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Navigating the Online Criminal Background Check Labyrinth

More and more individuals wish to protect themselves, their businesses and their loved ones from the possibility of falling prey to criminal activity. One popular safeguard against unnecessary access to unsavory characters is a criminal background check. Whether performing due diligence on a potential employee, securing safe childcare or vetting a new online love interest, criminal background checks have become a regular part of our interactions. As a result of this increased interest in access to criminal histories, many people turn to the most readily available option, the Internet, in order to obtain the information they desire.

A cursory Google search for “online background check” astonishingly returns over 10 million results. The logic is apparent, if the Internet works for shopping in your pajamas and reconnecting with high school classmates, why wouldn’t it work equally as well for background screenings. However, as is typically the case with most endeavors, quantity does not necessarily directly translate to quality.

Often, clients express their utter disbelief when we uncover evidence of a prior criminal history during the course of an investigation. “But I paid for a criminal search online and it was all clear. How could this ever happen?” or some equally confused equivalent are all too common responses. These reoccurring complications center largely on the quality of the information utilized in the search. The old adage stands true; output data quality is only as reliable as the quality of the input data.

Websites offering statewide and nationwide background searches typically perform searches through one of several available databases and pass along the results to the consumer at a highly inflated cost. Essentially, they act as a middleman, selling you someone else’s services without concern for quality or cost. While this alone is unnerving, under further examination you will often find that the databases they utilize are actually severely outdated and or startlingly incomplete. Add the possibility of spelling and data entry errors into this already maladroit mix and your reliable online criminal background check quickly begins to resemble an attempt to catch fire ants with a butterfly net.

It is true that computer aided searches provide the benefit of speedy access to vast amounts of past criminal case files. This in itself sounds substantial, but the reality is often vastly different than initial impressions. For example, some states do not require their judicial offices to report criminal convictions to database agencies. There is also variance at the county level within individual states for requirements of which, if any, criminal history data is sold to third party vendors.

This situation creates a strange paradox in which you can receive a “clear” criminal check from an alleged “statewide” online search, while the subject could actually have a serious and lengthy criminal record in a non-reporting county within the state. The reality that online searches often only produce records from reporting counties that are available post implementation of computerized record systems only compounds this confusion and further augments the margin of error.

The chaotic mix of contributing factors all greatly impact the accuracy and reliability of online record searches. Consequently, the most secure option for a comprehensive criminal background check available to the public remains utilizing an experienced private investigator to physically research the individual. Investigations of this nature ensure that all areas are fully investigated and greatly reduce the likelihood of unknown records under aliases. In fact, physical research is still utilized for most high-level security clearances and positions directly related to personal safety. While technology does aid these screenings, human efforts remain the gold standard over computerized convenience in this sector.

Summer Vacation Safety Tips

The days are longer, hotter and the schools halls are once again silent and empty. All around sunscreen and pool floats have long since replaced the sweaters and raincoats of fall. As of June 20th, it’s official. Summer is in full effect.

For many, summer represents a time to get away with the family, spend quality time with the kids while they’re out of school and enjoy a good ol’ fashioned family vacation. However, before you throw on your Bermuda shorts and don your sunglasses to head out for some hard earned R&R, remember that you may not be the only one excited about your summer vacation.

According to FBI statistics, the crime rate typically rises approximately 10% during the months of June, July and August. Whether this bump is on account of the scorching heat, criminals’ own lofty vacation plans or an overabundance of idle teens is debatable.

What is clear though is that these numbers provide a sound warning for summer fun seekers; however, it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from making the most of the warmest months of the year.

 

A Guide to Keeping Safe While Away at Play

Keep in mind these simple tips and stay safe this summer.

Preparing your Property

  • Inform a trusted neighbor of your trip and ask them to keep an eye out for any unusual activity.
  • Ensure ALL doors and windows are securely locked. Install locks if needed.
  • Use a security checklist the day you leave.
  • Do not “advertise” your trip on social media or to unfamiliar people
  • Consider installing a security system in advance

 

The Occupied Property illusion

  • This strategy essentially attempts to simulate an occupied property in order to reduce the risk of becoming a target. One only needs to make it appear as if someone is home, in order to make their home less appealing to potential burglars.

Strategies include:

  • Use timers on inside and outside lights
  • Hold mail at the Post Office or have someone collect it
  • Schedule regular lawn maintenance
  • Install motion activated lights, especially near entrances
  • Hire a house sitter to inhabit the property or visit often

 

Ensuring a Safe Stay

Once you’ve covered all the possible issues you can on the home front, remember to use the same common sense and awareness while you are away. Often, theft occurs during a vacation because people are more relaxed than normal and not focused on taking normal safety precautions.

  • Use the room or hotel safe in order to store valuables and cash
  • Do not leave personal electronics visible in your room or in your bags while out
  • Familiarize yourself with the hotel door locks and double check that they are fully secured when you leave
  • Secure and lock all windows and balcony doors when away from the room, in the bathroom and at night
  • Always use the deadbolt lock while sleeping
  • Check online hotel reviews in advance for any possible safety issues
  • Keep valuables close to your person, in zipped pockets is possible, especially when in large crowds
  • Exercise the same vigilance and awareness you would use while traveling in a large city or foreign country

 

So remember that while summer is a time for family vacations, backyard barbecues and sandy feet at the beach, it is also a time of increased criminal activity. This increase however does not need to negatively impact your plans this year. Use these tips to protect your home and ensure a fun and safe summer season for the entire family.

Romance Scammers and the Online Dating World

Love. Romance. A soul mate. These are things almost everyone seek at some point in life. While the quest itself is as old as time, the places people search for love have changed significantly in recent years. More and more love seekers are steering the search for their own Romeo (or Juliet) into the digital realm. Talk to your close friends or family, chances are one of them has recently found, or at least tried, a romantic relationship via a virtual rendezvous.

This may sound like a shiny, wondrously new benefit of our increasingly technological world at first glance. And it is certainly not without its benefits for those seeking romance. It gives you access to more potential matches, the ability to filter your potential suitors by preference and of course the ever valuable sneak peak at their appearance before you meet. But before you set up your account and roll the dice with digital cupid, consider who might actually be lurking behind your new sweetheart’s profile picture.

Online dating sites serve as a virtual goldmine for a growing horde of criminals and scammers panning for victims. These criminals seek to identify, contact, groom and exploit individuals’ emotional vulnerability for financial gain. Essentially, they employ a combination of identify fraud and mass marketing fraud. While victims overall are indiscriminately exploited, the most common targets are older females, widows and the recently separated.

To be frank, these crooks masquerading as keyboard Lotharios are not typically innovative criminal masterminds. Their methods are a field-tested routine that is as simple to spot as polar bear in Time Square once you know their game.

Let’s breakdown this boilerplate strategy:

  • Scammers utilize false photographs to present a potential partner they think their victim will find attractive.
  • After initial contact, the paramours quickly escalate the relationship by over zealously declaring their unwavering love for the victim.
  • The fraudster then moves all communication from the dating site to an email account allowing them to maintain more anonymity.
  • Once email contact is established it increases with a flurry of intensity often over a period of weeks, months or even years. This is the “grooming” period. It serves to create the illusion of intimacy with their victim.
  • Gifts are often used to “test the waters” in terms of the victims willingness to comply with instructions. Criminals may send small gifts to show a relationship is “genuine” however following receipt they will make requests for minor amounts of money.
  • Victims sending money to the perpetrators, even extremely small amounts, is essentially a green light for the large-scale shakedown to begin.
  • Virtual “lovers’ are almost always unexpectedly impacted by a serious event that requires the victim’s financial support to rectify. The events can vary from medical expenses to robbery and everything between, but the solution is always money.

 

A massive fraud of this nature could only previously have been attempted by a skilled and experienced con man and require numerous face-to-face interactions. However, anonymity is readily available on the Internet and the limitations of physical locations do not exist. In turn most of the keyboard Romeos perpetrating these romance schemes fit a similar profile. This shared similarity makes pinpointing would be fraudsters simple.

Consider the following points to help you sort out crooks attempting fraud from the real catches:

  • Scammers claim to be a native-born U.S. citizen, however they have a thick accent and/or display extremely poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
  • The overly emotional confessions of love utilized in the grooming phase are often plagiarized completely, if not partially, and presented, as ones own thoughts. A simple Google search of text of this nature can help identified stolen content.
  • This example we identified in an online romance con is clearly found on poemlovers.com: “I live to live, to spend a lifetime with you and to grow older with you, loving you for all times from now to eternity. I love to love you so much and am so happy that soonest we will be together”.”
  • The perpetuators of these crimes often use the same accounts to lure multiple victims. Research any usernames or email addresses used in communication to see if they are routinely used to commit fraud.
  • The unexpected emergencies that inevitably befall these crooks almost always occur outside the US. This requires the victim to send money to a foreign country, which in turn makes persecution and retrieval highly unlikely.
  • Be seriously suspicious of ANY request for money or support. Remember this is a person you have not met in person and in reality you know nothing about them.
  • It is extremely important that you separate yourself from all emotions if you recognize any of the signs discussed. We are all subject to emotional vulnerability, which can seriously impact otherwise sound judgment.
  • Always share information about any new online relationships with your friends and family. Gaining an additional perspective from outside the situation can help you avoid the fog of emotional vulnerability.

 

While there are numerous scammers and fraudsters lurking in wait for their next victim, avoiding them is not difficult once you know their con. Remember these signs and tips during your online search for the new Mr. or Mrs. Right and you can avoid the scheming Internet inamoratos.

If you think you have already been the victim of an online romance scheme we recommend the following actions:

Protecting Yourself from Crafty Credit Card Crooks

The proliferation of technology over the past 10 to 15 years has expanded credit and debit card processing to nearly every aspect of our commercial lives. Previously reserved for large-ticket items or transactions requiring deposits, electronic payments are now regularly accepted by nearly all merchants; from the checkout line at the corner store to the smartphone of a 9-year old lemonade vendor, paying with plastic has become the new standard.

While the unarguably effortless convenience of electronic payments makes them extremely popular with consumers, we are not the only ones celebrating their recent surge. An ever-expanding underground network of data thieves is also singing the praises of our pay-by-plastic culture.  The recent high profile data security breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus prove that no one is truly immune to these criminals’ cunning and calculated attacks. Even though the US is scheduled to convert its current magnetic strip system to the more secure chip-and-pin system by 2015 protecting yourself in the meantime remains critical.

Although the only 100% failsafe against theft of your credit and debit card information remains not having a card at all, utilizing the following tips can greatly reduce your risk:

Pay with Cash Whenever Possible

  • It is a simple matter of volume. The less you use your credit or debit card, the less your information is available for possible theft. Even though carrying cash will increase the physical size of your wallet, paying with it whenever possible will decrease the risk of someone stealing your card info. So think twice before you swipe your card to purchase a pack of gum and a soft drink at the neighborhood bodega.

 

Protect Your Physical Card Information

While a large portion of payment information theft occurs in the digital world, many crooks still mine a wealth of useable info from the physical source:

  • Shredding your financial information (preferably with a crosscut shredder) can prevent you from becoming an easy target for someone sifting through your trash.
  • Store sensitive information discreetly and securely inside your own home. This is especially important if you have a roommate, service workers in your home or other sources of traffic coming in and out of the home.
  • If you are away from your home for an extended period of time, remember to have a trusted party collect your mail or even better, request a vacation hold through the US Post Office.
  • Ensure that the billing addresses and contact information for ALL of your accounts are current and correct.

 

Pay Attention to Your Account Activity

This one sounds straightforward enough but the effortless nature of electronic payment makes it very easy to just swipe and forget. However, early fraud detection can mean the difference between a quick card reissue and a long and often-arduous paperwork process to restore your credit.

  • Check your card activity regularly either online or on your monthly statement. If you use an online interface, only access your account from a secure and familiar network.
  • Remember to change your online account passwords regularly (every 30-180 days) and use a unique combination of uppercase, lowercase, numerals and symbols.
  • If you receive paper billing statements, open them immediately and examine them to confirm that every transaction is legitimate and lists the correct amount.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately if you notice something strange or unfamiliar on your account.

 

Protect Yourself at the Point of Sale

Credit card theft can occur right under your nose if you are not careful and observant. Utilize these simple strategies every time you use your card:

  • Remember to keep your card out of sight until it is required for payment. Thieves have been known to snap pictures of unsuspecting victim’s cards in their hands while waiting in the checkout line.
  • Keep an eye on your card during transactions if possible and always check to ensure that the correct card is returned to you. If you see someone photographing your card or running it through two different scanners alert the establishment’s management and your financial institution.
  • Refrain from signing transaction receipts with blank “tip lines” as additional funds can be added to the transaction. Fully mark through any subtotal lines that you do not use.
  •  Always keep a complete copy of your transaction receipt. It is your insurance in the event you have to dispute the transaction with your financial institution.

 

Carry Your Cards Correctly

Incorrectly carrying your credit or debit card makes you a vulnerable target. Following these simple precautions can significantly decrease your risk.

  • Carry only one credit or debit card with you at a time if possible. Store the other cards in a safe and secure place at home.
  • Keep the card(s) you need to carry with you separate from your wallet. This will help prevent card theft if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • Consider an anti-RFID wallet or credit card holder. Studies have shown that criminals can easily obtain complete credit card information through clothing or purses by scanning a person in close proximity with a RFID scanner. There are many cost effective and stylish anti-RFID wallets (like Travelon brand) that will protect your cards from unsolicited scanning.

 

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Private Investigator Dos and Donts

Private Investigator Dos and Donts
It is often extremely difficult for a person to admit that they need the help of a stranger. That is why many people find the process of hiring a private investigator to be an emotionally trying situation. However, this does not have to be the rule by any means. Private Investigators exist to help you get the information you deserve during your time of need. Below is a list of tips to keep in mind when hiring an investigative firm in order to ensure not only your happiness, but also your success:

  • Always check to make sure that an investigator is properly licensed. Believe it or not there are people posing as investigators with expired credentials or worse none at all. Be sure to check with the respective state-licensing agency before you hire someone to make sure his or her license is in good standing.
  • Look for a private investigator that requires a signed written contract. This way both you and the investigator know exactly what the terms of your agreement are. Verbal agreements can be vague and sometimes misleading. A contract is a necessary tool to ensure the protection of you, your investigator, and his or her work product.
  • Ask as many questions as possible. It is not insulting to ask private investigators about their experience and success rates with cases similar in nature to your own. Find out how long they have been in business and in what section of the investigative realm their firm focuses. You should find an investigator who is experienced and capable of addressing every aspect of your needs.
  • Try to choose a private investigator with which you feel exceedingly comfortable. You should be able to discuss all aspects of your situation without fear or hesitancy. If you are comfortable with them, you will be more open, and in turn they will be able to better assist you.
  • Ask any prospective investigators for references who can speak to the quality of their work product. Typically, quality investigators build long term relationships with their repeat clients and these people can usually attest to an individual’s abilities. Be very leery of any investigator who is unable to provide a list of sound references.
  • Private investigator’s regularly take up-front payments in the form of retainers prior to performing investigative work. If you are providing a retainer make sure that it is a refundable retainer. In the event, the investigator obtains the information you require in a small period of time you will want to have the remaining balance of your money refunded.