Key information sources and techniques for a credentials check: Internet Scambusters #446
A credentials check is not infallible, but it can give you a high degree of confidence that someone is who they say they are or that they have the right qualification or license to do their job.
In this week's issue, we show you the main sources of information about people's jobs or employers.
We also explain the basic rules for doing an Internet-based credentials search and simple checks you can do when someone arrives at your front door.
Now, here we go...
How to Do a Credentials Check (Background Check) on Almost Anyone
In an age when, more than ever, you can't be sure that someone is who they say they are, or have the qualifications they claim, a credentials check is an important part of protecting your security.
With contractors, other businesses and people in public employment, like teachers for instance, it's relatively straightforward to check credentials with state governments.
Many other types of employment require membership of professional bodies that provide online or postal credential checks and verification.
However, there are other individuals whose credentials may be important to us but are more difficult to verify.
For example, how do you know whether a utility worker or charity collector who arrives at your doorstep is genuine or a threat?
Well, let's look at these different groups and what you can do to check credentials or, if that's not possible, how you can minimize the risk of being conned.
State Boards and Licensing Bodies
Individual states differ both in the ease (and cost) of doing a credentials check and the precise names of departments or boards that maintain these records. But a good starting point is your state's main government office or the principal website, which is usually "www." followed by the name of the state, followed by ".gov" (without the quotation marks).
Most websites have links to a list of online agencies such as an Education Department and a Construction Contractors Board where you will find search pages that let you check credentials of teachers and contractors respectively.
State Medical Boards can also usually be accessed via this route enabling you to check doctors' credentials including their medical education and whether there have been any malpractice judgments against them.
Other credential checks you should be able to do via your state government office include registered CPAs, real estate appraisers, architects, chiropractors, dentists, dieticians, engineers and land surveyors, geologists, landscape architects and contractors, massage therapists, medical practitioners of all types (through individual Boards), morticians, professional counselors and therapists, realtors, social workers, tax practitioners and veterinarians.
Whew! Note that this is a sampling taken from a couple of states. For more information, you should contact your state and ask.
Many of the professionals and specialists mentioned in the list above also belong to professional organizations and industry associations, quite a few of which at the very least enable you to check their membership.
So, for instance, you can run a credentials check on a realtor through the National Association of Realtors or a physician through the Federation Credentials Verification Service (registration required).
This is a service of the Federation of State Medical Boards. In fact, you can check doctors' credentials in even more detail.
The key technique here is to use the power of the Internet by using a search engine like Google and simply keying in the name of the profession followed by the words "credentials check."
One problem when you check credentials of an individual, however, is the number of organizations that offer accreditation. After all, anyone can set up a supposed professional body, offer membership and allow people to put letters after their name.
This challenge is particularly common in the worlds of natural medicine and finance and our advice is to check out such organizations online.
Some are clearly beyond reproach. For example, you can check a stockbroker's background through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) BrokerCheck page.
Others are more questionable. Be on the lookout for whether membership requires examination and/or academic qualification or whether it's just by application (and a fee!).
And note what others might have said online about the organization.
Remember, being a member of any organization doesn't vouch for the character of an individual if negative behavior hasn't previously surfaced.
Running a credentials check is more difficult when someone just turns up on your doorstep asking either for money or access to your home.
But there are a number of things you can do to either verify who they are or avoid the chance of being scammed.
Here's a quick rundown:
- Ask to see their ID and actually thoroughly check it. If it has a photo and you have a scanner, ask if you can make a copy.
- If they're supposed to be in uniform and/or driving a company vehicle, check these. For instance, a utility worker wouldn't turn up in an unmarked truck. Make a note of the license number.
- Ask them for their office address, phone number and name of their manager. If it's a scam, they'll stumble at this.
- If you feel suspicious, actually check the number against a directory listing and call it to see who answers.
- Did they have an appointment? If not, don't let them into your house without further verification.
- If they're collecting for charity, quiz them about the organization and its aims. Again, a scammer would stumble at this point.
- Ask to see other ID credentials, such as a driver's license, and make a note of the details. Check the photo!
If you're in any doubt about an individual's identity, don't give them money or let them into your home.
If necessary, ask them to call back after you've checked them out. If they're crooks, they likely won't return.
A Couple of Final Things
As we've previously reported, there's quite a bit of information on just about everyone on the Internet.
If all else fails, simply key their name into a search engine and see what's returned.
If a person's job or education credentials are important to you, seek their written permission and contact their employer or college.
Finally, security experts and psychologists say there's one more powerful weapon you can use in your assessment of an individual -- your gut instinct.
Sometimes, things just don't feel right about an individual, and oftentimes that's more reliable than a credentials check.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!