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How Background Investigation Techniques Differ

A background investigation needs to be catered to the person being investigated. A nanny's background check will differ from that of a bus driver or government official.


With the multitude of scenarios that call for a background check, such as a nanny, a potential employee, or an investment banker, surely there are a multitude of techniques investigators utilize depending on the subject. We were interested to hear what investigators had to say about how a background check techniques differ from case to case. We learned that one of the most important parts of differentiating between types of background checks is keeping good communication with the client about the mission, goals, and capabilities of the project. When a client calls for a background check it’s important to specify exactly what kind of results the client is looking for, and what type of person the investigator will be researching. This way the investigator can explain to the client exactly what’s legal, what’s possible, and for the investigator’s sake, know what kind of files should be reviewed, and what kind of questions the investigator is looking to answer.

In our discussion covering background checks, we invited two experienced professionals, Brian Willingham and Pamela Hay, to comment on the different types of background checks and what they entail. Brian Willingham of The Diligentia group, he has been a private investigator for more than 11 years and has completed thousands of background checks. He blogs and owns The Diligentia Group, an investigations firm specializing in background checks. Pamela Hay is a professor for the professional investigations course at Boston University. She also has top secret clearance with the government to conduct civil background checks.

 

What I would do on a member of a public company or a CEO of a public company or a hedge fund manager would be completely different than a nanny, or a pre-employment matter.

Brian Willingham

Hay stressed the importance of communicating with the client how a background check should be tailored and what information should be obtained in reference to the type of subject that will be investigated. Once the investigator has the objective of the investigation, he or she can fine tune the groundwork on what files need to be reviewed for the specific subject.

“What I would do on a member of a public company or a CEO of a public company or a hedge fund manager would be completely different than a nanny, or a pre-employment matter,” he said. There are different types of records an investigator would be interested in, determined by the subject’s occupation. With a CEO or public official, for example, an investigator would want to focus on financial records and regulatory issues; such as if he or she has been fined by a regulatory agency or a state regulatory agency. It’s very important to check the subject’s education and work history, to be sure they are completely accurate. “When you’re talking about very public positions, they’re going to have a high level of scrutiny involved,” Willingham said.

You wouldn’t necessarily do a civil investigation for a bus driver but you may check all civil cases for a CEO. And you may not check a CEO’s motor vehicle driving history, but you certainly would check the bus drivers.

Pamela Hay

Hay agreed, commenting on the importance of selecting the appropriate files to review based on the subject. “You necessarily wouldn’t do a civil investigation for a bus driver but you may check all civil cases for a CEO. And you may not check a CEO’s motor vehicle driving history, but you certainly would check the bus drivers,” she added.

Willingham also noted the weight of an investigator’s search spanning as far back as possible. “I’m searching every public record that I can, searching back as far as I possibly can,” he said. And as the investigator, it’s important to be the first to present the background information, requiring careful attention that no stone goes unturned. “You want to check every little piece of information because somebody is going to dig it up at some point,” Willingham said.

Deciphering the method of investigation based on the subject, is something that becomes ingrained in an investigator’s mind with time and experience. With each investigator also comes different opinions and ideas of what is necessary based on a subject’s occupation or the mission of the client in the investigation. As a thinking piece, it could be interesting for an investigator to monitor the differences in a background check based on the subject and record how each subject requires different methods of investigation. This could open the door to finding the most efficient way to complete a background check.


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