5 Background Check Red Flags You’re Probably Missing


Dennis Lawrence, CFE

Lawrence is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agent and Investigations Manager at a publicly traded software company. He is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University.

Whether vetting a new employee or an expert witness, we’re all familiar with the basic components of a background check. The industry standard includes a comprehensive criminal records search along with verification of educational credentials, employment history and professional licenses. Perhaps civil litigation searches and a credit report are thrown in as well. But are your background checks exploring the issues below that aren’t as easy to discover and could do the most damage?

  1. Secret companies and conflicts of interest
    Side businesses are becoming increasingly common as it is simpler today than it has ever been to set up your own website and LLC. However, these entrepreneurial projects aimed at earning extra income can potentially lead to conflicts of interest or outright fraud. How valuable would it be to learn that the new head of your IT department is purchasing marked up equipment and services from a company he quietly owns but is managed by a seemingly unrelated party? If you’re serious about boosting your capabilities in this arena, try testing out an investigative database offered by one of the big name legal research providers.
  2. Shell companies used to backstop employment history
    Individuals who have been let go from an employer may sometimes conceal a subsequent period of unemployment by representing on their résumé that they started their own business. Curiously, however, the business was only in operation until they found a new job six months later. I once observed a particularly clever Wall Street professional who had recently been released from prison create an LLC to backstop his employment history during his one-year jail sentence and used a co-conspirator as a professional reference. The bottom line is that all self-employment should be verified using state business records to prove the company’s legitimacy (when available), and copies of 1099s should be collected to verify that the company was actually earning money.
  3. Unverified military career with extraordinary claims
    As a federal employee who served in Afghanistan, I have a healthy respect for our veterans. Since joining Corporate America, however, I have been astounded at the number of background checks I have run on people falsely claiming to be decorated war heroes. In all cases, the purported military experience on their résumés fell outside the seven year scope which they knew was automatically subject to verification. It seemed as if they were hoping no one would bother to go further back and check their military service record. When in doubt about a particularly spectacular representation, request a copy of the individual’s DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) and follow up with an employment verification. You could learn a lot about someone’s credibility and state of mind.
  4. Recently issued social security number
    Social security number (SSN) validations tend to be overlooked even when they are included in a background check report. But what if your senior consultant purportedly born and raised in Ohio was only issued an SSN five years ago? A change in SSN, which is often accompanied by a name change, is a great way to start over in life, especially if your intent is to evade public records searches. A licensed attorney once vetted by our team went to extraordinary lengths to cover up his former life by using precisely this formula, albeit without success. The Social Security Administration offers a free SSN validator for registered users, so there is no excuse to refrain from conducting this basic due diligence and taking a moment to review the results.
  5. Inappropriate behavior on internet message boards and social media sites
    With the amount of time and resources spent verifying an individual’s résumé and searching online databases, it is ironic how often we forego using free sources of intelligence online. Facebook and LinkedIn searches are common sense, but what about slightly less obvious internet footprints? Reverse tracing a phone number on Google can lead to a scandalous internet message board posting, and searching for an email address can reveal a blog with loyalties to causes that may be of value in a litigation or investigative context. 

Use your creativity when examining someone else’s life – you never know when they could be using their creativity to undermine your job as an investigator.

Author’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure compliance with all applicable laws when conducting investigative activities.