Scam artists are becoming more prevalent in today’s digital world. From romance scams to fake investment opportunities, many people fall victim to scams each year, losing billions of dollars collectively. While scammers are skilled at gaining people’s trust and making elaborate ruses seem legitimate, comprehensive background checks can often reveal red flags and a history of suspicious behavior. This article will provide an overview of how background checks can be used to detect and avoid scam artists.
A background check is the process of compiling criminal, commercial, and financial records and history on an individual or company. Background checks are routinely conducted by employers on job candidates, landlords on prospective renters, lenders for loan applicants, and even dating services. The level of depth in a background check can vary depending on the purpose, but some key components include:
– Criminal history – Records from local, state, and national repositories of criminal and arrest records. Felonies, misdemeanors, and sometimes arrests can appear here.
– Sex offender registry – A check of public sex offender registries for any matches associated with the subject’s information.
– Credit history – A report from one of the three major credit bureaus providing an overview of the subject’s credit accounts, payment history, bankruptcies, and more.
– Commercial databases – Databases that aggregate public records, address history, aliases, associates, bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and more.
– Education verification – Confirming the subject’s claimed educational degrees and qualifications.
– Employment verification – Confirming past employers, positions held, dates of employment, salary, and reason for departure.
– Driving records – Documenting driver’s license status, traffic violations, and license suspensions for the previous 3-7 years, depending on the state.
– Social media & internet – Reviewing the subject’s social media accounts and general internet footprint for any red flags.
When running background checks on potential scam artists, there are some common red flags to watch out for:
False identities & information
Scammers will often provide false information or varying details about their name, age, education, employment, location, and more. Running thorough background checks can reveal discrepancies, unverified details, and aliases. Watch for slight variations in spellings, birth dates, addresses, and other key identifiers.
The use of multiple first, middle, and last name variations and initials can indicate an attempt to hide one’s true identity. Scammers will switch between aliases to cover their tracks. The more aliases uncovered, the higher the risk.
Prior arrests, charges, or convictions related to fraud, theft, embezzlement, financial crimes, and forgery should raise immediate red flags. Scammers with these types of criminal histories are more likely to engage in repeat behavior.
Litigation and judgments
Civil litigation alleging fraud or monetary judgments against the subject can also indicate dishonest behavior. Court records should be checked for small claims and civil cases alike.
Suspicious business associations
If the subject has registered variousLLCs, corporations, and businesses – especially over a short period of time – this can point to fraudulent shell companies used to move money around. The business entities should be researched to determine legitimacy.
Multiple personal and business-related bankruptcies can sometimes occur as a scammer’s schemes unravel. Bankruptcies can reveal patterns of suspicious financial activity.
Tax liens and property repossessions
Unresolved tax liens or repossessed property may reveal financial problems and risky behavior. Take note if these issues are spread across multiple states.
A history of delinquent payments, defaults on loans, repossessed automobiles, and bad debt is not a definitive indicator of scamming but can support other red flags.
Frequent address changes
Scammers move around to avoid detection, so frequent changes in home address and employment over a short time span should be reviewed closely. Use address history to cross-reference with criminal and litigation records.
While scammers hail from all walks of life, some occupations and backgrounds do pop up more frequently among scam artists. Being aware of these common profiles can help avoid being victimized.
Former financial industry workers
From rogue investment brokers to shady mortgage lenders, industry insiders gone bad can be a breeding ground for scams. Their financial knowledge and industry connections can help them build convincing scams and front companies. Closely scrutinize any subject with past ties to finance.
Some scammers are career con-artists with long rap sheets for fraud, theft, and dishonest schemes. Once they are released from prison, they quickly resume old behaviors under new guises. Their criminal records are a clear warning sign if properly uncovered.
Addicts & desperate people
Gambling addictions, drug habits, debt problems, or other desperate circumstances can compel otherwise law-abiding people into scamming behavior. Tough times or addictions can drive them to defraud people they know or spur more organized schemes.
Affinity fraud involves scamming based on shared identities like religion, ethnicity, career field, community, or other things that build a sense of trust. A scammer uses that shared affinity to connect with victims before scamming them.
Romance scammers prey on single people looking for love and companionship. After building an emotional bond and trust, they weave elaborate tales to convince victims to send money for emergencies, travel, investments, or other fictional needs. A background check can reveal relationship instability or criminal financial histories.
If you meet someone online, through a dating service, or even through a friend or business associate who raises some suspicions, you may want to conduct your own background check before engaging further. Here are some tips:
– Use Spokeo or BeenVerified to run a basic background check using just a name and location. This can turn up criminal records, court cases, addresses, age, aliases, and associated people.
– Search their name on local court and county clerk websites for civil litigation and criminal charges. Cases may appear here before reaching background check databases.
– Look for newspaper articles mentioning the person – good or bad. News media often report on scams and criminal cases. Search their name and city.
– Search the National Sex Offender Public Website and your state registry. Sexual predator status is important to know, especially with online dating.
– Ask for credentials like college diplomas, professional licenses, and certifications. Scammers often lie about qualifications. Verify them directly with institutions.
– Look up any companies they are associated with on the Better Business Bureau. Check for complaints, reviews, resolved issues, business details, and more.
– Research several social media profiles to compare details and look for red flags. Social sites can reveal a lot beyond a basic Google search.
– Conduct a deep web search using speciality sites like TruthFinder or US Search. They access thousands of public records, court files, addresses, and more.
While you likely cannot run as extensive of a background check as employers, lenders, and government agencies, you can take reasonable steps to uncover past misdeeds, lies, or concerning patterns. If numerous red flags arise, cease contact and avoid being manipulated.
To better understand how background checks can reveal scammers, here are two examples with summaries of the red flags that could be uncovered about their pasts:
Name: Mike Richardson
Background check findings
– Age listed as 45, but public records show he is really 38
– Has used 4 separate last names on legal documents over 7 years
– Failure to pay child support noted on 2 county court dockets
– Declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy 3 years ago while living in Florida
– Was charged with theft by deception (under different last name) in 2015
– Suspected in online romance scams in 2016 per newspaper reports
– Has 3 separate revoked driver’s licenses in Florida and South Carolina
Key red flags
Mike has a history of providing false information, using aliases, financial problems, theft charges, and multiple suspended licenses. The newspaper mentions of his involvement in prior romance scams are also highly concerning. More inquiry would be prudent before engaging in any relationship.
Name: Will Jamison
Background check findings
– Criminal record shows 5 years prison time served for embezzlement and stock fraud
– Has unpaid state tax lien for $42,000 from 2016
– Is named in investor lawsuit from 2018 alleging Ponzi scheme (case still pending)
– Had contractor license revoked in Florida in 2008 for shoddy work
– Multiple website posts accuse him of running real estate scam in 2012
– Filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2013 while in North Carolina
– Records show 9 different addresses over last 8 years
Key red flags
Will’s criminal conviction for financial fraud, tax lien, lawsuit allegation, revoked contractor license, accusations of past real estate scams, and multiple bankruptcies clearly fit the profile of a serial scammer. Nothing in his background inspires investor confidence or trustworthiness. More digging could likely uncover shell companies, aliases, and other disturbing finds.
While being armed with the background check facts is critical, here are some other tips for avoiding scams:
– Slow down and vet any investment opportunities thoroughly before sending any money. Scammers try to create false urgency to make you act fast. Take your time researching.
– Watch for poorly drafted investment documents and vague verbal explanations of opportunity details. Scam investments will not stand up to diligent scrutiny.
– Require IDs, business licenses, certifications, and full contact info before engaging. Scammers hide behind pseudo names and shell companies. Verify identities.
– Search online for the person or company name along with words like “scam”, “reviews”, or “complaints”. Past victims often post warnings to help others avoid same fate.
– Consult with a lawyer, accountant, financial advisor, or other expert for a neutral second opinion. An outside perspective can often identify warning signs you may miss in your emotional state.
– Perform a reverse image search using the scammer’s profile photos. Stolen web images are often used on dating and social media scammer profiles.
– Never send money based on verbal promises or emails/texts alone. Require signed contracts defining terms and conditions before sending funds.
Scam artists can be masters of manipulation and deceit, building elaborate ruses to swindle unsuspecting victims. However, comprehensive background checks on names, companies, addresses, and more can uncover inconsistencies, red flags, and outright evidence of past scams and financial crimes. While scammers are continually adapting their methods, diligent research and proactive verification of details can help protect individuals and organizations from costly scams. Conducting thorough due diligence on those you interact with, especially online, and trusting facts over stories are critical precautionary habits in the modern age.