Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Safety Tips from Asset Control & ChooseToCare

Reports of assaults, robberies, and vehicle burglaries in strip shopping centers and malls have appeared in the news earlier this year. This does not surprise us in light of the serious problems our economy is facing. With the holiday season is upon us, we may find ourselves preoccupied with holiday planning and shopping. Unfortunately, the safety precautions we normally follow are often forgotten as we enjoy the season's festivities. Feel free to print these tips out and to distribute them to your family and friends. You may even choose to hold a brief family meeting on holiday safety. ChooseToCare wants this holiday season to be SAFE for all. So we remind you to follow these practical safety tips so that your holiday will truly be an enjoyable one!

While Holiday Shopping

1) While out, turn on lights and a radio or TV so it looks like someone's home. Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave even if it's just for a few minutes.


2) Don't display gifts where they can be seen from outside.

3) Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Criminals often prey on people who are or who appear to be distracted.

4) Carry your handbag close to your body, preferably tucked under your arm. Do not leave it unsecured in your shopping cart or in a shopping bag. Avoid carrying it simply by the handle or strap.

5) Place all packages and purchases in the trunk of your car. Do not leave them visible on the front or rear seat.

6) Do not leave your purchases unguarded while in the store or mall. Keep them close and visible to you.

7) Don't forget to bring your cell phone with you if you have one. They are a terrific safety tool, especially for the teens when they are off to the mall. You will want to have a quick way to contact them and to determine their location.

8) Go to the mall with friends if possible. Numbers often deter thieves or assailants, especially when you are walking to your car.

9) Park under or near lighting, if possible. Especially if you know you will be returning to your car after dark.

10) Have your car keys in your hand and ready. Be alert for anyone following you or lingering nearby. If you become uncomfortable or suspicious, return to the mall or walk to where there are others around. Ask for a mall security escort to your vehicle.

11) Have your house keys ready and in your hand when returning home.

12) Avoid carrying your wallet in your back pocket. This is an invitation for pick-pockets. Carry your wallet in your front or breast pocket.

13) Record your credit card numbers along with the toll-free number for each card. This will help if it becomes necessary to report them stolen.


Holiday Safety at Home & for Children

1) Take this opportunity to test your smoke detectors and/or to change your batteries. If you have no smoke detectors purchase some and install them for the holidays. If you cannot afford smoke detectors, consider contacting your local fire department. Many departments provide detectors free of charge for those who cannot afford to purchase them.

2) Be sure to extinguish holiday candles before going to bed.

3) Have a working fire extinguisher available in the house. Multi-purpose rated extinguishers are best for household use.

4) Check holiday lights and extension cords for fraying or bare wires. Replace those that are damaged.

5) Keep your tree watered so that the needles stay moist and green. Water additives are available that will assist in keeping your tree fresh. Never use real candles on trees, even on artificial trees.

6) Do not run extension cords or other wires under carpets. Avoid overloading electrical outlets.

7) Unplug inside holiday lighting when away from home or when pets and small children will be nearby and unsupervised. Pets and small children may chew wires which poses a risk for electrocution.

8) Follow recommended age ranges on toy packages. The ages listed are there for safety reasons, not to indicate whether a toy is developmentally appropriate for the child. Children under age 3 can choke on small parts contained in toys or games and balls that are 1 ¾ inch in diameter or less.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Background Screening Best Practices - Screening Visitors and Vendors

You've tightened your internal security after 9/11. You screen all new employees at the point of hire and existing employees yearly. But what do you know about the screening practices of outside contractors, vendors, or business partners who frequent your company's properties? In most cases, probably not much. Over the course of time it is likely that you have come to trust the companies you do business with and the people they send to service your account. But, times have changed.

Today, businesses have a responsibility for due diligence and to know what screening practices business partners employ. However, we find that many companies believe that asking these questions of their vendors is invasive or at least impolite. This could not be farther from the truth. To ask these questions is essential to the protection of your employees and your property - so don't be shy. Knowing is essential whether you are interested in protecting students from persons who may want to harm children, protecting employees from a thieves or someone with a history of sexual assault, or protecting a key component of our country's infrastructure from terrorists.

Your business partners should be forthcoming with information regarding their screening practices. Ask them to document their basic screening policy to you in a letter. Work with them to resolve any significant or apparent deficiencies you may see. It is also reasonable to let them know your standards about persons with certain types of criminal records having access to your students, employees, or facilities in general. They should be willing to work with you to resolve any particular issues that may exist.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New York State gives convicts a leg up in tough job market

The State of New York has amended its laws hoping to boost convicts chances of getting work in today's tough job market. New York's ex-convict's have a high unemployment rate of approximately 60% after one year from release. To help those people find employment, New York is working to make it very clear to the users of criminal reports that they cannot discriminate against convicts simply because they have a criminal record.

On February 1, 2009, two changes to the New York consumer reporting laws will become effective: 1) §380-c, General Business Law: If a user requests an investigative consumer report for employment purposes, the user must, in the notice to the consumer, state that a report will be sought and indicate that it is providing a copy of Article 23-A of the New York Correction Law to the consumer which sets forth the anti-discrimination provision relating to those with criminal records; and 2) §380-g, General Business Law: This amendment added sub-section (d) which provides that if a consumer report contains a criminal record then the user shall provide a copy of Article 23-A of the Correction Law to the consumer. These two laws seem to be contradictory and New York has not taken steps to clarify the situation. Therefore, Asset Control advises clients that do NY Statewide searches to follow 380-c and to include a copy of Article 12-A with the initial release.

While the law does not specifically state which hiring situations are controlled by these new laws, past research suggests that New York discrimination laws will apply to those working in the State of New York. Thus it will apply to a New York company employing an applicant to work in New York. It will not apply to a New York company employing a person in New Jersey unless they hire that person in New York. It will apply to a New Jersey employer hiring someone in New York.

What does an employer need to do?
  • Provide a workable copy of Article 23-A of the New York Correction law which provides the rights of non-discrimination for those with criminal records to your customers.
  • Provide new language in your Consent and Release forms referencing that a copy of Article 23-A is being provided to the consumer. It is recommended that a single Consent and Release form be used for New York employment and every consumer who is the subject of the report be provided a copy of the anti-discrimination law found in Article 23-A.
  • Know, understand, and adhere to Article 23-A!

Article 23-A

This is the article that all of the above hinges on. The crux of the law is that the conviction must be job related for an employer to deny the applicant a job based upon the conviction. From there, the law mirrors traditional EEOC guidelines which outlines those things that must be considered when determining if a conviction is job related (ie. elapsed time since the date of conviction; age at conviction; seriousness (level) of the crime; and, any rehabilitation that may have occurred).

New York has also provided a safe harbor for employers. Since the state is pushing for employment of those with a criminal record, it has now provided a defense to a negligent hiring/retention claim if the employer considers the elements contained in §753 of Article 23-A.

According to Bill Dolphin, Asset Control's V.P. and Compliance Officer, this is nothing new to New York state employers. New York has had similar anti discrimination laws on the books for years. "What this represents is a renewal of interest on the part of the State to promote a dubious right bestowed upon a small element of society ahead of the right of an employer to protect their business, employees, and customers," says Dolphin. "Regardless, we have to believe that the State will be serious about enforcing these new laws. Employers have to be mindful of the new law and and thoughtful regarding the criteria they use in evaluating job relatedness. The State is not going to assist employers by providing any guidance up front. The guidelines will arise from the outcomes of enforcement actions and future litigation."

To help employers assess the job relatedness of an applicant's conviction record, Asset Control is providing a downloadable form for clients to use. This form, as well as an updated Disclosure and Release form can be accessed from within the "downloadable forms" part of the secure, clients only, portion of the Web site. As always, Asset Control advises clients to seek the advise of their internal counsel on all legal matters, particularly when it comes to the interpretation of new laws and regulations.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Press Release: Asset Control Acquires ERS Northwest!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 8, 2009 10:00 AM

ASSET CONTROL INC. ANNOUNCED TODAY THAT IT HAS COMPLETED ITS ACQUISITION OF EMPLOYER’S REFERENCE SOURCE (ERS) NORTHWEST, INC., A PROVIDER OF PREMIUM EMPLOYMENT SCREENING SERVICES THROUGHOUT THE NORTHWESTERN UNITED STATES. THE TERMS OF THE ACQUISITION WERE NOT DISCLOSED.

For Further Information Contact:
Russ Rosenberg
President
Asset Control, Inc. 940-891-1919

January 8, 2009

DENTON, TEXAS / VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON – Asset Control Inc., a Texas based employment screening firm announced today that it has acquired Employer’s Reference Source Northwest, a leading provider of background screening services throughout the Northwestern United States.

Russ Rosenberg, President of Asset Control said today, “The acquisition of Employer’s Reference Source Northwest represents a major step in the building of Asset Control’s risk management business. ERS brings important assets and market positions that fit well with our existing business.”

Bill Dolphin, Asset Control’s Vice President and Compliance Officer stated “the acquisition provides an opportunity to enhance internal efficiencies in order to provide better service to our clients. Moreover, the additional functionality from the acquisition will immediately expand the options and value we bring to our existing customers as well as to our new customers.”

The company announced that operations will continue in the Northwest under the name Asset Control Northwest. Operational assimilation and control will be effective on February 1, 2009. Currently, there are no plans to relocate the existing Vancouver office. “We anticipate that the transition for our customers will be a seamless and pleasant one,” said Rosenberg.

Asset Control is a leading provider of background screening services nationwide and worldwide. In addition, Asset Control is a full service loss prevention and security consulting firm with over 15 years service to the business community. Asset Control is based in Denton, Texas just north of the Dallas Metroplex. To learn more about Asset Control please visit our Website at http://www.assetcontrol.net/.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A sign of the times?

A small business owner and new client sat with his head in his hands in disbelief. His inventory was disappearing and he was at a loss to explain how or why. If the losses continued at the current rate he speculated that he would be out of business by year end. “Who would steal this junk”, he asked. Normally he wouldn’t call his inventory “junk” but he was upset, more than a little mad, and for the moment speaking literally about his product. You see, this client was in the scrap metal business. He bought junk metal, broke it down, sorted it out and sold it to smelters for processing. His yard was fenced, his building secure, his employees tenured, and his scales calibrated. Business was tough enough he lamented but something was very wrong.

And wrong it was. After a series of employee interviews we were able to determine that the yard supervisor, a long term and trusted employee had been making side deals with existing customers; giving them much more product than they actually paid for and accepting “gratuities” for his kindness. The losses approached 100K and had they continued, the client would certainly have lost his business.

According to Jack Hayes, a noted retail loss prevention consultant, employee theft apprehensions have risen steadily since 2003. 2007 saw a 17% increase over the previous year. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which conducts biannual surveys of around 5,400 employers worldwide, estimates companies lost an average of $2.4 million to fraud in 2007 – up from $1.7 million in 2005; the majority of it by employees.

“This is not a pleasant topic for the holiday season says Bill Dolphin”, Vice President of Asset Control. “But we may be in for some dicey times ahead. The bulk of statistics that show a steady increase are for previous years. They don’t include our current economic downturn. But as economic and emotional pressures on employees mount I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a corresponding increase in employee theft.”

In fact, according to a November 2008 survey conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, almost a quarter of all companies that responded feel that today’s economic situation has led to an increase in employee theft. Almost 31% of companies with 10,000 or more workers say they have noticed an increase in theft of company-owned items such as office supplies, products they produce, electronic equipment and food items since the economic downturn.

Retailers may experience the highest level of losses overall as they are vulnerable to both internal theft and shoplifting. “Some of your favorite retailers may disappear in the next year or so”, says Dolphin. “Slow sales are forcing retailers to cut back on staff, causing customer service to suffer and leaving merchandise unprotected. In some cases the security staff is first to undergo cuts. Many retailers relax return policies and other controls during the holidays. This will come back to bite them more in the months to come than in the past.”

Smaller companies may be in a better position to deal with this issue than larger ones says Russ Rosenberg, president of Asset Control. “They tend to be closer to their business and have a better handle on their internal controls. But during hard times employers tend to become focused on external threats and on sustaining their business. What employers must recognize is that business threats can originate from within as well and that an increase in employee dishonesty is likely during times like these."

Companies can do a lot to mitigate internal risk when times are tough says Bill Dolphin. “Increase audits and enhance controls rather than decrease them. Employee Assistance Programs and Ethics “tip” lines can foster communication and help focus attention on the issue. Employee background checks go a long way toward maintaining a climate of honesty in the workplace.”

One of the hottest items this year with thieves – Christmas Trees! Police departments and tree vendors across the country report that trees are walking off the lots in record numbers this holiday season. “We’d normally lose a tree or two every year," said one tree vendor. "But this year is ridiculous. I’ve had to hire a security guard. So far I’ve lost over 30.” “I used to say if someone has to steal a tree for their family God bless them. Now, with a six foot tree costing $200. I have other words for them.”

This holiday season our best advice for Santa is to leave the reindeer at home and take the train. With things as tight as they are we suspect there may be a premium on venison.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Outrage: Dallas Independent School District Flubs Background Checks; Risks Kids Safety - Who's at Fault?

If my child was attending school in the Dallas ISD, I'd be marching outside of the TEA building in Austin right now demanding that the state take over administration of the district. Or would I?

Plagued by multiple ethical and financial scandals in recent years, this current expose serves to further reveal the abject nature of the administrative arrogance that has characterized this school district for too long - now, placing both students and employees at risk. First, by failing to implement an effective employee screening program, and second, by rewriting immigration law in order to expedite the integration of alien school workers into the district. Both serious problems in a vacuum, but wholly inexcusable given the elevated threat school districts face from terrorism.

Neither of the issues mentioned are new. Both have roots prior to 9/11. In 1989 Texas school districts received authorization to check the backgrounds of newly hired school employees. Effectively, DISD has struggled with administering a proper employee background check program since that time. In 1992, after a Dallas Morning News investigation found 185 school district employees to have felony records, DISD administration set out to tighten background check procedures. In 2001, in what would appear to be a sensible commingling of expertise, DISD contracted with Safe Advantage Services (AKA "the Safe Schools Project") to be the district's background check service provider. Safe Advantage is a Dallas based database company headed by former DISD personnel administrator Mark Myers.

But problems continued. According to a December, 2006 report issued by the Dallas Morning News, by the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year the district had fallen behind by about a year in getting information back from Safe Advantage. As reported by the News, DISD assumed some of the blame but only to the extent of admitting that administrators placed "no demands" on the vendor to turn the background checks around in a reasonable time. But this is hard to believe says Russ Rosenberg, President of Asset control. "I can't believe the vendor was at fault. Though inaccurate, database searches are quick turn by nature. If the guy who ran the background screening company was a former ISD personnel administrator he had to be sensitive to just how important that information was to the safety of the students in the district. It's more likely that the information was getting to the district but no one was listening, or, the searches were getting to the vendor long after the employee was hired, or not at all. This is just one man's opinion but I think the district was grossly negligent on this one. In all likelihood the vendor fell on the sword to help the ISD save face." Regardless, says Rosenberg, student safety was at risk.

As of November 2008, Dallas ISD has fingerprinted 10,305 certified employees, teachers and principals, according to WFAA.com. A new law requiring all Texas school districts to begin fingerprinting employees went into effect January 1, 2008. About 13 percent, or just over 1300 educators in the Dallas ISD were found to have criminal records according to the report. This is troubling says Rosenberg. "This is higher than the 11 percent rate we have observed among applicants being screened for "non professional" positions. Although it is unclear just how many of the reported number were already known to the school district. More troubling yet are the 20 educators with disqualifying convictions who got past the system. That's the problem with database searches. They miss records."

But going to a system that relies solely on FBI fingerprint matches for background checks is not going to solve the district's problems. FBI system and FBI fingerprint checks are spotty at best. They are nothing more than a large database. According to the Bureau's own statistics, they have conviction information for only about 50% of the arrest fingerprints they have on file. This means that school districts will get incomplete information on many of the reports the FBI system provides. They will have to turn to the courts to get the updated information they need. Additionally, there is neither law nor mandatory process that ensures that fingerprint cards and conviction records will flow from counties through state agencies to the FBI. The process is voluntary. Thus, the same afflictions that dilute the accuracy of many state repositories throughout the nation also affect the accuracy of the FBI record system. The problem is compounded by the fact that many records will be missed entirely.

Federal law enforcement agencies abandoned the practice of exclusively using NCIC or the FBI fingerprint system to screen their own internal applicants decades ago, says Bill Dolphin, V.P. of Compliance with Asset Control. "Today, they combine database searches with real courthouse research. This is the same process we use for our corporate clients who are concerned about using "due diligence" procedures to protect their employees and customers. The same diligent efforts should go in to screening the educators and others with whom we entrust the safety of our kids.

Creativity or Criminal Behavior
Last month the Dallas Morning News ran a story entitled "Dallas ISD Faulted for using Fake Social Security Numbers". The News has rarely pulled punches when criticizing DISD administration. But it appears to be doing so now. "Faulted" - an interesting choice of words under the circumstances. In an effort to bring bi-lingual educators into the district, and on the heals of an aggressive, on-going, campaign to recruit teachers from south of the boarder, DISD personnel administrators rewrote immigration law by reassigning social security numbers from legitimate holders to the new recruits - an alleged temporary measure to get them on the payroll and into the system. According to the Dallas Morning News, some of the fake SSN's were unknowingly used by the state's educator certification office to run criminal background checks on new hires.

During his 30 year career as an internal auditor and investigator Bill Dolphin has encountered end runs around policy - but never anything so arrogant and on this scale. "Last week Homeland Security arrested one of their regional directors for knowingly hiring an illegal alien to clean her home. The basis for the charge was encouraging an illegal alien to remain in the country. Clearly, this was an effort to make a point. This administrator was in a position to know better and to enforce the law herself. I see a parallel to the current situation in DISD. Personnel administrators are supposed to be professionals. Their training includes labor law and immigration documentation. The decision to use bogus SSN's was likely not made by an hourly paid clerk. Put in the context of 9/11 this is a criminal matter in my opinion."

But Dolphin agrees with superintendent Hinojosa's decision to bring in a special investigator to look into the matter. "I don't think he had a choice. He's been under a lot of fire himself lately. He had to get this one right. It was necessary to mitigate any action by the state. Former U.S. attorney Paul Coggins is highly respected. His involvement will be seen as a good faith effort by the district to conduct a proper investigation. I don't see criminal charges coming from this but I don't rule out some sort of civil enforcement action. Notwithstanding, criminal laws were clearly broken."

The story is not a simple as would seem. While the use of bogus SSN's was described in a report by the District's internal investigative office in September of this year, the practice was first uncovered by the TEA in 2004. According to the News, TEA told the district that the practice was illegal then. According to DISD officials the practice went on for several years before being discontinued this past summer. "We're not sure what action was taken by the TEA when the illegal use of numbers was first uncovered", says Rosenberg. "Whatever it was, it was not enough. The matter should have been referred to the State Auditor's Office for review. They audit schools too as a matter of course. Clearly, the weak follow-up or lack of follow-up by the TEA contributed to the illegality continuing for several more years. Within the context of 9/11 it should have occurred to someone that this practice was extremely dangerous."

Investigative, audit and internal ethics programs have no direct influence on educating our students. However, aggressive programs of this nature can prevent the kind of waste, fraud, and corruption that has plagued DISD. Ultimately, this translates into more resources for the classroom. "But there is a more powerful argument for putting the microscope on DISD", explains Bill Dolphin. "Student safety has been placed at risk. This is the issue that should grab your attention. Employment screening is a personnel function in some organizations and a security function in others. Regardless of where it resides, the process must be subject to outside review. Ultimately, DISD must examine the effectiveness of its own ethics/audit/ investigative function(s). But the effectiveness of any such function in DISD would likely be hindered by internal politics. Nevertheless, its something that has to be addressed and appropriately funded - given proper leadership."

Notwithstanding, says Russ Rosenberg, the topic of the internal control function within school districts needs to be examined, whether by the TEA or by the State Auditor. "How much resources should be allocated, what ought to be reviewed and with what frequency is a question that needs attention at a higher level." In the meantime, school boards and school administrators should appreciate that they are responsible for maintaining a safe and ethical environment for students and employees. Districts might turn to outside consultants, such as Asset Control, to help assess the thoroughness of their efforts. Using third parties to conduct such reviews provides an unbiased assessment of the adequacy and effectiveness of internal controls.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lack of School Bus Security Provides Opportunities for Terrorists

The latest Fox News report entitled "Thieves Ruin Dallas County School Buses" illustrates just how terrorists might access school bus yards and just how vulnerable students may still be to bus related terror attacks. But this problem is not limited to Dallas County - it is a risk nationwide.

All one has to do is search the Web for instances of school bus vandalism to understand the risk. Lack of security lighting, fencing, and guards are commonplace, and since 9/11 demonstrate how some responsible for protecting buses are still slow to react. Incidents where buses are vandalized for copper wiring and other sellable parts continue to make local and national news.

Shortly after 9/11 Asset Control's ChooseToCare division was asked to develop a proactive guide to the prevention of terrorism in public schools. The end result was the "Proactive Guide" (short name). The guide highlighted the risk to unprotected or inadequately protected school bus yards and provided guidance for those responsible for protecting this important area of infrastructure. Asset Control and ChooseToCare would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that our children are our most precious assets.

Worldwide, there is a history of terror attacks against school children and the buses that carry them. Thankfully, none have occurred domestically. The full text of the guide can be found at the U.S. Department of Education's ERIC Web site at: http://eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1a/e0/cb.pdf

Unfettered access to school bus yards costs schools dearly in terms of lost assets. But more than that, poorly protected lots may afford terrorists the opportunity to plant explosives or place harmful biological or chemical residue on seat backs or on other surfaces that will come in contact with students or drivers.

Asset Control & ChooseToCare has given thoughtful consideration to publishing material, such as this, that might be considered "sensitive" by some. However, it is our assessment that exposures such as these are already known to those determined to cause us harm. We firmly believe that increasing awareness is paramount. This is an important issue that goes well beyond the expense involved in repairing vandalized buses or the delays incurred in getting kids to school. This is an important safety matter that deserves immediate attention by school boards, school safety officers, and parents alike. Please watch the video. Remember, the point of showing the the video is that the News totally missed the point!

To play the Fox News video clip click on the play button below.

video

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

“The biggest threat to public safety you can imagine”

That’s how Williamson County District Attorney, John Bradley described the continuing problems with the Texas DPS criminal database this week in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. Asset Control commends Mr. Bradley for his candor.

This is the second warning to Texas employers in just a few short years. According to the latest assessment, counties have submitted outcomes on just 69 percent of criminal charges – the same percentage as before. As the Dallas Morning News reported this week, “The state’s criminal database, riddled with holes four years ago, has just as many gaps today.”

The old adage “close enough for government work” seems to apply as far as the State of Texas is concerned. The state requires certain employers licensed by the state, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, child care agencies, and schools to use the DPS database. It’s called a “minimum standard”. But the minimum standard rule also prevents these agencies from using better alternatives such as social security number traces in conjunction with county criminal court record searches. There is a bottom line here says Bill Dolphin, Asset Control’s Compliance Officer. “The bottom line is the bottom line. The DPS pulls in significant revenue with their database. It benefits them to legislate their own client list.”

The end result is that students, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations are placed at risk every day because criminal records are missed by employers thinking they are doing the right thing. But there are other “victims” involved. According to Angie Klein, manager of the DPS Criminal History Records Bureau, “no one knows how many Texans didn’t get a job because an acquittal or dismissal wasn’t in the system.” Klein admits this is a growing issue. An increasing number of complaints from Texas job seekers, mostly angry because their acquittal, dismissal, or expungement wasn’t in the system, has forced DPS to double the size of their resolution unit to 20 employees explains Klein. Notwithstanding, the DPS points a finger at the counties for not following proper reporting procedures. While counties are required to report criminal data to the state, there are no penalties for non-compliance. Texas Senator Jane Nelson says that the state needs to be “sensitive to concerns about unfunded mandates.”

While the DPS and Texas counties fight this out, Asset Control recommends that employers not mandated by law to use the database avoid it. Since news about the flawed database has been extensively published, employers should consider themselves put on notice. If an employer obtains data from a source known to have incomplete and correct data, it could be held liable for lack of due process under the FCRA.

The DPS database was never intended for use as an employment screening tool. It was developed as a tool for use by law enforcement agencies. And as some in the law enforcement community admit, it is even failing those for whom it was intended.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Fast food execs become McFelons as ICE moves in

While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may say that their enforcement efforts target areas involving critical infrastructure and national security, national headlines would indicate otherwise. Recently, an ICE investigation of a Nevada McDonalds franchise resulted in guilty pleas by two franchise executives to felony charges that they knowingly hired illegal alien workers. The franchise owner, Mack Associates Inc., agreed to pay a $1 million fine for the violations and to be placed on probation during the period that the fine is outstanding. A former vice-president for the franchisee faces a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In Cleveland, 58 employees of Casa Fiesta, an Ohio based chain of Mexican restaurants were arrested and charged with illegally gaining employment. In Jacksonville Florida, the 34 year owner of Taurus Painting, Inc. was arrested for harboring illegal aliens and now faces up to 10 years in prison. In Greenbelt Maryland, Francisco Solano, co-owner of El Pollo Rico Restaurant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens and conspiracy to launder money. And in Postville Iowa, ICE raided Agriprocessors, Inc., one of the nation’s largest kosher meat processing plants. According to media officials over 400 employees of the plant were detained by ICE. Two plant supervisors were arrested for aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. Dozens of false INS documents were seized from the human resource department at the plant.

None of these businesses are part of our nation’s vulnerable or critical infrastructure. None would appear to pose a direct risk to national security. The fact of the matter is that security is ultra tight at water treatment plants, nuclear power plants, dams, electrical power plants, and the like. If ICE had to rely on infrastructure entities to support the bulk of their activity they’d spend the days sitting on their thumbs. Entities that are perceived to share a role in the nation’s critical infrastructure or other risk intense operations are security aware. They draw, and rightly so, a good portion of DHS’s attention. But raids and audits of businesses involved in manufacturing, food service, and agriculture, that employ relatively modestly paid workers make for easy headlines and help to drive home just how real the problem of illegal workers is.

That raids of such businesses occur more frequently has a more practical side and that has to do with how these businesses are identified for audit and investigation. Audits are generally not conducted on a random basis. Audit targets are identified through tips and through data analysis. Tips may come from customers, employees, business partners, neighbors, or other concerned citizens. A key method of identifying targets for audit and investigation is through the analysis of data generated by “no match” letters sent to employers by the Social Security Administration. No match letters are sent to employers who reported more than 10 no-matches that represented more than 0.5% of the W-2’s submitted by that employer.

Train your Human Resource personnel to handle no-match letters appropriately. Although a copy of the letter is also sent to the employee, it is the responsibility of the employer to conduct due diligence in order to resolve the discrepancy noted in the letter. We are aware of some employers who, convinced that the discrepancies were largely the result of clerical error, considered them an inconvenience and ignored them. Largely, no-match letters may be the result of transcription errors, name changes due to marriage, or other clerical issues. However, ignoring the letters may put you on ICE’s radar screen and cause an audit and subsequently an investigation. Moreover, suspending or summarily terminating an employee who is the subject of a no-match letter without properly investigating the cause of the discrepancy may violate the law.

ICE provides “Safe Harbor” for employees who receive a “no-match” letter so long as specific steps are followed. To find out more about the procedures to follow when a no-match” letter is received visit the ICE’s website at http://www.ice.gov/ or call the Safe Harbor Information Center at 800-421-7105.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Take a Course in Defensive Hiring

Defensive driving instructors will tell you that 60% of all serious traffic accidents are avoidable. Why? Although we may not have driven recklessly ourselves, we may have failed to recognize the signs of impending hazard and to take evasive action.

Similarly, we can avoid the anguish and civil liability associated with hiring violent or dishonest offenders by remaining alert to the signals of applicant fraud and by following preventive screening methods. Today, preventive screening methods are even more important due to the threat of terrorism and the risk of injury from copycat criminals.

Lesson 1: Application Omissions

Minor omissions on a candidate’s employment application may be innocent. But, if an employment application leaves you with an incomplete picture of a candidate’s background, this may be just what the applicant intended to do. Applicants with prior histories of violent or dishonest behavior will not go out of their way to provide you with the information you need to contact those who may prevent them from obtaining employment.

Take a few minutes to review each employment application for completeness while the applicant is still there. If there are any omissions, have the applicant provide the information on the spot. Later, during the employment interview, check for inconsistencies between the written application and the candidate’s verbal account of their work history. Dishonest applicants may have difficulty recalling the fabrications they made. A pattern of omissions in the following areas of the employment application may signal trouble: the criminal conviction question; reasons for leaving previous employers; addresses and telephone numbers of former employers; dates of employment; and, names of former immediate supervisors.

Lesson 2: Verify Previous Employment

Even if you are certain that the previous employer will verify nothing other than dates of employment, it is important to make the call. In most cases, dates of employment are all that you will need to detect applicant dishonesty. Even though the applicant may have accurately described their job title, duties and salary, dates of employment may have been manipulated in order to obscure other employment.

Lesson 3: Avoid Fraudulent Personnel Reference Schemes

Fraudulent personnel reference schemes are common but may be tricky to detect. For a fee, operators of these lucrative scams provide the applicant with a telephone number to use as a business reference on his/her application. These con artists will generally answer the phone by saying “personnel” or “may I help you” – very common responses. The numbers will typically be direct, with no company operator or switchboard involved, and will be answered promptly. These professionals won’t provide you with information, but will be happy to verify information you provide to them from the employment application.

Never tell the person who answers the phone the name of the company you believed you were calling. Do not say, for example, “is this the ABC Company”. Instead, say, “I’m sorry, what company have I reached”. If you have reached a scam operator, the response you will likely hear is “click”. Another quick way to detect a reference scam is to give false information from the application to see if he/she verifies it.

Lesson 4: Beware of Uncheckable References

Dishonest applicants may list one or more uncheckable sources as references on the employment application. These sources often take the form of small independently owned establishments that “went out of business”, or whose “owner retired”, or “passed away”. Dishonest applicants may list uncheckable references on an application to avoid revealing a real job from which they were fired, or to obscure jail time. Company names may be fabricated altogether, or may have operated at one time. Be cautious, and take extra care to look into the alleged business.

Lesson 5: Examine I-9 Documents Carefully

Falsified documents may be difficult to detect. Producing counterfeit documents and stealing legitimate documents for alteration is big business. Following are some suggestions for processing I-9 employment documentation:

· Know and follow INS regulations for verifying employment eligibility. Legal requirements and sample documents may be downloaded through the INS Web-site at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/. If you need further support call your local INS office or the INS National Customer Service Center at 202-514-2000

· Determine whether the information on the document pertains to the individual presenting the document (if the person appears to be 18 and the identification says 40, there is a problem; if a man presents the document with a woman’s picture, there is also a problem). Look for discrepancies between the information depicted on the documents and the information provided on the employment application.

· Look for alterations as evidenced by erasures, photograph substitutions, etc. Official documents are never altered, they are replaced.

· Check to be sure the document is squarely cut.

· Determine that the printing and engraving is parallel with the edges of the document in addition to being sharp, clear, and unbroken.

· Verify Social Security Number information through the Social Security Administration after the employee has begun work. If the name and date of birth provided by the employee does not match the Social Security Administration records, a problem most likely exists.

Lesson 6: Conduct A Due-diligence Criminal Background Check

Criminal history checks are a critical part of the employment process. Countless civil suits are filed each day alleging negligence in the hiring process. A significant portion of these suits stem from faulty criminal background check procedures. Consider the irreparable harm that may occur to a child who comes into contact with an employee who has a serious criminal offense in their past. To be sure your record check process is effective and able to withstand legal scrutiny, consider the following:

· Conduct criminal background checks on every person that you hire, not just on some. Screen volunteers the same way that you screen employees who appear on your payroll.

· Be certain that outside contractors and vendors use due-diligence screening methods to check the backgrounds of their employees who have contact with children and who make frequent campus visits. Adopt a policy that prohibits vendors and contractors from supplying workers that have convictions for violent or sexual offenses. Communicate this policy to your outside vendors and contractors.

· Conduct criminal record checks in all places the applicant has lived and worked, including out of state venues. To help verify the information the applicant has provided and to determine where criminal record checks must be done, have your background screening service provider run a “social security number trace”. This is the best way to detect application falsification and to confirm the correct venues to check.

· Consider using real courthouse searches rather than “database” searches. Courthouse searches provide the most accurate information because you are searching the original record source. Some private companies purchase public record information from counties and states for re-sale to employers and may only update periodically. These types of searches may provide the employer with incomplete record information, or may not detect the record at all. Some state governments have “repositories” that contain criminal records obtained from direct on-line connections with counties, or that have stringent reporting guidelines. Repositories of this nature are an acceptable source of employment screening information. Other states offer searches through databases that do not require local governments to report upward, or that have loose guidelines in place to govern the reporting process. These are not true “repositories” and should not be relied upon as a sole source for employment screening information.

· Adopt a policy that requires current employees to report any criminal conviction they may receive.


The employment screening process is an important part of your student safety program. It touches every part of your operation, including the quality of the education you provide and your district’s public image. To be sure your districts screening procedures are sound, have a consultant experienced in educational security services assess them for you. Most will not charge for this type of review .


Bill Dolphin is a veteran security consultant with Texas based, Asset Control Inc., and co-developer of ChooseToCare.com, an innovative Web-based student / faculty tip-line program. Please address questions or comments about this article to bill@assetcontrol.net

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Does Homeland Security have eyes for you?

Just as Homeland Security spends endless days and nights listening to "chatter" by those who might do us harm, Asset Control stays up all night listening to Department of Homeland Security "chatter" to see just what they have in mind for employers in the battle against illegal immigration. Recently, we've picked up some chatter that might be of specific interest to you if you haven't been diligent in verifying the identity of new or existing employees!

While employers may have gotten away with ignoring the Social Security Administration's "no match" letters in the past, a new partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and the S.S.A. may put a damper on this approach. These are letters sent to employers with more than 10 workers, informing them that a particular employee's name does not match the SSN used. They are sent when the no matches for an employer is .5% or more of the company's total workforce. Sources inside the Bush administration now indicate that the President is planning new enforcement initiatives, even in the absence of new enforcement legislation. According to Russ Knocke, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, " We are tough and we are going to be even tougher." "There are not going to be any more excuses for employers, and there will be serious consequences for those that choose to blatantly disregard the law."

New enforcement guidelines are expected to give employers a fixed period of time to investigate and resolve any discrepancies between the identification provided by workers and records held by the Social Security Administration. Chatter has it that employers will have 90 days to resolve the discrepancy, fix the problem, or fire the employee. Employers that ignore the letters will risk fines up to $10,000 for each illegal worker. According to the Social Security Administration, over 140,000 no match letters, covering more than eight million workers, will be sent to employers this year.

But the Fed has threatened aggressive enforcement of immigration law in the past. In reality, the threats translated into token arrests, or photo opportunities, intended to do nothing more than give the perception that an enforcement program exited. What has changed? First, the Bush administration is being pressured by the conservative base to do something, anything, in the war against illegal immigration. One measure, to enforce existing law, can be taken without new legislation. Clearly, this has been a battle cry heard from both Republican and Democrat conservatives since the attack on 9/11. But the Fed must pick its battles, and the possibility of a great photo op is still a significant drawing card. This means that the day of the raid on wooden pallet manufacturing plants is probably past.

On August 2, just one day after the tragic I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, Jose S. Gonzalez was arrested at his office in Greenville, Mississippi. Gonzalez, owner of Tarrasco Steel, was a subcontractor who provided re-bar and installation services to major highway bridge construction projects. On March 29, 2007, ICE agents conducted worksite enforcement actions at the Greenville-Arkansas Highway 82 bridge in Greenville Mississippi; the Huey P. Long bridge in New Orleans, Louisiana; the US 90 bridge in Biloxi, Mississippi; the I-40 seismic retro-fit in Memphis, Tennessee, and the LA-1 bridge in Leeville, LA. These structures are all part of our nation's critical infrastructure and are closely scrutinized when it comes to security matters. During the March raid, several employees were arrested for using bogus Social Security Numbers. The investigation also revealed that the employees did not have proper welding certifications.

Did the Fed choose the timing of the arrest in light of the bridge collapse the previous day? Hard to say. It may have been the sensible action under the circumstances, particularly, from a public relations perspective. Note, that the investigation and subsequent enforcement action at bridges in Louisiana began very early in the year. So, it appears that the Fed was ahead of the curve in this particular case. Protecting infrastructure is a credible objective. Regardless, if what we have observed is part of an overall strategy by Homeland Security, we should expect to see more enforcement actions targeting aspects of our infrastructure; particularly, actions involving contractors receiving federal or state revenue.

So, where should we expect to see more enforcement efforts? If your company provides services in support of bridges, dams, roadways airports, hazardous waste, our food supply, the movement of cargo over land or water, water or water treatment, power generation, schools, security, or liquid or solid waste, do not take the "no match" letters lightly as many employers have in the past. And, expect that state and local authorities will partner with federal agencies to go after employers who hire skilled workers who may have bogus licenses or certificates.

Asset Control can assist employers in their efforts to hire legal workers. To find out how, call our offices at 940-891-1919. Don't let the Fed have a photo opportunity at your expense.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Soft Targets, Hard Lessons - Why terrorists value your school as a target and what you can do!

Shortly after 9/11 I was asked by the Director of the Texas School Safety Center, a legislated branch of the Texas governor’s office to develop a strategy for deterring potential terrorist attacks in Texas public schools. My reputation for developing preventive programs was known. At the time, the law enforcement community had concluded, for whatever reason, that little could be done to deter or prevent a terrorist attack on schools. As a result, their focus would be wholly reactive in nature. This was not altogether acceptable to the TXSSC. Subsequently, Asset Control signed a consulting agreement to develop steps that any school district could take to mitigate their attractiveness to terrorists seeking a soft target. I undertook the project understanding that having a well developed and coordinated response plan was critical in the event of a school attack, but knowing that basic steps could be taken to lessen the likelihood that a particular school might be targeted. The result: in 2002 the “Proactive Guide for the Prevention of Terrorism in Public Schools” was distributed to all Texas public schools. Subsequently, the “Guide” was adopted by several school districts and suport service organizations nationwide.

Unfortunately, the recent trend on the part of some law enforcement and many security consultants has been to minimize the likelihood that a school(s) in the US may be subject to attack by terrorists. In fact, those who attempt to keep the idea of a potential terror attack at school alive in the minds of school administrators and security personnel have been criticized as trying to “hype” the threat to increase their own value. The fact of the matter is that the thought of our children being targeted in a place where they should be most safe is so frightening that is has been rendered unmentionable, if not unthinkable. Some even speculate that terrorists fear that an attack on a U.S. school(s) would cause a reverse affect. That is to say, that the fear and panic created by such an attack would motivate the American people (rather than de-motivate) to exterminate radical Islamic extremists throughout the world.

Yet, we have no evidence that the terrorist fears that the killing of children would have any affect beyond their stated goal(s). In fact there is evidence to the contrary. Video tapes have been found in Afghanistan showing al-Qaeda terrorists training to take over schools. Subsequently, al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith declared al-Qaeda's "right" to kill 2 million American children in retaliation for Muslim civilian deaths in the war on terror. Recently, CNN reported that local law enforcement agencies received a “routine” FBI and Homeland Security Department advisory relating to “Foreigners under recent investigation include ‘some with ties to extremist groups’ who have been able to purchase (school) buses and acquire licenses.”

But the greatest evidence to date is the horrific Belsan school massacre in Russia during which 700 people were wounded and 338 killed, including 172 students. This terrorist attack was perpetrated by Muslim extremists with definite historical links to al-Qaeda. Whether al-Qaeda assisted in the planning of this particular attack is under investigation. It was noted that several Arabs were among the terrorists killed by Russian Special Forces during the massacre.

Be Proactive: The Awareness / Prevention Checklist

The Awareness/Prevention checklist highlights areas of school operations, maintenance, security, and personnel that may pose opportunities for risk reduction. Use this checklist as a proactive tool to generate awareness over the potential for terrorist acts, at a time when it is needed most.

The recommendations contained in this checklist are not intended to represent or to replace a comprehensive school security program. Such a program would include much more. Many of the procedures included in the checklist are routine in districts with full-time security operations. Whether your school district has full-time security coverage, or has minimal security resources, these recommendations may be used as a focal point around which to build an appropriately renewed sense of awareness. The recommendations have been constructed in several “modules” each of which depicts the basic recommendation, the audit point or “question” to be addressed for each recommendation and the departments that would potentially be involved in the addressing the recommendation.


Module 1: Review Employment Screening Policy & Procedure
Steps:
  • Does your screening process include volunteers, cafeteria workers, mechanics, bus drivers, and security, in addition to educational staff?
  • Does your procedure allow for actual courthouse searches, rather than database searches, which are typically not accurate?
  • Do your searchers do Social Security Number traces to identify any out-of-state venues that should be checked?
  • Do your outside contractors use due-diligence screening procedures to check the backgrounds of their workers who regularly visit your school?

Departments Involved:

  • Security
  • Human Resources

Module 2: Review the physical security of bus yards and garages; review transportation security in general.

Steps:

  • Are vehicle garages alarmed, and are the alarms in working order?
  • Are fenced-in areas gated, locked, and adequately illuminated at night?
  • Do drivers do “pilot inspections” of their vehicles before placing them into service each day? Is this done again after each time the vehicle has been left unattended?
  • Are bus drivers equipped with two-way radios or cell phones?
  • Are drivers trained to be aware of and to report suspicious vehicles that appear to be following their busses during their routes?
  • Do drivers keep a student roster for each bus route, to include student name, address, primary and secondary emergency contact numbers, and medical authorization information?

Departments Involved:

  • Security
  • Contract or proprietary bus operators
  • Health Services

Module 3: a) Review the adequacy of physical security in and around campus buildings; b) Review placement of security cameras and review monitoring practices

Steps:

  • Review the adequacy of physical security in and around campus buildings
  • Review placement of security cameras and review monitoring practices
  • Are alarm systems working and have they been tested? This should include main campus buildings as well as maintenance and storage facilities.
  • Are keys to campus and administration buildings adequately controlled?
  • Are alarm pass codes changed when an employee leaves the school district?
  • Make sure pass codes are not shared.
  • Is exterior lighting working and is illumination adequate?
  • Is interior lighting (night lighting) working and is illumination adequate?
  • If security cameras are used, coverage should include main doors and building exteriors, as well as interior locations.
  • Make sure recording equipment is in working order and that a reasonable archive is maintained.
  • If cameras are not live monitored, make sure that a periodic or spot review of critical areas takes place.
  • Encourage students and staff to report suspicious activity quickly, so that video archives can be reviewed for evidence.

Departments Involved:

  • Security
  • Maintenance
  • H.R.
  • Operations

Module 4: Review access control procedures and heighten employee awareness

  • Are doors that should remain locked from the outside during the day kept locked, and are these doors checked periodically to make sure they are secure? Train all employees to check these doors but consider assigning someone to check them as well.
  • Are staff members trained to approach and to “assist” strangers of any age who are observed in and on school property? Report those who have difficulty explaining their presence.
  • Are students trained to report suspicious persons or persons who may not be authorized on campus?
  • Has a visitor log and ID badge system been implemented?

Departments Involved:

  • Everyone

Module 5: Train everyone to recognize and report suspicious activities on campus.

Steps:

  • Are persons taking pictures or filming campus activities questioned about their authorization to do so?
  • Be alert for suspicious vehicles that seem to have no apparent purpose for being on campus, or, that come, go, and then reappear again.
  • Are specific individuals assigned to inspect the outside of campus buildings throughout the day, and to report unattended packages or vehicles near building perimeters?
  • Have you developed a plan to handle reports of suspicious activity?
  • Is everyone trained to report unattended or otherwise suspicious packages found inside campus buildings? Is this specific issue placed on routine checklists for maintenance and janitorial personnel?
  • Do personnel know what to do if a suspicious package is found?
  • Have you considered a policy that requires staff and students to visibly identify backpacks, book bags, briefcases and gym bags with luggage style ID tags?

Departments Involved:

  • Everyone including students, janitorial, teachers, volunteers, & Student Resource Officers

Module 6: Implement a “tip-line” program that allows students, teachers, parents, staff, and other members of the school community to report issues anonymously, if they choose.

Steps:

  • Do you have a zero tolerance for verbal threats of any kind?
  • Do all members of the school community know that any threat, or information about a potential threat, must be reported? And, do they understand that there is no such thing as a threat intended as a joke?
  • Do students and staff know that they are responsible for informing the building principal about any information or knowledge of a possible or actual terrorist threat or act?
  • Have you communicated a hard stand on hoaxes intended to mimic terrorist acts?
  • Do students know that these hoaxes are crimes in themselves?

Departments Involved:

  • Student Services
  • Students/Clubs
  • PTA / PTO
  • Resource Officers

Module 7: Work closely with local law enforcement, health officials, and first responders

Steps:

  • Have you made local law enforcement a partner in your district’s plans?
  • Are parking regulations, particularly fire zone regulations, strictly enforced?
  • Does local law enforcement have copies of building blueprints, to include ventilation system, and electrical plans?
  • Has local law enforcement been given the opportunity to conduct exercises on school property and on busses?
  • Have you determined contact protocol with local health officials if bio-terrorism is suspected?

Departments Involved:

  • Security
  • Clinical Staff
  • Crisis Management Team
  • Local Law Enforcement
  • First Responders
  • SRO’s
  • Local Health Officials

Module 8: Train staff on identifying and handling suspicious packages and letters.

Steps:

  • Have you download and posted the FBI advisory (poster) regarding suspicious packages from http://www.fbi.gov/?
  • Or, the US Postal Inspection Service poster on identifying suspicious packages from http://www.usps.gov/?
  • Have you considered publicizing the availability of this information to others in the school community for personal use?
  • Have you ordered ATF forms: P 3320.5; P 7550.2; and 1613.1, regarding bomb threat planning?

Departments Involved:

  • Mail Room
  • Secretarial
  • Security
  • Parents
  • Students
  • Janitorial

Remember, terrorists place their intended targets under surveillance prior to attack. They will study various potential targets as part of the target selection process in order to identify those with fatal weaknesses. While vigilance alone will not prevent a terrorist attack on a U.S. school, it may prevent your school from being selected for attack. Terrorists will likely select the softest amongst all of the targets considered. These may be rural schools serviced primarily by county sheriff departments or state police agencies. In other words, in places where the closest swat team or other first responders may not be just around the corner.

If you haven’t considered the possibility of a terrorist attack on a school in your district, or if your plans up to now have been solely reactive in nature, now is the time to act. Awareness is inexpensive and one of the most effective tools we have in the war on terror. However, we have to overcome the “it won’t happen here” thinking that paralyzes many Americans with an apparent reluctance to think or act. Moreover, don’t expect that the Fed, or for that matter your state will step in with a reasonable and proactive program to render your school or district a less soft target. All such efforts must come from within and must come now!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Its “buyer beware” for church background checks!

Last week I exhibited at a national conference for church administrators. As chance would have it my booth was situated only two away from a major supplier of background checks to the church community and within the context of this particular conference, a competitor. Shortly, this “competitor” recognized our company name and came over to engage us in conversation. I was taken back by what I heard and after a short time realized that we represented two totally different industries altogether. He represented the sales industry and we, the security industry. A key distinction based upon the conversation that followed next.

This competitor was a database re-seller who offered a “nationwide” solution for churches to use to screen employees and volunteers. I asked how he felt about selling database checks to churches given the problems religious organizations are facing with child safety and the like. His answer was “hey we make a ton of money on databases. All I do is sell them what they want, or, what they think they want”. When I asked what he tells his clients about the FTC/FCRA entanglements inherent in the use of database searches for employment screening and he said, “I don’t get involved in that. Once I sell them the data I’m out of it”. Through further conversation it occurred to me that this salesman was unversed in the myriad of compliance issues involving his product and probably couldn’t care less.

If I sound angry about this – well you’re right. But also disappointed at the attitude that inaccurate “nationwide” database searches were just all right for churches. Just one day after the largest church related child sexual abuse settlement in history, I am here to tell you – no they’re not! Here are some facts for church administrators to consider when selecting a background screening service provider:
  • Know exactly what you are getting and where your provider is obtaining the information they provide. This is your responsibility and part of your due-diligence.
  • Database searches should never be the core of a proper background check. Databases consist of information purchased from courts or from companies that purchase information form courts – and updated periodically. By their very nature they are inaccurate and litigators know this. Begin with a social security number verification and check where the employment application and the SSN verification indicate. Consider a national database search only as an additional level of defense - to “cast a wide net” so to speak. On average, databases cover only about 50% of venues nationwide so the chance is great that they don’t even cover your applicant’s place of residence or employment.
  • There is no difference in a background check for a church, a school, or a business. A quality background check is a quality background check and can be delivered by any employment screening firm that is both experienced and credible. Companies that claim to be church specific in their offerings are taking advantage of a marketing tool and change the name of their company depending on the trade shows at which they are exhibiting.
  • Make sure that your screening approach targets the specific types of positions you have. Be sure your contact person at the screening company has the expertise needed to assist you throughout your process and that his/her involvement doesn’t end once they take your money.
  • Screen volunteers the same way you would screen employees. Courts have held that churches have the same liability with volunteers as with employees.
  • By federal law, you must confirm the results you get from a database search with a real county criminal court record search before taking adverse action based upon the result. Why not do it the right way the first time by using county searches. You will increase accuracy and save money in the end.

Based upon the Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements that background check information be derived from the most accurate source(s) available, database use is riddled with peril for both the applicant and the employer. The “buyer beware” mentality of some database sellers is a terrible commentary on the industry. Your church and the people it serves cannot afford the scattergun approach to background checks the database search provides. Due-diligence in the selection of the employment screening products your church uses will help protect your constituents and limit liability.

Monday, July 02, 2007

EEOC Takes Aim at Employment Credit Reports

Recently, our government’s ability to keep secrets has been put to the test. Insider leaks to the press about confidential programs designed to make us safer are frustrating to say the least. But, there is one nasty secret that I am glad was leaked. This May, the EEOC tipped its hand on its intent to intrude on your ability to screen employees by taking a more aggressive stance against the use of credit reports in the applicant screening process. This, partially driven by EEOC’s realization that the use of credit reports to help screen applicants is at an all time high.

Where’s the beef? It lies in the fact that certain minority groups (particularly black Americans) tend to have lower credit scores than non minorities. The lower credit scores are driven by the higher rate amongst minorities of bankruptcies, collection accounts, credit defaults, and other issues that appear on a credit report - as well as the lower credit value given to certain job categories often held by minority job applicants. In other words, credit reports by their very nature have a racially disparate impact.

If you use credit reports as part of your employment screening process, here are some important things to remember:

• Use “Employment Credit Reports” to screen applicants. Employment credit reports do not show the applicant’s credit score or account numbers. They are specially designed to meet FCRA standards for the use of credit reports in employment screening.

• Avoid developing hard rules, standards, or numeric guidelines for screening out applicants based upon the information contained in the credit report (e.g. a certain number of collection accounts, or charged off accounts will automatically negate consideration). Some believe that by applying a consistent standard to all applicants that they have developed a fair policy. Not so, says the EEOC! Racially “neutral” employment policies may run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

• Make sure that the use of the credit report is closely related (“job relatedness”) to the position applied for. For example, you may be able to show a nexus between a credit report and an Accounting Manager but not between a credit report and a Customer Service Manager. A cashier may handle each dollar that goes into your coffer but the Office Manager who handles your deposit may be more of a theft risk than the cashier. Since there is a correlation between income level and “bad” credit (and race and bad credit), you will have an impossible time justifying the use of a credit report for positions like "cashier", "clerk", "associate", "representitive", or other similar hourly paid jobs.

• Reserve credit reports for management level candidates such as: Manager, Director, Vice president, etc.; then, only for positions in which the employee has unusual power over company accounts or funds. Positions for which history shows a higher incidence of bribes, kickbacks or other forms of inappropriate influence should be considered (such as procurement; real estate; advertising; etc.).

• Document, in writing, your reason for using a credit report for a particular position. The process of reasoning through each justification will help identify positions for which credit reports should not be used.

• Be familiar with the FCRA requirements regarding the use of consumer reports. Realize that credit reports may contain inaccuracies. If you are going to deny employment based wholly or partially on the information contained in a credit report, you must provide an adverse action letter. An applicant has specific rights under the FCRA that you must be aware of and comply with.

Again, the key to using credit reports safely and effectively is to be able to justify their use by showing “job relatedness”. But be careful. The EEOC states that they have seen no study, to date, that shows a connection between credit reports and any job, at any level. Notwithstanding, during a recent meeting in May the EEOC concluded that they cannot absolutely say that there is never a link between credit any employment worthiness.

There is much to be derived from the proper use of credit reports in employment screening. Often employers can discover court ordered judgments, restitution agreements, or other actions relative to previous employers that may point to past dishonesty. By adopting a policy that allows credit reports to be considered and weighed on an individual basis and in conjunction with all other information gathered during the interview and background investigation process you will be on you way to hardening you employment screening against attack. Use the credit header report (a.k.a. Social Security Number search) in all cases in which a full employment credit report cannot be justified. As always, Asset Control will keep our clients updated on decisions and trends that impact you in your effort to hire the best employees!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Coke & Pepsi take corporate ethics to a new and refreshing level

This week, federal authorities arrested Joya Williams, an administrative assistant to a senior Coke executive, for allegedly attempting to sell Pepsi the recipes for Coke’s new soft drink. Coke and Pepsi, heretofore bitter rivals in the global soft drink market and fierce competitors for your pop dollar, rose above avarice and to set a new standard in corporate ethics. This, coming at a time when the number of corporate ethics scandals seems to be at an all-time high.

In May, Pepsi received a letter at their corporate office offering to sell them Coke’s new recipe. Pepsi responded by calling Coke executives and revealing the plot. Together, officials from the two companies called the FBI and worked with the Bureau to set up a sting operation. The sting resulted in the arrest of three individuals, including the Coke secretary, on May 23’rd. A Pepsi spokesman was quoted as saying, “we were just doing what any responsible company would do. Despite the fierce competition in this industry, it should also be fair.” Meanwhile, Coke CEO Neville Isdell stated that the incident “underscores the responsibility that we each have to be vigilant in protecting our trade secrets.”

Pepsi could have ignored the letter, leaving Coke to deal with a dishonest employee on their own. It would have been easier. But there was much more at stake here than simply a matter of corporate ethics, and executives at both companies recognized it. It might sound cynical to say that both CEO’s recognized the photo op presented in the situation although there might be some truth to it. In fact, both companies, American business icons to say the least, had much to gain by separating themselves from the myriad of other big name companies recently plagued by ethics scandals. Notwithstanding, both CEO’s knew that there was nothing more sacred in business than the secret(s) of each company’s success. Both knew that this was potentially bigger than both of them. Catching and prosecuting the alleged thief was the honorable thing to do. And cooperating in doing so was the only way to accomplish this.

Honesty and dishonesty within any organization begins at the top. An ethical organization does not become so by accident. It takes a determined CEO who makes high ethical standards one of his/her priorities. It has been said that employees only care about what their boss cares about. This is basically true. It’s the filter down theory. But if a CEO is ethically neutral or worse, ethically challenged, the likelihood exists that the rest of the organization will be a breeding ground for impropriety. However, when managers present examples of superior ethical conduct the rest of the organization will get the idea.

Theft of trade secrets is a serious federal crime with stiff consequences. It is investigated at the federal level because the very essence of our nation’s commerce system is at stake. A company’s proprietary intellectual property is what gives it competitive value in the market place.

Companies can help safeguard trade secrets by doing proper background checks on its employees. Credit reports should be part of the package for management employees and employees with audit or accounting responsibilities. For senior executive and board level screenings, federal criminal, SEC, and civil searches should be included. A properly structured exit interview can be instrumental in uncovering ethics problems in any organization. Protection of client lists, suppliers, and other sensitive data can be accomplished through proper controls that restrict internal access to such material. Penetration testing of intranet and internet based systems should be considered as part of your overall security program. Finally, access control systems that provide an audit trail can help secure your building and key internal areas.

There is little doubt that Joya Williams’ attorney will advise her to use the Sandy Berger defense and claim the alleged theft of the Coke recipe was inadvertent; simply an accident of sorts. If you recall, Sandy Berger was caught and prosecuted for stealing documents from the national archives (he stuffed them in his socks). For Berger, it worked. He got off with a misdemeanor charge. But unless Ms. Williams has friends in high places, it is likely she won’t be quite so fortunate. A violation of Section 1832, the Economic Espionage act of 1966, can result in stiff criminal penalties. A person who commits an offense in violation of Section 1832 can be imprisoned up to 10 years and fined up to $500,000.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Store clerk helps thwart terror attack on Army base

In a previous article, "The Soccer Mom's role in protecting our communities from terrorism", I used the term "soccer mom" as an analogy for the average citizen in order to demonstrate how everyone can help in the war against terror. I called for a "special vigilance" at the grassroots level and for citizens in every community to question what they see and what makes them feel uncomfortable and to report suspicious activity. The article spurred a lot of interest, discussion, and quite a bit of scepticism. Perhaps the idea of a soccer mom uncovering a terror cell after dropping her kiddies off at the field was too abstract. Yet, the point had to be made that terror cells live among us and that we cannot rely solely on the intelligence gathering efforts of our government to protect us.

This week the FBI announced that a terror plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey had been uncovered and thwarted as the result of a tip provided by a clerk at a Circuit City store close to the base. The clerk called authorities after terror suspects requested to have the clerk copy a CD depicting a violent, radical Islamic theme. Had the clerk not been vigilant; had the clerk not been suspicious; had the clerk not cared for his/her community, many Fort Dix soldiers may have died. For all we know (the identity of the clerk has not been released) the clerk may be a full-time soccer mom with a part time job at Circuit City.

As the war against terror unfolds there will be more examples of vigilance such as the one just described. And, over time, what it means to be vigilant will become less obscure. Our vigilance must extend to our workplaces, our social activities, our church activities and our schools. Whether it is a suspiciously parked vehicle, a lone backpack, a suspicious package or letter, a box cutter on a plane, or someone discussing a desire to commit violent acts, we encourage everyone to follow the example of the Circuit City store clerk and report what you've seen.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of a long fight against terror on our soil - a fight that will span future generations. Our safety and the safety of our children are at stake, yet, as a citizenry we share a reluctance to get involved. We fear being wrong, offending others, or being called a snitch. Perhaps we've gotten lazy, self centered, or just used to playing the odds. Perhaps political correctness has gotten the best of us. Notwithstanding, it is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their communities. Asset Control and ChooseToCare encourages everyone to remain vigilant and to report suspicious or threatening behavior to local or federal authorities.

Asset Control is a full-service security consulting firm. If you think your school or business may be a "soft target", call us today to discuss how we may be able to help make it less so.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Help prevent identity theft & credit fraud!

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes of all times! But it is also one of the most preventable. Identity theft can ruin a person's credit rating, making it difficult to buy a home, automobile, rent an apartment, or otherwise obtain credit. Repairing the horrifying consequences of identity theft can take years. Similarly, credit fraud costs consumers, banks, and businesses billions each year. Moreover, if your company is negligent in its duty to protect customer and employee personal records you can be sure you will make the 6:00 news.

If you are a business owner, you have an ethical responsibility to help prevent theft of customer and employee personal identifying information. This information can include social security numbers, credit card numbers, driver license numbers, signatures, or any other information that could be of use to a fraud artist. Consider these real cases, and how simply they could have been prevented:

Case 1: The Negligent Retailer
A retailer interested in saving money instructed all of its stores to purge old transaction records by discarding old records in the dumpster behind each of the stores. This lead to several instances of "dumpster diving" in major metro areas where a single credit card number can be sold for between $8.00 - $11.00. In some cases the discarded material included signed credit card applications. Credit card numbers were pulled out of the dumpster by local indigents, who passed them on or sold them to accomplices. The accomplices then entered various stores in the neighborhood to make purchases, or, placed phone orders to local merchants for large amounts of merchandise.

In this case both the company and its customers suffered. Merchandise purchased fraudulently was charged back to the retailers by the various credit card companies. Additionally, the company's reputation suffered and many customers were lost when the story hit the local news. This could have been avoided had the company subscribed to a proper document disposal program!

Case 2: The Charitable Boss
The Home Office was diligent about having sensitive documents destroyed. To make it easy, each home office department was provided a "recycle" bin in which to place the material intended for shredding. This material was collected regularly by mail room personnel and taken to the basement where it was stored for disposal. The material included all types of sensitive material including employment applications, credit card numbers, and more. Monthly, the company subscribed to a document destruction service that would pick up and destroy the material on the company's premises.

When the mailroom supervisor, who was also pastor at a local church, mentioned that his church made money on the paper they recycled, his boss had an idea. Why not let the good pastor hall off the documents for the church where the proceeds could do some good for charity. Additionally, the boss could save some money on his budget by eliminating the document disposal fees. "A no-brainer and a done deal" said the boss! Unfortunately, multiple home office employees and others became identity theft and credit fraud victims as the result of this well intentioned, charitable decision.

Case 3: Whom do you trust?
Needing to know more about their customers, a retailer enlisted the services of a marketing agency to conduct a demographic profile. The agency requested that the retailer send as much information about their customers as possible, including purchase transaction history. Shortly thereafter, company investigators began to receive numerous calls from bank security officials who presented a perplexing problem. The banks had numerous credit card customers alleging fraud. Each customer had made arecent and legitimate purchase at one of the company's locations.

Upon investigation, it was discovered that the company had provided the marketing agency with tapes containing point of sale transaction information to include customer credit card numbers. The agency periodically used unscreened temporary employees to assist with certain projects. These employees took the opportunity to forward these credit card numbers to accomplices who paid the temporary employees $11.00 for each credit card number.

Conclusion
Your responsibility to safeguard employee and customer personal identifying information is important. The FACT Act Disposal Rule, which applies to virtually every business and private employer in the U.S., requires businesses to come into compliance by June 1, 2005 by both adopting and implementing their own document destruction policies or by contracting with a document shredding company or other data destruction company to do so. Penalties for violating the rule include actual damages, statutory damages up to $1,000 punitive damages per violation (with no cap on class action damages), attorneys' fees, and civil penalties up to $2,500. What is even more difficule to measure is the impact on your company's reputation and good name! For more information about the rule and business compliance requirements, visit the FTC web site at http://www.ftc.gov

Consider providing departments that handle particularly sensitive information (H.R.,Security, Accounting, Etc.) their own shredder. Cross cut machines that mince documents are more secure than conventional shredders and are no more expensive. Document disposal services that destroy material at your location are a good option and are more secure than services that pick up material and take it elsewhere for disposal.

Last, we recommend that a review of document disposal procedures be added to any existing internal audit program, and reviewed periodically. We still hear in the news about good credible companies stubbing their toes on this issue. Your employees, customers, and your company's reputation are at risk!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Small businesses can learn from Sarbanes-Oxley

Small businesses are more likely to be hurt by the impact of theft than larger, more structured organizations. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the average organization loses approximately 6% of sales to fraud that is primarily internal in nature. To smaller, privately held, organizations that can have a huge impact says Bill Dolphin, Asset Control’s Vice President and Compliance Officer. But, there is much that all businesses can learn from Sarbanes-Oxley, regardless of whether or not they are required to comply.

Smaller organizations, explains Dolphin, tend to rely on trust more than larger, more structured companies. Audit programs may be less formal in nature or non-existent and employee screening may be less of a priority. In short, business owners sometimes operate under a false sense of security that often accompanies a familiarity with employees who may be long term. The thought may be, “I know my folks – we’re like family”. Or, “I’m on top of my numbers, I’d know if something was wrong”, says Dolphin. This thought pattern spells trouble and can create an environment where losses may occur. The fact is that fraud, when it occurs in smaller organizations, typically goes on for extended periods of time and is conducted by long-term, trusted employees at higher levels. It’s often discovered by accident.

Many business owners, executives and managers pride themselves in developing a work climate where employees feel trusted. Dolphin readily admits that organizations depend on trust to function. However, says Dolphin, a true “Climate of Honesty” is one where there is a balance between trust and oversight. Where we find problems is when there is a lopsided reliance on trust without any verification going on. Frequently, executives will tell us that they are not sure how to construct this balance without creating an environment where employees feel distrusted. What they are missing is that honest employees are often uncomfortable in overly “loose” work environments. During investigative interviews employees will often tell us of their level of discomfort with weak policies or controls, Dolphin points out. “The hang up about employees feeling distrusted exists mostly in the minds of executives.”

So what can businesses learn from Sarbanes-Oxley?

  • Do a risk assessment and analyze opportunities for fraud. Sarbanes-Oxley guidelines address the need for internal controls that specifically target opportunities for fraud. Once potential risk areas are identified and prioritized, build appropriate controls to address them. Professional fraud investigators, such as those employed by Asset Control, Inc. can assist small businesses with the risk assessment process.
  • Develop audit steps to ensure that the controls you put in place are functioning. If your company does not have a full-time internal auditor, this responsibility can be outsourced. This is a more effective practice than assigning this function to your bookkeeper or Office Manager.
  • Review policies and procedures to make sure that company policy supports a climate of honesty. Have a written code of conduct that employees are required to sign at time of hire and yearly thereafter. Your code of conduct should tie in with your written policies and procedures and both should be consistent your expectations of an ethical work environment. When developing a code of conduct it is best to involve employees from various levels within the organization. By doing this you will achieve a better finished product.
  • Conduct background checks and exclusionary list (OFAC) searches on all applicants and current employees. Many employers are still unaware that the law requires an OFAC search on anyone with whom you develop a financial relationship. Employment is a financial relationship.
Sarbanes-Oxley is a terrific blueprint for building a solid climate of honesty, whether your company is required to comply or not. Whether it’s through employment background checks, our Sarbanes-Oxley compliant tip-line, our audit experience, or our investigative services, Asset Control can assist in reducing your organization’s exposure to fraud.