How an employment background check could have prevented massive identity theft.

Shelby Sanders was a tax preparer for nationwide tax service Jackson Hewitt during the 2018 tax season.

As a tax preparer, she had access to the personally-identifiable information of taxpayers and their families, as well as customers’ bank account and credit card information.

According to a press release, police in Blue Mound, Texas caught Sanders in possession of drivers licenses and credit cards bearing the identities of Jackson Hewitt tax preparation clients.

Sanders admitted to police that she stole the identity information while working at Jackson Hewitt, where she had access to information from nine of the tax preparer’s local offices, according to the press release.

The total number of identity theft victims is unknown at this point.

“It could be large,” CBS 11 quoted Blue Mound Chief of Police Randy Baker as saying. “Right now, we’re at eight and it could be as much as a hundred. Much as 200. We don’t know yet.”

What a headache for Jackson Hewitt!

Texas has pretty strong data breach notification and remediation laws and the bad publicity could cause serious brand damage and loss of trust.

How could this have been avoided?

Quite easily, it turns out.

A simple background check would have identified that Sanders had a recent criminal history for theft and an active warrant for arrest at the time she was employed by Jackson Hewitt.

Imperative ran our Diligent Criminal Background Investigation on Sanders. Here’s what we found:

  • SHOPLIFTING: In 2015, she entered into a “conditional dismissal” agreement with the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to have a 2014 Walmart shoplifting case dismissed after she completed 24 hours of community service and completed an (apparently unsuccessful) anti-theft class.
  • SHOPLIFTING: She also has a warrant in Dallas County (issued in June 2015) in a theft case filed in October 2015 related to a shoplifting incident in which she allegedly stole electronics from a Walmart.
  • RETAIL THEFT: In 2018, she was found guilty in a 2017 Collin County theft case in which she was alleged to have switched the price tags at a retailer.

What might Imperative have advised an employer in reviewing Sanders’ background check?

When evaluating whether an individual’s criminal history is relevant to a given job, employers should consider a number of factors, including:

  • the nature of the offense (what she was alleged to have done),
  • the age of the offense (how long ago it was),
  • the details of the role for which she is being considered,
  • the number of offenses in her criminal history (one issue three years ago or three issues in the last three years?).

So let’s review Sanders’ criminal history as though we were considering her for a tax-preparer position.

The 2015 “Conditional Dismissal” for Shoplifting.

Employers can consider dismissed criminal cases under federal and Texas law.

The employer simply must have a reasonable belief that the individual engaged in the conduct alleged. The beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard applies to courts, not individual employers trying to manage employment-related risk.

It is certainly reasonable to believe that an individual who entered into a conditional dismissal program in which she does community service and completes anti-theft classes engaged in some conduct of concern.

Finally, the tax preparer position simply provides too much access to sensitive information for someone with a theft case in the past three years to be a viable candidate, short of some extraordinary evidence of a significant life change in the intervening three years.

The Arrest Warrant and Active Shoplifting Case

We always advise that clients NEVER hire an applicant with an outstanding arrest warrant until after they’ve had the warrant lifted.

Even if the underlying offense isn’t related to the job, do you really want to hire someone who isn’t taking care of their own personal business to the degree that the police have an order to take them into custody?

Additionally, why spend the time recruiting, onboarding, and training a new employee who is just one traffic stop away from being unavailable for work?

Of course, once they show up to have the warrant lifted, they are likely to be arrested and, except in the extremely rare case of mistaken identity, will no longer be available for employment.

Even were there no warrant, it would have been perfectly reasonable for the employer not to hire her because of the active theft case against her.

We advise that employers not hire applicants facing charges for criminal conduct that would suggest a risk for the position for which they are being considered.

In this case, theft allegations would suggest a strong risk for this position.

Once the case has been resolved, the employer can review the available information and determine if it is reasonable to believe the individual engaged in the alleged conduct and make a risk-based employment decision—if an appropriate position is available, of course.

The 2018 Retail Theft Conviction

This offense happened in August 2017, before Sanders started work at Jackson Hewitt in December 2017.

However, the case was not filed until March of 2018, which means that it would likely not have shown up on her preemployment background check.

Of course, this conviction would be relevant had an employer requested a background check on her any time after March of 2018.

As we publish this article, the identity theft case has not yet been filed in Tarrant County and Sanders has been transferred to the Collin County Jail to answer to the pending case there. So it seems unlikely that Sanders will be applying for any jobs in the near future.

Don’t become the victim of a Bad Hire Day! Make sure you’ve carefully evaluated the risk posed by your next employment candidate.

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