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Saturday, June 02, 2007

How to Conduct a Basic Background Check

by Joe Hoover

In the not-too-distant past, people were raised and spent their lives in small towns or localized city neighborhoods, often living among the same neighbors for all or most of their lives. Everyone knew his or her neighbors, and that personal intimacy lasted a lifetime.

Today’s world however, is highly mobile. Few people live in the same locale for very long, and so many of our interpersonal relationships grow out of cyberspace where a person can become anyone they wish to be. In such a transient society, trust is no longer a matter of faith, but often must be verified, especially in matters of the workplace, business relationships and property rental. 

Background investigations are performed for business or personal reasons, and the depth and breadth of information available can often make the difference between success and failure in a variety of relationships. The reality of 21st century interpersonal relationships requires informed decisions to enable the protection of companies, employees, families, property or investments.

Business background checks are most often performed when hiring employees, managing rental property, conducting business with other companies, investing in a business venture or attempting to collect on a business debt.

Personal background checks are essential when an individual is going to be given access to one’s home or property as a result of performing a service or being hired as an employee.

The unprecedented access to technology enables people to either steal or manufacture identities with great ease. Therefore it is essential to utilize background checks, gleaning as much information as possible to confirm an individual’s identity before becoming involved with them. The old expression “it is better to err on the side of caution” has more meaning today than ever in the past.

The steps shown below provide the procedural basis for conducting background checks, whether for business or personal use. However, keep in mind that when conducting a business background check, most often there is a signed application permission form that enables access to certain specific records that otherwise cannot be accessed.


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Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to Conduct a CriminlaL Records Search

by Joe Hoover

Why conduct a criminal records check? This is a question that many prospective employers, landlords or business people ask when first considering an individual for employment, property rental or as a business associate. People often put too much faith in a resume, a simple background check or contacting referees. In today’s society, it is necessary to follow through with a criminal records check to be absolutely certain that the person under consideration is as trustworthy as they may appear to be from an initial interview or check of their paperwork.


The following are examples of imperative reasons why a criminal records check is of paramount value:


1. Workplace Violence – Acts of violence against a co-worker or a member of the public can be devastating. Even the simple threat of violence can cause panic or havoc. Workplace or residential safety is a major concern to employers, landlords and those who work or reside on the premises. A background check may often reveal a record of past violence, which could be a deciding factor in deciding upon a person’s character, as often there is a propensity to re-offend in the future. Prevention of workplace or neighborhood violence means thoroughly pre-screening all new applicants.

2. Negligent Hiring – Employers have been the subject of large jury verdicts for negligent hiring in cases where they hire a person with a criminal record who later harms others. An employer who hires someone who is dangerous or unfit for a job, or who hires a person with a criminal record, can be found liable for negligent hiring.

3. Employers Legal Duty – To insure a safe workplace, employers should exercise due diligence in the hiring process by making reasonable inquiries about who they hire. As well as being an important preventative measure, checking criminal records demonstrates due diligence. The same need for due diligence can be applied to landlords if they rent to a tenant who later is proven to have been responsible for property loss, damage or violence against others.

4. Childcare Institutions, Nursing Homes, and Hospitals – Caregiver institutions should exercise extra caution when recruiting personnel. Does the prospect have a record of child molestation or a history of violent behavior or drug abuse? Once again, these institutions can be held liable for any harm brought to their clients or patients by an employee who was not properly screened. And jury awards in such cases can be devastating to the institution.

5. Government Contractors – Industries that execute government contracts will not hire employees with an anti-establishment disposition or with a felony record or a terrorist connection. It is important for such contractors to conduct criminal background checks for both national security and to guard against loss of their contracts.

6. Neighborhood Communities – Community watch groups or homeowner’s associations should conduct criminal record checks to assure that individuals planning to move in do not have a criminal background or a history of complaints to local law enforcement authorities. Such checks help to insure the continuation of a peaceful and safe residential community.

7. The Internet – The biggest dangers one confronts online are frauds and sex crimes. Face-to-face meetings set up after online acquaintances develop can end up as an unpleasant or dangerous experience for one party. A criminal background check helps one to avoid such a scenario.


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Friday, April 20, 2007

How to Conduct an Employee Background Check

by Joe Hoover
 
WHY CONDUCT AN EMPLOYEE BACKGROUND CHECK?

Employees are an important asset to a company or small business. They essentially are the driving force behind production or services rendered. Often employees are the representatives of the business, especially when dealing with customers or clients. Therefore it is vital to the success and well-being of any business to make certain that its employees are honest, responsible and reliable. Employee background checks are vital to that objective. They are the key to insuring that the company or small business has performed its due diligence in the hiring process.

Most employers are aware that an application for a position being offered may often contain false or misleading information. In many instances, the application for a position looks so right that it leads one to ask, “Here’s an applicant who meets our company’s standards and appears to be just who we are looking for. Is the information provided accurate and truthful? Has the applicant omitted any important details?” There is no way to answer these questions without conducting a thorough background check.

At present, 28 states subscribe to a negligent hiring doctrine. Employers can be held responsible for any criminal acts committed by an employee. This is especially risky if the employee is going to be visiting the homes of customers or clients in any capacity that represents the company or business.

If it becomes necessary to discharge an employee, the employer can be held accountable for lost wages or damages if the employee files charges or a suit for what is claimed as wrongful firing.

THE EMPLOYMENT APPLICATION

The initial step in screening a prospective employee starts with a signed employment application. It is essential that the application include a “Release of Information Statement.” The signed release grants the employer the right to access educational, credit, medical, worker’s compensation, police, criminal and court records. Without a signed release, it is exceptionally difficult to verify the information provided on the written application or any statements made during an initial oral interview.

The Employment Application should ask for the following information:

1. Applicant’s full name and social security number
2. Applicant’s age, date and place of birth
3. Applicant’s current address and telephone number
4. Is current residence a rental or does the applicant own it?
5. Applicant’s past addresses for the last 10 years
6. Name and address of landlords for past 10 years, if applicable
7. Applicant’s educational background and highest degree earned
8. Applicant’s military service record, date and type of discharge
9. Applicant’s passport number and date of expiration, if applicable
10. Name, address and telephone number of current employer
11. Names and addresses of employers for the past ten years
12. Name and address of current bank
13. Three credit references
14. Driver’s license number, state of issue and expiration date
15. Professional licenses or certifications
16. List of vehicles or real property owned
17. Names, addresses and telephone numbers of three relatives not living with applicant
18. Names, addresses and telephone numbers of three personal references

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to Conduct an Assets Search - Locating Hidden Assets

by Joe Hoover

When an individual or a company wishes to avoid being exposed to the possibility of paying out money for judgments resulting from a lawsuit or in personal matters such as alimony or child support, it is not uncommon for substantial assets to be hidden in a variety of ways. This part of the report on locating hidden assets details the manner in which assets can be camouflaged or totally concealed.

Any type of asset can be hidden, including real property, jewelry, stocks, bonds, vehicles, pleasure craft and the most liquid of all assets – money. When an asset is moved or transferred with the intention to defraud, hinder or delay discovery by anyone classified as a creditor, it is then considered to be a hidden asset. This includes hiding of funds from family members attempting to collect on such payments as child support or alimony.

The most difficult of all hidden assets to reach are those that are placed outside of the country in what are called offshore accounts. Certain countries such as the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Switzerland are known for their discretionary banking laws in which secrecy rules. And these countries do not recognize claims made against assets through courts in other nations. Thus assets hidden in offshore accounts are essentially to be forgotten about by those seeking to enforce judgments, or collect on debts or child support.

WHAT KINDS OF ASSETS ARE HIDDEN

Most hidden assets are of the liquid variety – bank accounts, stocks, bonds and mutual funds. In most instances liquid assets are transferred into the name of a spouse, other relative, friend or business entity. In the most extreme cases, the funds are transferred into accounts in offshore banks where they cannot be touched under the laws of the United States.

Liquid assets can also be hidden by placing them into safety deposit boxes in the names of relatives or friends or an alias. Another method for hiding cash is to convert it into traveler’s checks, savings bonds or stockbroker accounts. Still another method of ridding oneself of cash, but still retaining the value, is to use the liquid asset to pay down a mortgage, overpaying the Internal Revenue Service or pay down credit card balances.
Sometimes a liquid asset is converted into personal property such as works of art, collectibles or antiques. Unless those items are hidden, they can be attached as part of an award in a court ordered judgment, but collection of the property can be difficult to accomplish.

Real property, vehicles, boats, planes and other so-called “personal toys” can also be hidden for the same reasons as liquid assets. When facing a lawsuit, which could lead to a judgment, many people attempt to hide these forms of property by transferring ownership and title to the property to another person or entity.  


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How to Conduct an Assets Search - Part One

by Joe Hoover

People hide assets for a variety of reasons that range from personal to business in nature, but essentially they have property or money that they do not want discovered. Hiding of assets is not always a sign of criminal intent, but just as often it shows a moral or ethical failing in a subject’s character in that they feel there is a reason to hide all or a portion of their wealth from scrutiny.

This article delves into the concept of hidden assets and details a methodology for uncovering such property or wealth. 

 
WHY CONDUCT AN ASSETS SEARCH?

There are clearly situations of a business or personal nature in which it is essential to check for the possibility of hidden assets. Knowledge of such assets can make a big difference in the establishment of grounds for particular types of interpersonal actions or the furthering of certain business relationships. And of course the law enforcement community needs to monitor underworld activities, a part of which is watching for laundered or hidden assets, especially those that might end up being removed to offshore accounts. Thus, an asset search is vital to full disclosure of resources in a variety of matters both civil and criminal. The primary reasons for an asset search in the private or family sector are evaluated below:

Entering into a New Business Venture – If one is considering investing in a new business, bringing a new investor into an existing company or contemplating a merger between companies, it is essential to conduct a thorough background check on the individual or corporation. Such a check also includes a comprehensive assets search.

Prior to Entering into a Lawsuit – It is important to conduct an assets search prior to filing suit against an individual or company to determine what assets or regular income is present in the event a judgment is ordered by the court (see below). It is not worth the cost of legal fees to file a suit against a person or company that will be unable to pay any court-ordered sum. It is also important to determine what assets or property could be attached on an uncontested basis once a judgment is issued, assuming victory in the suit. If the entity to be sued has nothing of value that can be taken, there is no point in entering into a suit.

Collecting on a Judgment – When the court order a sum of money to be paid as part of a civil action, a judgment is issued, this is simply a court order for the payment of funds. It is rare for the defendant to simply pay the amount ordered on the spot. The judicial system only orders payment, but collection is the responsibility of the plaintiff.

A judgment will stand for ten years, but can be extended to become permanent. However, this requires that the defendant, who is now considered to be the debtor, be questioned in a deposition or hearing under oath regarding their financial status. If the debtor is going to surrender an item of property such as an automobile or boat, be certain to do an asset search before taking possession. If there are any liens against the property, taking possession may also bring with it liability for the lien.

Divorce – The finances involved in a divorce can often become rather complicated. It is not uncommon for a spouse to hide assets that would be open to dispute. An asset search of the party being divorced is very important to be certain that all assets are accounted for.

Child Support/Alimony – Public child support enforcement agencies are ill-equipped to locate parents who evade their child support obligations. Quite often the errant parent will attempt to hide assets, thus pleading an inability to meet child support or alimony payments. In child support cases, once the parent is located, information regarding their wages or any hidden assets should be given to the proper child support enforcement agency that can then facilitate collection.
 

Contestant of a Will – Quite often personal assets may be hidden and not disclosed in a will. Potential beneficiaries or those entitled to a claim against the estate should search for the possibility of hidden assets.

WHAT ARE ASSETS?

Everything that is owned is potentially an asset. Stocks, bonds, real estate, money in the bank, automobiles, RV’s, boats, airplanes and even household furnishings are all considered assets. Personal assets are classified as either being personal property or real property.

Tangible Personal Property – This includes vehicles, equipment, inventory, telephone systems, computers, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and paid insurance policies with cash value. Any items of value that a person or a company buys or comes into possession of constitute a tangible asset. Ownership is determined by possession unless the property must be licensed such as vehicles, boats or airplanes. For those types of property, the ownership is determined by title and registration. For all other property, a sales receipt or cancelled check can be used to determine ownership, but the courts have been guided by the belief that possession is nine tenths of the law.

Intangible Personal Property – This category includes patents, royalty agreements, promissory notes, contracts, accounts receivable, wages or other income.

Real Property – All homes, condominiums, apartment or commercial buildings and land are classed as real property. Only a residence that is protected by a homestead exemption is exempt from being attached. All other real estate is subject to claim through the courts.
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Part Two of this article covers the topic of hiding assets.
 

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Friday, March 30, 2007

How to Conduct a Tenant Background Check

Most landlords have experienced the wild Saturday night party when neighbors must summon the police to quiet a rowdy crowd. They are equally familiar with walking into an apartment or commercial space after a tenant has vacated only to find the premises in shambles, requiring almost total renovation. In both residential and commercial leases, there is a potential for lost income resulting from the time to complete extensive repairs, or if a tenant breaks a lease and suddenly vacates. These are nightmare scenarios that can be minimized by conducting background checks before renting an apartment, condo, home or commercial space to a prospective tenant.

The steps presented in this article will reduce the dangers of facing later evictions or costly repairs.

WHY SCREEN POTENTIAL RENTERS?

The implementation of a tenant screening process will minimize future tenant problems. By checking on the background of a potential renter and thereby establishing their qualification as a tenant, the risk of experiencing the scenarios noted above becomes far lower. Not only do bad tenants cost owners and managers money, their actions can also bring unforeseen liabilities for a tenant’s actions.

The Telephone Interview: Often the first contact with a prospective tenant is by telephone, especially if the rental has been advertised in a local newspaper. This is the time for the landlord or a representative to ask the right questions that initiate the qualification process. Questions to be asked to residential as well as commercial renters should include:
  • Name of prospective tenant
  • Telephone contact number
  • Date prospective tenant wishes to occupy premises
  • Does the prospective tenant have landlord references?
Questions to be asked to residential renters should also include:

  • Reason for choosing to move
  • Number of people in family
  • Number of children, if any, and their ages
  • Type and number of pets, if any
  • Is anyone in the family a smoker?
In addition to asking the above questions, the landlord or representative should inform the prospective tenant of the monthly rent, security deposit or other up-front fees, as this often will eliminate the need for further screening if the person cannot afford the price and fees being quoted.

Personal Interview: If both parties are satisfied following the telephone interview, it is normal for a prospective tenant to wish to see the property. This also affords the owner or representative an opportunity to meet the party in question. Much can be gleaned from this interview.


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Monday, February 05, 2007

How to Check Out a Business

by Joe Hoover

When dealing with another business entity or service provider, the common questions that must be asked are: “Can this company be trusted?” or “How much is known about this company?” Doing business in today’s reality is fraught with potential risks. There are news stories about contractors who secure deposits and then never return to do the job, or accounts about companies that defraud investors out of millions of dollars. Remember the recent national scandal regarding Enron Corporation.

When intending to establish a relationship with a company, it is important to be certain that they are reputable, and that their image is not marred by liens, judgments, bankruptcy or civil action, either against the entity or its principals.

The following straightforward steps can save a business many future problems in dealing with a new entity:

FINDING BASIC COMPANY OR PRINCIPAL INFORMATION

Always start at the local level, especially for a small company, as this may be the only source of information available. All companies must conform to local laws or codes, since they essentially are rooted in a community. City or county records are a good place to start. These will provide information as to the origin of the business, tax liens, judgments filed and criminal complaints or actions pending against the business or its principals. And this information is normally public record and available to all who ask.

The Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau are important sources, as most maintain open records of complaints filed against the company or its principals. If the company is in construction or equipment servicing, the local Registrar of Contractors should be queried.

Published articles can expand search parameters regarding the company or its principals. It is easy to check by business name and the names of individuals through the Internet, local newspaper archives or in industry-specific journals. One important service is Lexis Nexis News, which will do the legwork for a fee.

CHECK THE COMPANY’S REPUTATION AND REFERENCES

References can be an excellent source of confirmation of both a company’s reputation and its ability to live up to its commitments. Before doing business with or hiring a company to perform a service, it is imperative that references be contacted by either telephone or e-mail. Generally clients or former clients will provide a well-rounded picture of the company in question and its personnel.

Another valuable reference, especially in the financial area, is the company’s vendor list. Anybody who provides either goods or services to a company can attest to their credit worthiness.

Business and professional licensing provides still one further source of important information regarding a business or professional entity. This is especially significant with regard to any company from which services are contracted. Such companies often list their license numbers on their business card, knowing that potential clients may wish to check upon their reliability and integrity. If the business uses a trade name, then it is also important to obtain the names of the owners or managing principals. Many governmental agencies have special “Doing Business As” files that cross reference company trade names with owners or directors.

Important agencies that maintain public records containing detailed information for business and professional or corporate entities and their operatives include:
  • Secretary of State’s Department of Professional Regulation
  • State Accountancy Board
  • State Corporation Commission
  • State Registrar of Contractors
In most states, the Secretary of State’s office has a corporation division database that enables searches on partnerships, corporations and LLC’s.

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