Archive for the Horror Stories Category

CBS 11 News Interviews Imperative President Mike Coffey About Uber’s Background Checks

CBS 11 News Interviews Imperative President Mike Coffey About Uber’s Background Checks

As a follow up to my blog post earlier this week about how car-sharing service Uber’s flawed background screening process exposed customers to drivers with recent felony backgrounds, CBS 11 interviewed me about the issue. The full text of the story is available on the CBS11 website.

An Uber-Important Lesson Learned About Background Checks

An Uber-Important Lesson Learned About Background Checks
Uber made some bad choices when designing their background check program.

Uber made some bad choices when designing their background check program.

Uber, which operates UberX, the ride-share service that allows regular people to sell car rides to the public, has revised its background screening policy in response to a Chicago Tribune article indicating that one of its non-professional drivers had a 2010 felony conviction for residential burglary.

This revelation came on the heels of a December 2013 incident where another UberX driver with a 2009 felony drug conviction and other offenses was accused of assaulting a passenger.

So where did Uber, a company already fighting a public relations campaign in the face of efforts by cities to pass ordinances regulating the service, go wrong?

According to their own blog post about this issue, Uber was relying solely on “the Multi-State Criminal Database.”

There is no single “Multi-State Criminal Database.” There are dozens of them – all managed by private companies who buy the data from the states and counties willing to sell their records in bulk format. By referring to “the Multi-State Criminal Database,” it sounds as though Uber might have believed there was a single definitive source for criminal records. There is not.

Any criminal history database is going to be missing many, if not most criminal records. Our tests of various “national” criminal records databases, including the one we use as a safety net alongside more thorough processes, found that depending on where the individual has lived, the databases miss between 40% and 60% of the criminal records found in the county and federal criminal courts.

Uber’s blog post stated that “some counties do not participate in this reporting the way we and our users expect they should.” It sounds like Uber is blaming the jurisdictions for not selling their data to the big databrokers who compile and sell criminal records to the public.

Many states and most counties won’t sell their data in this manner for a good reason: as soon as they sell the data, their ability to keep it up to date and accurate is lost. This means that when case outcome is changed, the database may continue to report the outdated information – sometimes for years – often wrongfully interfering with innocent individuals’ ability to find work.

Database companies are also notorious for associating the wrong individuals with criminal histories because of common names or similar dates of birth. (I’ve written extensively about the problems with criminal records databases.)

It appears that Uber is now conducting a much more thorough criminal records search on its non-professional drivers that includes searches for criminal records at the county and federal court levels. (Their blog post repeatedly refers to the “federal database,” but as most private companies don’t have access to the FBI’s criminal records database, I assume they are talking about federal court records.)

However, Uber may still have a problem waiting to bite them. Their blog post suggests that when hiring professional drivers for their upscale car services, they rely on background checks conducted by state and local jurisdictions “as part of their commercial licensing processes.” What do most state and local jurisdictions rely on when conducting criminal background checks? A county or state-specific database. They are likely still missing records from other states and all federal criminal court records.

As a reminder, the mimimum criminal background check that Imperative Information Group recommends employers utilize consists of:

  • Identity research to determine the names and jurisdictions associated with an applicant’s social security number.
  • County criminal research in all jurisdictions associated with the applicant for the past ten years. All records found, regardless of age, that can be legally reported should be reported.
  • Searches of the state criminal records repository, state sex offender database, and state prison records in each state associated with the applicant for the past ten years. Not all three sources are available in every state.
  • Searches of the federal criminal court records in each federal district associated with the the applicant for the past ten years.
  • A search of a multi-jurisdictional criminal records database for any records that may be associated with the applicant. Because of the many errors in the database records, any records should be verified with the originating court prior to being released to the employer.

As ever, please don’t hesitate to contact Imperative Information Group if you want to review the contents of your company’s employment background checks. If you can’t afford a cheap background check, we’d love to work with you.

Video: News Report Highlights Gaps in Texas Criminal Data

Mike Coffey warns about the dangers of relying on criminal records databases.

KENS 5 Eyewitness News interviewed Mike Coffey about Texas DPS' criminal records.

I’ve been warning employers, schools, nonprofits, and others about the dangers of relying on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Crime Records Service criminal history database for years. Our 2008 study of DPS’ records found that DPS’ records were missing more than one-third of the criminal cases included in our sample – including one-third of the convictions that place offenders on Texas’ Death Row.

DPS’ own audit earlier this year found that one in four arrests was not reported to DPS in 2009. Following up on that audit, Brian New, an investigative reporter with San Antonio CBS affiliate KENS 5, interviewed me about how to conduct a more reliable background check.

The story ends with my interview:

Regardless of the reason why, Mike Coffey, a human resource consultant for the Imperative Information Group, said he advises his clients not to rely on the state.

“We have been conditioned to think we are buying something from the state, so this has got to be the best there is,” Coffey said.

But he says the state’s database is not the best, which is why when Coffey runs a criminal background check he searches every county, individually, where the person has lived and worked.

It takes more time and more money, but if murder records are not in the state’s database, Coffey said just think what else might be missing.

“If all the backgrounds you run are with DPS, you are going to have something bad happen eventually,” he said.

This particular story was focused on Texas DPS’ records but most state criminal records repositories are equally unreliable. Unfortunatley, many employers then turn to so-called national criminal records databases believing them to be reliable sources of criminal records and not understanding that these databases are built upon the records provided by the states. This means that in Texas, you are likely to miss one in three criminal offenses (including capital murder) and in other states like California, which doesn’t allow access to their state criminal records repository, you are likely to miss all of the records if you rely only on a “national” database search (we call them multijurisdictional criminal records databases – “national” oversells their quality).

As is often the case, the hard way is the best way. A reliable criminal background check will use the state and multijurisdictional criminal records databases as indicators of possible criminal records but will rely on live searches of county criminal records as the primary source of information.

Here’s the full news story from KENS 5 San Antonio:


The Importance of Quality Background Checks on In-Home Service Workers

Over at Bad Hire Days this week, I blogged about Jason Meinke, a convicted criminal whose record includes a felony conviction for aggravated stalking, who was sent by a Sears contractor into customers’ homes to clean air ducts. Proving that past performance is a pretty good indicator of future performance, he allegedly repeated his offensive behavior and has made the lives of at least a couple female customers miserable over the last several years.

Meinke came to my attention through Detroit TV station WXYZ’s Action 7 News investigative reporter Scott Lewis, who told me his story last month when interviewing me about the dangers of bad background checks. For his two-part news story, which aired in two parts on Sunday and Monday, Scott wanted to know how a background check could miss such a dangerous offender.
Part one (aired 11/06/2011):

Part two (aired 11/07/2011):

From Sunday’s story:

To find out, 7 Action News Investigators traveled to Orlando, Florida for a meeting of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. We talked to Mike Coffey, a respected expert in the field. He said what we uncovered with Meinke is not uncommon because background checks often miss things.

“A lot of your really large employers, especially those who hire lower wage employees don’t do their due diligence,” said Coffey. “They just rely on the data base or some instant quick inexpensive background check.”

From Monday’s story:

There are no laws, state or national requiring background checks for in-home service workers. And when companies do background checks, you can’t always trust them.

“I hear from employers all the time, I just need a quick and easy background check. I just want to make sure he’s not a murderer,” said Mike Coffey, a recognized expert in background checks.

Coffey says employers, especially large companies often do it on the cheap, relying on criminal data bases that are notoriously inaccurate.

“I often tell employers if that’s all you’re going to do just put your money in escrow for your attorney fees because something’s going to happen,” Coffee told 7 Action News.

Coffey said a thorough background screening requires checking local court records in every jurisdiction a person has lived, instead of relying on national data bases which are inexpensive to use but often miss criminal convictions.

Background investigator Mike Coffey says it makes sense for companies to be thorough.

“I mean to spend $150 to $200 on a background check that’s really, really thorough for somebody that your sending into somebody’s home seems to me like a no-brainer,” Coffey said.

There are good reasons that Imperative will not sell a criminal records database by itself – the most important being that they regularly miss 30-60% or more of even the most serious criminal convictions, as was apparently the case with Jason Meinke.

No Background Check for Accused Sex Offender Working at Lufkin Apartment Complex

Had the owners of the Acadia Arms Apartments in Lufkin, Texas completed a background check on Jose Diaz before hiring him as a handyman, they would have learned that he has convictions for driving while intoxicated, driving while his license was suspended, and a felony conviction for possession of cocaine for which he spent eleven months in prison before being paroled in 2007.

This is definitely not someone you want  to have keys to your apartment.

According to television station KTRE: The owner says they didn’t check him since he was only contracted for ten days.

A female resident says she awoke inher bedroom on January 6th to find Diaz pulling off her shorts and began screaming, according to The Lufkin Daily News. When her roommate responded with a gun, Diaz left the apartment.

Since the incident, several other residents have made complaints against Diaz, including one, according to television station KLTV, who says he… it’s just too gross – you can read it on their website if you wish. (Warning: It is both graphic and gross.)

Many employers fail to conduct a meaningful criminal background check on contingent or temporary workers, thinking that they will only be around for a short time. That faulty thinking fails to recognize that a temporary worker with ill intent only needs a short amount of time to identify the vulnerabilities of the employer, coworkers, or customers.  Imperative  recommends that our clients select temporary employees with the same degree of diligence as regular employees.

Church and Nursing Home Fall Prey to “He’s a Nice Guy” Syndrome

My friend Greg Love is an attorney who, through his firm Ministry Safe, trains churches and community service organizations on how to keep sex offenders from harming their organizations. In his presentations he often laments that the Church is the last place where someone can show up and get access to kids or other vulnerable populations just by asking.

Greg’s point is that there is a tendency in a religious environment to presume to know someone’s “heart” and give them the benefit of the doubt along with access to kids, the infirm, or others who are vulnerable. The problem is that many deeply troubled and potentially dangerous people know how to talk the talk and appear to walk the walk. By the time their deception is identified, it is often too late.

That appears to be the case with this guy, Matthew Porter, a “volunteer associate pastor” and nursing home chaplain in Granbury, Texas.

According to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Porter has been accused of placing a hidden camera in a bathroom used by employees at Harbor Lakes Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation, where he was acting as a chaplain.

Apparently, only after this investigation began did the nursing home or The Church at Granbury learn that he was convicted in Manatee County, Florida for nine counts of video voyeurism. According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the Florida case, Porter videoed the bathroom activities of members of a juvenille Bible study group he held in his apartment. He was sentenced to 120 days in prison and one year probation, which he was allowed to serve in Texas.

What is even more disconcerting is that while on probation he received counseling at Gateway Community Church in Granbury, and was allowed to volunteer and act as a chaplain by both Granbury churches. “We let him do that because he was in counseling at the same time,” Gateway’s former music minister, who also counseled Porter, is quoted as saying. He added that he now believes that Porter lied to him about the Florida circumstances, though the Star-Telegram article doesn’t say how.

Which brings us to another issue my friend Greg Love often points out. Individuals who act out in this way (Greg often refers to them as predators) know who to cultivate the trust of gatekeepers – parents, church leaders, workplace supervisors – the very people whose job it is to protect vulnerable populations.

When conducting background checks, we often see situations where an employment applicant will admit to a minor criminal offense that, once the background check has been completed, turns out to be a gross reduction of the actual offense(s). Employers are sometimes so impressed that the applicant is forthright about past offenses, particularly minor but emberrasing ones, that they let down their guard and fail to conduct proper due diligence.

Additionally, many organizations seem to equate how much an individual is being compensated with the level of the background check that is conducted. Never mind that a “volunteer pastor” or “chaplain” is automatically given immediate credibility by those he or she encounters and the potential for damage to others and the organization is often greater than many other more highly compensated positions. Organizations need to carefully review the risks associated with a position rather than the compensation level when determining the necessary level of due diligence.

Meanwhile, Hood County Sheriff investigators are still trying to identify Porter’s vicitims from the hidden camera images they found. He is out on $20,000 bond so if you use a public restroom in Granbury… well, I’m just saying.

Family Hires Identity Thief as Nanny

Carollena Vaccaro has a long criminal history that includes a felony conviction for possession of a forged instrument. So how did she get a job as a nanny working for an entrepreneurial family?

Simple, according to the Rochester, New York Democrat and Chronicle:

Vaccaro, who claimed to be a registered nurse, gave them the name and Social Security number of her cousin, DeRosa, without DeRosa’s knowledge. The name came back clean in a background check.

Vaccaro was sentenced to serve between three and six years in prison for two counts of felony identity theft after pleading guilty this week. The family who employed her apparent only lost a $25 Walmart gift card and, very probably, the sense of security in their own home.

So, the question is how could this family have avoided becoming entangled with this woman?

With her history of forgery, it is possible that if the family completed the I-9 process (which many residential employers fail to do), she may have presented valid-looking identification with her picture and her family member’s identity info.

With the false identity information, the criminal background check conducted by the family was useless. Assuming that was the case, the next level of defense would be to verify both her credentials, in this case a nursing license, and her previous employment history.  Employment histories are fairly easy to fabricate but a good background screening firm will have a process to try and substantiate the identity of the individual’s providing references.  This is often something that private employers, particularly families hiring domestic help, are ill-equiped to accomplish.

According to press reports, it also evident that this family was not Vaccaro’s first victim. Numerous people apparently had been taken advantage of by her under several different names. It seems that the local small claims court was very familiar with her, as well.

It is interesting how many individuals fail to conduct thorough background checks on employees who will be working in their homes, especially when hiring a nanny to working with children, housekeepers, home healthcare workers, or others with access to their residence.

In Vaccaro’s case, the damage was limited to minor theft. However, if a thief can gain acesss to a family this easily, how much more difficult would it be for someone with a history of violence or sex offenses to get into the household?

Texas State Background Check Contractor Hires a Thief on Probation

Last month, the United States Attorney General filed federal identity theft charges against Angela Cuellar, a former employee of a Waco-based state contractor responsible for collecting the fingerprints of those seeking state background checks.  This part of the story has been widely reported.

However, Imperative Information Group conducted our own research on Ms. Cuellar and the results are startling.

Apparently, her former employer failed to conduct a criminal background check on her or, worse yet, chose to ignore the results of the background check. That bad hiring decision resulted in the identity theft scandal unveiled in last month’s indictment, according to the federal indictment.

Integrated Biometrics Technology (IBT) operates a fingerprint collection site for L-1 ID Solutions, the company to which the State of Texas sole-sourced their Live Scan fingerprinting collection network. IBT collects fingerprints of teachers and others who must receive fingerprints as part of the licensing, certification, or employment processes of Texas state agencies.

According to the indictment, Cuellar worked for IBT from March 10, 2008 until July, 27, 2008. What isn’t reflected in the indictment or in any of the press coverage I’ve found to date is that Cuellar was on probation for theft when she was hired by IBT, having plead guilty to theft charges the previous November. 

The federal indictment is interesting reading. During the short time that she worked for IBT, Cuellar allegedly stole “thousands” of applications for fingerprint background checks, each containing the applicant’s “name, address, date of birth, social security number, driver license information, and other identifying information.” Cuellar allegedly “used, gave away, or traded victims’ information so that members of the conspiracy could fraudulently obtain credit cards, goods, and services in victims’ names.”

The “members of the conspiracy caused credit cards and merchandise to be shipped or mailed to various addresses in the Waco area in victims’ names.” According to the indictment, Cuellar and her friends opened JC Penny’s cards, bought Dell computers, and even opened a Green Mountain Energy electricity account at the residence where some of the group was staying.

Several law enforcement agencies are still trying to identify additional victims. The McLennan County Sherrif’s Office has created a webpage and hotline for “Reporting for L-1 ID Solutions Security Breach” in order to aid victims of this easily-preventable data breach.

Sheez. Did I mention that before IBT ever gave Cuellar access to these poor individuals’ identity information, she had already plead guilty and was serving probation for theft on a case out of Waco?

It isn’t clear whether IBT simply failed to conduct a background check on Cuellar, ran an inadequate background check (perhaps only relying on the incomplete state or “national” criminal records databases available online), or ran a background check that included their local county’s records and chose to ignore the resulting records.

That the State of Texas’ background check vendor may have failed to conduct the most basic background check on a potential employee is blindingly ironic. It is no doubt causing blinding headaches for Cuellar’s victims.

By the way, Cuellar was later charged with theft by check in another case, which was dismissed in August of last year after Cuellar presented the DA’s office with…

wait for it…

“forgery affidavits on the checks.”

When the Job Applicant Says “It Wasn’t Me!”

The rap artist Shaggy had a hit song a few years ago called “It Wasn’t Me” about a man who’s girlfriend caught him cheating with another woman. (Cheating so bad in fact, that I dare not link the music video to this posting. I’m still blushing.) His friend’s advice was deny, deny, deny. “It wasn’t me!”

Job applicants sometimes make this claim, as well.

The Philadelphia Daily News ran a column today entitled Tainted record, the result of ID theft, foils work quest for father of 5. The column focuses sympathetically on Charles Canty, who claims that he has had a difficult time finding a job because of an identity thief who has apparently committed several crimes under his name. He claims that background checks continue to report the cases, all of which have been dismissed, and that employers are not hiring him based upon those records. (Jump to the end if you can’t wait to get the full story on his situation.)

As a background screening firm, we often get calls from job applicants who are upset that they’ve been eliminated from consideration because of something on their background check. (See my previous post: An Angry Consumer is on Line One) Because we don’t rely on criminal records databases and we select our local court research provider relationships based on quality rather than price, we know that the information we provide to our client matches the information in the court’s files.

But what happens when the court’s records are wrong or incomplete or there are two people out there with the same name and date of birth and one of them is a criminal? Maybe it really wasn’t him!

Identity theft in criminal records is uncommon but we certainly see more of it than we did ten years ago. On rare occasion, we come across people who share the same name and date of birth, as well. Often, there are enough inconsistencies between the court’s records and other information we have verified about the applicant during the rest of the background check process to flag us to the stolen or mistaken identity.

A couple years ago, we conducted a background investigation on a candidate for a professional position. His employment history was solid for over a decade and there were no gaps in employment. All indications were that he had lived in the same city for the last fifteen years.

However, our search of a multi-jurisdictional criminal records database (other firms call them “national databases” but we know that greatly overstates their reliability) reflected records for a defendant with this individual’s very unique name and date of birth. We verified the records with the courts – the problem was that the defendant had served jail time in counties hundreds of miles away from where our client’s applicant had lived and worked for the last fifteen years.

Something was obviously amiss, so we ordered copies of the court documents and mug shots from the two sheriff departments (one in South Texas and the other in South Carolina). When we received the documents and photos, we learned that the defendant was a five foot, five inch tall white male. We also learned that he had provided two different social security numbers when he was arrested – further checking determined that one belonged to a woman and the other had never been issued. Additionally, the drivers license number he used in his Texas arrest belonged to yet another person!


These are the mug shots we received from the sheriff’s offices.

A quick call to my client confirmed that their candidate was a black man over six feet tall. Obviously, the guy in these photos doesn’t match that description!

This confirmed that either his identity had been stolen or that he was the victim of an unfortunate coincidence of having the same name and date of birth as a criminal offender.

While the client received a clean and accurate background check, we contacted the applicant directly to inform him of the situation, which is sure to come up again.

Now, to Mr. Canty, the subject of the Philadelphia Daily News column. The sound of sad violins playing in the background were a little too loud, so we did a little quick research just to check.

According to the Pennsylvania courts, Mr. Canty still has an active case in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas with counts including attempted burglary and trespass (case CP-51-CR-0015243-2009). Perhaps this case will also be dismissed due to identity theft but the fact that it wasn’t mentioned in the column makes me wonder if it was inconvenient to the theme of this column (“downtrodden man as victim”).

Also according to court records, in 2007 Mr. Canty pled nolo contendere (no contest) in case MC-51-CR-0043783-2007 to possession of a controlled substance and served twelve months probation. Perhaps the identity thief was also responsible for this case and served the probation but if that were the case, why wouldn’t it have been mentioned in the column? There’s no mention of any claim of actual convictions for crimes committed by others – that would have certainly made the degree of injustice even more outrageous.

He also has a 2004 conviction for retail theft in case MC-51-SU-0002945-2004, which was apparently before the identity theft occurred.

If any of these cases do belong to Mr. Canty, they are a far cry from the vague reference the columnist makes to the “‘stupid stuff’ he did in his faraway youth.” (I still wear ties I bought in 2004!) They are, however, most likely the reason he has been unable to land a job for Comcast working at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, a position that would put him in contact with the public and place him on a college campus.

The takeaway for employers in all of this is that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law governing employment-related background checks, lays outs a specific process to ensure that job applicants are treated fairly when anything in their background check may result in an adverse employment decision:

  1. Before making the adverse employment decision, the employer must provide the applicant with a copy of their background check and a statement of their rights under the law, which includes the right to dispute any incorrect information directly with the background screening firm. There’s not a specific requirment in the FCRA that the name and contact information of the background screening firm be provided to the applicant at this time, however it just makes sense to do so.
  2. After the applicant has received this information and reasonably had an opportunity to respond, the employer can evaluate the background check information and make the appropriate employment decision. If the applicant decides to dispute any of the information in the background check with the background screening firm, there is no requirement that the employer hold the job open for the applicant while the screening firm reinvestigates the disputed information. In the case of a dispute, however, it is a good idea for the employer and the background screening firm to stay in communication as to the actions each is taking to ensure that negative decision is not made based upon faulty information.
  3. If an adverse employment decision is made in whole or part based upon the background check, the employer must provide the applicant notice of the action and other information, including how to contact the background screening firm.

Working with a good background screening firm and following this process will ensure that when an applicant says “It wasn’t me,” everyone’s interests are protected.

Insanely Dangerous Idea? There’s an App for That!


 Intelius, the online data broker notorius for selling information most people would consider personal to anyone who wants it, has released an iPhone application that is a must-have for the on-the-go stalker.

Their Date Check app is touted as a way for users to check out potential hook ups while they are still sitting next next to you at the bar. For a few bucks, you can use Date Check to check out your prospective paramour’s background – criminal history, address… even an asset check – by providing as little initial information as their cell phone number.

This is an insanely dangerous idea for at least two reasons. First, all criminal records databases miss a lot of records. A LOT. This means that anyone relying on Intelius to determine whether the Prince or Princess Charming they just met at the monster truck after-party has a criminal record are potentially missing important information. The danger in this, as in relying on any criminal records database, is that users may rely on the information to make critical decisions… with potentially devastating consequences.

Of even more concern to me about this app, however, is the giant potential for abuse. This app obviously doesn’t have any way of measuring the intent or goodwill of the user. Want that cute blonde’s address so you can show up at her front door to convince her that you are soul mates? This is the app for you! Have a more nefarious intent? No problem!

This is such a bad and dangerous idea that I won’t even post a link to their site. Google it and you’ll see what a bad idea this really is.

Mike Coffey is president of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, contact Mike at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at
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