Over the past decade, our company has performed tens of thousands of background screenings on prospective employees and volunteers throughout the country. The overwhelming majority of those screenings come back with nothing that would make an employer nervous. But some of what we’ve discovered is fascinating… and more than a little disturbing.

For example, one of our biggest business segments is public school districts. Every July, August, and September, as districts hire new employees and volunteers sign up to go on field trips and staff booths at fun fairs, we’re inundated with requests for background checks. That doesn’t surprise us. What does give us pause is the number of convicted sex offenders we find.

Stop and think about it. These are people who have been convicted of committing sexual crimes with children and other vulnerable people, yet they’ve agreed to allow us to check into their backgrounds (and often, even pay us directly for the privilege). Clearly, they’re desperate to be around kids and are hoping that we’ll somehow fail to notice their past behavior. Now think about the times you’ve seen people in your community arrested for sex crimes. They almost always are extensively involved in volunteering with children. You can see why a growing number of schools, churches, and organizations are taking the time to check volunteers.

It’s not just people trying to get access to kids. A hiring manager of a large distribution center contacted us because he was uneasy with the quality of employees some staffing companies were sending him. They assured him that the employees had been screened, but he sent a list and asked us to double-check. The first four names we checked had been convicted of violent sex crimes. By the time we finished going through his list, we had identified nearly 20 people who had been convicted of everything from child solicitation to rape and were currently working in his facility alongside women who assumed their employer was looking out for their safety.

Over the years, we’ve received quite a few complaints from rejected job candidates. They’re not disputing what we’ve found out about them — they’re puzzled that we found it, since it slipped past other firms. I remember one candidate in particular in the Fort Wayne area who had more than a dozen convictions for voyeurism and was ticked off that we’d found them. Crimes like that may seem comparatively harmless, but they’re often precursors to more violent acts like rape.

We always check people’s names and trace their Social Security numbers. Most of the time, a mismatch is caused by a typo on the application, but sometimes, we discover that an individual’s number matches someone who died several years earlier, or who was born on a different date in a different part of the country.

Name changes also receive extra scrutiny. Here again, most changes are the legitimate result of situations like marriage or adoption. In other cases? We were working with an organization that helps individuals who are mentally and physically disabled. They had a candidate who seemed to be perfect. We discovered that he had changed his name while in prison for several violent felonies. When asked, he freely confirmed his past, noting that he hadn’t deceived anyone: the organization had asked only for his current name. It was a lesson for them.

We often liken the background check process to insurance.  In 90 percent of the checks, you’re not going to find anything that will raise your eyebrows. Maybe 10 percent of the people you check will have criminal records, but most of those have served the penalty and gone on to lead better lives. But there’s that small percentage that are seeking to deceive your company by manipulating the process. Without a thorough screening process, they’ll probably get away with it, too.

We learn a lot from those people. The more we know about the strategies they’ve employed, the better we get at detecting other wrongdoers. Our goal is to keep them out of your organization and away from your kids.

Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions.

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