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Beware legal traps of hiring online reference checkers

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in Employment Background Check,Hiring,Human Resources

Since Sept. 11, security fears have sent companies scurrying to do criminal background checks on job applicants. Many companies are outsourcing this function to Web-based reference checkers.

But beware: Some of these online sleuths provide outdated information. And, worse, they can expose your company to messy legal risks.

Examples: Some companies provide arrest records when they should be furnishing only information on convictions. They hand over credit information without first having the employer get the job candidate's signature. They offer workers' comp filing searches even though it's illegal to use workers' comp records until the candidate receives a job offer.

To help separate the good from the bad, remember: You'll get the best data, but usually at a higher cost, from companies that check databases and send their staff into the field to browse paper records. Firms that use only online sources can overlook new changes to data, especially court filings.

Make sure the company knows which data require written permission from job candidates, such as medical records.

And ask the following questions: How long has the service been in business? What are the standard search procedures? What precautions are taken to make sure it doesn't expose clients to liability? Does the company provide only information that is job related?

For a listing of dozens of companies that perform employee background checks, plus links to their Web sites, visit

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