Today Show Report Highlights Room for Improvement

Nick Fishman

I’ve taken the weekend to collect my thoughts and think about the expose that aired on NBC’s Today Show that called into question the accuracy of employment background checks.  And truth be told, I’m somewhat torn.  On one hand, I am very proud of the service that our industry provides.  We help employers make informed decisions about the people they want to hire.  In doing so, we help them protect their businesses, their employees and the clients or the people they serve.  It’s an honorable profession, but it is hard to know the impact of what we do.  How do you prove that you prevented a violent crime in the work place when the employee background check you provided included a record that caused the employer to move in a different direction?

So fine, we don’t get to bask in the glory of our work the way others do by celebrating the wins.  But we do care deeply about the work we perform and care about getting it right for our clients and their job candidates.  It doesn’t serve anyone well to provide inaccurate reports.

So, here’s the other side of the equation.

There are companies in our industry who report inaccurate information from time to time.  It isn’t their goal to do so, but it’s faster and less expensive to do it that way.  And guess what?  It’s legal.  The practice is referred to as contemporaneous notice and it requires employment background screening companies to report criminal records as is and without verifying the information.  They then have the responsibility of sending the applicant a copy of their record and allowing them to dispute the results if they are incorrect.

Could EmployeeScreenIQ engage in this practice?  We could, but we choose not to as part of our “No Shortcuts” approach to background screening.  Instead, we choose to verify the information before it is reported.  Does it take longer to do?  Does it cost more money?  Absolutely.  But it gives our clients and hopefully their candidates the peace of mind that the work we produce is fair and accurate.

Back to the Today Show piece. 

There is no doubt that Jeff Rossen took some of the worst examples he could find to make our industry look bad.  I also believe that he edited the interview with Montserrat Miller to make her look out of touch with the public’s concerns (they had an hour long interview that was condensed to about 30 seconds).  However, I was extremely disappointed with the statistic that our industry error rate was “less than 10%”.  I’m sorry, but that just isn’t acceptable to me.  At EmployeeScreenIQ, we measure the number of disputes made by the candidates we screen at 0.02%.  And that’s just the number of reports that are disputed.  Those that are overturned by error are a fraction of that number.  We’ve heard the same thing from a number of our competitors.

So, I respectfully submit that statistic doesn’t represent EmployeeScreenIQ and many others in our industry.  Last week, Angela Bosworth wrote that it was tough to speak out against people that you know, like and respect.  I feel the same way.  I count a number of people that work for some of the companies that were negatively highlighted in the report as friends.  But that doesn’t mean I think that they should continue the practices that hurt our industry time and time again.  We all look bad when these things happen and rather than blindly stand behind our colleagues in solidarity, I think it is more important to find ways to improve what is wrong.

Personally, I think contemporaneous notice should be rethought, at least from an employment screening standpoint.  I think that companies should be held to the maximum possible accuracy standard called for in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  That doesn’t mean outlawing criminal databases.  What it means is using them, as we do, as a pointer for further research at the source of the record (oftentimes at the county where the person was convicted).

We can all get upset that NBC chose to cast our industry in a negative light and point out what was wrong about the report (as NAPBS did late last week), but it’s time to take this issue seriously before the rising tide of critics brings public sentiment to a tipping point.  Employers and job applicants are counting on us.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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  • Nick, the only way to “take this issue seriously before… a tipping point’ is for our industry to embrace Consent Based SSN Verification (CBSV) from the SSA Master File and Death Index. Jeff Rossen would NOT have had a story if all the companies in question had used CBSV which has been available since 2002 to match Name, SSN, DOB, Gender, and Death Indicator. That is an undeniable fact.

    Again, you are correct to state that, “Employers and job applicants are counting on us.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of employers have never heard of CBSV – the premier personal identifier validation methodology – because frankly, some in our industry have not heard about CBSV nor have done the due diligence to learn about it. We must continue to educate and encourage the use of the industry standard Best Practice.

    Perhaps it took this Today Show report to awaken our industry to the importance of CBSV. The alternatives currently being used (credit header information, proprietary algorithms, data brokers, etc.) are fundamentally flawed, have polluted credit profiles, are easily manipulated by identity thieves, and contain stale data.

    If a background screening company is not using CBSV, they are allowing up to 80% of preventable fraud and error. CBSV is litigation (and bad reputation) avoidance, the best possible service for the end-user clients, and the most accurate result for the applicant.

    Side Note:
    Does anyone think, that in this day and age, when the IRS and ICE are coming down hard with fines, penalties and criminal sanctions on companies with unauthorized workers, that the end-user client would balk at paying 50 cents or a $1.00 more for superlative and accurate data from governmental record resources? And if a client end-user decides to go a cheaper, inferior route, then the background screener’s hands are clean. The choice was made by the client because the screener offered absolute validation from CBSV. No more NBC reports!

    By the way, those end-user clients will be thrilled to use CBSV for many other purposes such as validating their members, customers, tenants, students, patients, policyholders, depositors, borrowers, and much more.

    Nick, thanks for all that you do for our industry. Much appreciated, Chuck

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