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When Using a Background Check API, the Right Ingredients are Essential

Date Published: December 17, 2015 | Last Updated:September 15, 2023 | By Katie Hartley
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The holiday season is officially upon us, which means it is time to get creative with your annual holiday baking. You know the drill; you see that fantastic recipe on Food Network or Pinterest, and quickly go to work. But somewhere, a few ingredients in, things get confusing. Can grated ginger be replaced with powdered ginger? Baking powder and baking soda are interchangeable, right? And what the heck is star anise?

You proceed to substitute or skip the ingredients you think won’t matter and in the end, that beautiful spiced cake looks more like a wreck than a holiday wreath (don’t worry, you aren’t alone!).

Using the baking analogy, we see the same scenario playing out time after time when companies are selecting background check API technology. Like the recipes, they pick the background check APIs that look good on screen – only to find they are missing key ingredients needed to deliver a stellar user experience.  We often see customers picking API providers that offer no guidance on how to build a background check that is holistic and compliant, exposing themselves to both poor results and litigation risk.

For many, the misstep comes from not knowing what they should require of their background check API in the first place. At a minimum, it needs to include a criminal history search in the county where the person currently resides. A better background check would also include a Social Security Trace (based on thousands of sources) to search for criminal history in all counties the person has lived in for the last seven years, combined with a search of a National Criminal Database. Results from these higher order searches should then be checked at the county level where the data is up-to-date and cleared for use.

But a truly thorough background check goes much deeper and starts with understanding what you are trying to achieve. If you are making chocolate chip cookies, you wouldn’t pick a recipe that left out the chocolate chips, would you? To bake up the most effective background check, you should ensure that:

  • You set parameters on how in-depth you want your background check to be: Many companies mistakenly think a National Criminal Database search is sufficient enough. While often more affordable, use of a National Criminal Database on its own is risky. In the background screening industry, this type of search is considered more of a “tips and leads” product to catch potential crimes outside of where a person has lived, worked, or gone to school. The reason behind this is that any database available (including the often overestimated FBI database) is solely reliant on the data provided to it. For example, one county’s court system may only supply updated information to the database every few months where other counties may update it daily. Previous convictions listed in a database could have later been expunged or arrests may not have turned into convictions (i.e. innocent until proven guilty). The FCRA has regulations around what can be used in your decision-making, especially in situations where you are denying an individual the ability to make extra money or gain employment. All that said, the National Criminal Database searches are great for casting a wider net, but best practice would be to also include, at a minimum, a 7 year criminal search in their current county of residence to verify any database results.
  • The requirements of the work the individual will be doing are tied to the scope of the background check:  Ride share companies, where the individual is driving as a representative of your brand, are a good example.  Obviously, a driving record should be processed on that individual. This applies not only to drivers who have access to company paid vehicles, but also to those who are paid or reimbursed for driving their own car. However, the background check shouldn’t stop with driving records. If you know the individual will have knowledge of where your customers live or have close interaction with them, the customers need  to trust that the individual has been carefully vetted prior to representing your brand.  This may include International background checks, drug testing, or terrorist watch searches. You need to ensure the vendor you choose offers all the elements you may need to search today and well into the future.
  • Your company has a defined policy of what passes your requirements vs. what requires additional review and consideration: It is important to have consistency in the process throughout your organization so that the same rules apply to every person you are looking to work with. For example, if your policy is that you will not move forward with a candidate based on certain types of past convictions, you need to ensure you work with a provider that has the technology to put controls in place. Those controls can help you enforce that policy throughout your organization, while minimizing personal bias in the decision-making, and maintaining compliance with the associated rules and regulations.
  • Ensure Candidates are getting a fair opportunity: If potential past crimes are found through a database or unreliable web scraping method, they should be confirmed as accurate with the reporting jurisdiction (for example, the county court) before being used in a final hiring decision. In addition, the candidate must have a fair opportunity to dispute the claims. More and more, we see this as an area that companies are mishandling and putting themselves at risk of a lawsuit and non-compliance with regulations such as FCRA. More often than not, what’s lacking  with the background check provider is customer support that can assist the candidate through this process and ensure a positive experience.  Your background check partner should also be able to effectively track and report on their accuracy and dispute rates to ensure quality in all of their results.
  • You have a partner that can meet all of your requirements: Before you set out to select a background check API partner, make sure they offer all the ingredients you need. Consider their experience, reputation, level of customer service and retention, accuracy, and product integrity. For example, you should be asking if they have built a broad network of partners and researchers to ensure reliable results and quicker turnaround times. Are they routinely auditing their partner network for accuracy and speed? Are they only reporting information to you that can be used in your decision-making process? Or are they giving you unfiltered data opening you up to risk?

When it comes to quality ingredients for successful background checks, not all vendors are created equal. With your brand reputation on the line, make sure you are choosing a partner that can help you deliver a recipe for success.

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