories of  former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and former Syracuse coach Bernie Fine.  These are high profile stories that have rocked the nation, but in truth their deviant behavior is repeated by lesser known people throughout the country on a daily basis.

I just read about a man who has been charged with six counts of sexual molestation while we was working at a DHS licensed after-care program.  And guess what?  He was a convicted felon at the time of his hiring.

Here’s where this story gets tricky.  The 2004 felony conviction was for fraud and the agency knew about it after the conducted a criminal background check.

Side note: Buyer beware. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation system showed that this individual was clear.  The conviction was found when they actually went into the court system.

The conviction wasn’t of concern to them since it didn’t involve drugs, child abuse or violence.  So here’s the question: what would you have done?

We keep hearing from the state and federal government that the threshold should always be job-relatedness.  And to a certain extent, I agree.  Why, for instance, should a job that does not require use of a company or personal car be denied to an individual who has one misdemeanor DUI conviction on their record from three years ago? But how about a conviction for fraud?  Doesn’t that speak to a person’s honesty and integrity?  Regardless of the position they are hired for, wouldn’t a reasonable person have a healthy sense of distrust of this individual throughout the tenure of their employment?

Now true, this conviction would not have told the agency that this person would molest children.  But it sure should have raised some red flags.  What do you think? See story below.

Reminder of New California Employer Obligations On Credit Reports

We wanted to a reminder you that the state of California’s new restrictions on the use of employment credit reports are set to take effect January 1, 2012.  Employers may still consider a credit report under the following circumstances only if the candidate is specifically informed that such a report will be run for one of the specific purposes (listed below) and they have obtained written permission:

  • A managerial position
  • A position in the state Department of Justice
  • A sworn peace officer or other law enforcement
  • A position for which the information contained in the report is required by law to be disclosed or obtained
  • A position that involves regular access to confidential information such as credit card account information, Social security number, or Date of birth
  • A position which the person can enter into financial transactions on behalf of the company
  • A position that involves access to confidential or proprietary information
  • A position that involves regular access to cash totaling ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or more of the employer, a customer, or client, during the workday

I have underlined the text above to highlight the fact that this requirement is different than that currently required on a California applicant release and disclosure form.  The employer must now specifically inform the applicant that a credit report will in fact be run and that it will be used for one or more of the above purposes.  The specific purpose must be noted.