Published on:

Criminal Background Checks on Employees and Volunteers


A recent story in the Portland Tribune (and many other similar ones lately) reminded me how many questions law librarians get from people who think conducting background checks is a quick, easy, cheap, and routine thing to do “on the Internet.”

Volunteering … to steal?: Portland mom repeatedly accused of theft while working for charity clubs (by Jennifer Anderson, The Portland Tribune, Feb 19, 2009)

Excerpt: “…Embezzlement happens all too often in volunteer organizations, Shen said, because many times fundraisers involve cash passed hand to hand, without receipts in place.

And whomever is in charge of the finances gets free reign unless accountability measures are in place.

“What tends to happen is the person who volunteers gets to do whatever they want because everyone else is glad they don’t have to do it,” he said. “That’s kind of a setup for disaster, because no one is watching the money.” (link to full article)


A thorough, or even a moderately thorough, background check is not quick, easy, cheap, or routine. Ask anyone who does this professionally. It takes training, practice, instinct, and judgment. It’s an art and a craft.

(And remember how hard it can be just to find out if someone is married!)

This is not to say that nonprofit organizations or small businesses on tight budgets can’t do some kind of background checking themselves. But you won’t learn how in 3 minutes. You can, however, online learn enough about criminal records searching to gain a fair amount of knowledge and judgment on when and how to hire a professional. (You can also learn about good business accounting practices. Most libraries have lots of books on how to run businesses and bookstores are awash in them. Nolo Press too has excellent legal self-help books on starting and running a business.)

(And a word to the wise: if your accountant/bookkeeper says, “oh, you don’t need to look at the books – I have it all under control,” you need to look at the books, now, right now.)

Learning something about background checking is also necessary if you plan to talk to or hire a professional investigator to find out what different levels of background checks would cost.

If you want to find a licensed professional investigator, there are several routes to go. There are professional associations, your own, whose members may be able to recommend investigators who are trustworthy and competent, and there are private investigator professional associations that would be glad to explain how one goes about finding the right investigator to meet your needs. You can also try these:

1) Nonprofit organizations can call TACS for advice and guidance (please!).

2) For-profit businesses have lots of resources of their own, from their professional associations, to the many Small Business services available in Oregon, e.g. here (and here) and here.

My previous posts on criminal background checks: here and here.

Published on:

Comments are closed.

Contact Information