Skip the Background Check and Increase Your Odds!


Bringing on new hires brings with it a whole bunch of new costs – payroll taxes, equipment, training, to name a few.   As a business owner myself (and an accountant at that!), I know what it’s like to search for expenses you can cut.   While I am all for frugality, the one expense you do NOT want to skip is employee candidate background checks.   If you think a pre-employment screening is unnecessary because the applicant is best friends with your neighbor, let me share a real story that will make you think twice.

In 2008, Mary Meyer volunteered to serve as treasurer for the United Methodist Church of Manilus, located east of Syracuse, NY.   She and her husband, Jim Osborn, had joined the church eight years before.  They became involved in various ministries.  The church often called on Jim’s expertise as a businessman and financial advisor to manage its money.  Jim and Mary controlled the church’s finances with little to no oversight, until vendors started sending late notices, and the pastor’s paycheck bounced a few times.

A background check would have revealed Jim’s shady past, which included IRS tax liens, 11 lawsuits for unpaid debts, and embezzlement of $120,000 from a housing authority.   Mary was no angel, either.   She and Jim stole approximately $673,000 from UMC Manilus, which included money from the church’s endowment fund.  Both pled guilty and the last time I checked, both were still in prison.

Blind trust and the absence of checks and balances led to financial ruin for this congregation.  Osborn and Meyer should never have been allowed this much control of the money.  And fraudulent activity isn’t confined to volunteers at non-profits, or workers in small businesses.  In February, a federal judge sentenced an employee of a major, Atlanta-based corporation to prison, and ordered her to pay restitution on the $750,000 she embezzled from the company.

Convinced now?  Good.  I recommend that you hire a reputable firm to conduct the investigation. You want to be sure that your company is following all federal, state, and local employment laws with regards to the information you are collecting.  That said, most investigations will include:

Education and employment verification.  Did your candidate really graduate from Big Name University?  Was she employed by ABC, Inc. for 15 days vs. the 15 years she claimed? Why are these details important? Think about this - if an applicant will lie with abandon to get a job, what will she do once you hire her?

Criminal history review.  While a record may not automatically disqualify a candidate, you need this information to make an informed decision.

Depending on the position, a look at driving records and credit history is advisable.  

You don’t want Joe with the 5 DUIs driving your delivery van.   And Ashley, who has multiple delinquencies and a credit score of 578, won’t be your best choice for an accounts receivable clerk. 

While a background check is essential, it’s just one of many steps in your plan to minimize fraud risk.  Want to learn more about protecting your business?  I can help!  Give us a call at 678-608-2775 and order a copy of my book Did You Hire a Fraud?

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Bernadette L. Harris
Forensic Accountant at By The Book Accounting
Bernadette L. Harris is a Forensic Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, Expert Witness, Keynote Speaker, and #1 bestselling author who has helped hundreds of business owners put systems in place to protect their businesses and prepare for growth.

Her latest books, Business Blueprint 2.0 and Did You Hire a Fraud? can be purchased at: Shop.BernadetteHarris.com.

She speaks to audiences across the country about entrepreneurship and fraud prevention. Follow her on social media @TrustBernadette