I was asked once why employers perform background checks. The Human Resources head of a Fortune 500 summed it up best; If other companies are screening candidates and we are not, then we will inevitably attract a greater proportion of the unscrupulous candidates. I found this perspective to be an insightful, yet chilling. Was I putting myself and my family at risk by not checking up on the people in my professional and social networks? I quickly signed up for an online background investigative service and began to sift through the information. What I found really opened my eyes andave me a new perspective on the value this sort of information had to offer.
I started digging through information on my childhood friends. I had run into an old buddy of mine a few months back and learned that a mutual friend of ours had been incarcerated and rarely released for some sort of minor misdemeanor. The two of them get together regularly and my buddy offered me an invite the next time the two of them planned to meet. I thought I would start here because I knew this search would turn up some information. I was shocked by what I found! This all American kid, who I once considered a good friend, had three felonies and an attempted escape! I quickly relayed this information to my friend and politely informed him that getting together was not the best idea. I began to dig through my electronic rolodex in alphabetical order. The information I found was fascinating, and I could not believe the amount of detail that I could retrieve. I have to say that I began to feel like a private investigator. I found all sorts of personal information that would make a paparazzo blush; real-estate holdings, ex-wives, telephone numbers, birth records, divorce records and other personal information. Thankfully, the information I uncovered was benign and was of little concern.
I continued my way through my contacts, and bingo; I found a recent arrest record of a former work college who was now a teacher in a local school. We run into each other at a company reunion party that is arranged each November. He is a very unassuming character, the sort of guy who picked up a guitar at our company parties and led the sing-along. It turns out that this guy had been put on probation for exposing himself to a student that he was tutoring. The guy was now a convicted sex offender! This will be very useful information to have for our next gathering.
I then got to thinking what people would find out about me. Like many of us, I was a bit crazy in my youth and had some small run-ins with the men in blue. I held my breath as I sorted through the data, scanning for anything from my past. Thankfully, none of the information turned out to be derogatory or embarrassing, but I was fascinated by the detail that was out there on me.
This experience sparked a question … We all know we should check our credit status regularly but how many of us check our own background? The exercise I went through demonstrated how easy it is to acquire information on another person. Employers, neighbors, acquaints, and all sorts of people in your social network are using publicly available information to poke around into your background. I learned a very valuable lesson today; I can avoid problems by checking out the information available in my background before someone else does!
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