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.


At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Background Checks said...

Background checks are a good idea, especially for churches. It's a good idea to know who is teaching your children.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Jeff Brown said...

JW Brown Investigations concurs with this article on Church Background Investigations. We are former Law Enforcement, and conduct Thorough background investigations for Ministries, and understand the truth abou the "So Called National Criminal Databanks" In short, there is no such thing. There are plenty of companies willing to sell you a lie, and they are glad to take your money. When you are ready to have it done right, contact us at

You can also visit our main website at

Godd Luck, and God Bless!

JW Brown
JW Brown Investigations
Kansas Licensed Private Detective

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Jana said...

They do need to conduct background check for further assurance for their safety.

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Glen Evans said...

I agree that you have to be careful when using background companies and making sure the are in compliance. Another important step is re-verification and authentication of the information. A good source for this is

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