Criminal Background Checks.

Update: See the end of this article for some important updates.

Recently I’ve been looking into what options are available for folks who need to run criminal background checks. This field has been changing rapidly over the past several years with technological advances and if you have been using a provider for a long period of time it may be worth your time to consider whether that provider is still the best and most cost effective for your needs.

In this article I’m going to focus specifically on criminal background checks with a focus on the needs of non-profit organizations such as churches. I’ll be discarding without note the various providers who while providing background checks (including criminal) are not meant to be used officially to perform such checks and which may not include all the information that a provider giving official checks might provide.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. in the comments section to this article.

  • IntegraScan – Offers background checks starting at $18.95 for a state-based check (only checks for criminal background in one state) and then progresses to $28.95 for a nationwide check (for criminal background in all states) with the final option with even more information clocking in at $49.95. They do offer bulk pricing, but you have to contact them for further information.
  • SentryLink – Offers criminal background checks for $19.95. Has a bulk pricing program one can contact them about. Also offers other reports – such as SSN traces and motor vehicle records.
  • BackgroundChecks – Clocks in at a stunning $49.95 for a nationwide criminal background check!
  • USSearch – Starts at $14.95 for their basic search, which includes state criminal background check and peaks out at $59.95 for their most comprehensive. They do offer bulk pricing, but again, must contact for quote.
  • Intelius – A nationwide background check clocks in at $29.95.
  • IntelliCorp InTouchPricing starts at $16.15 for a state criminal background check, then $17.95 for a nationwide check, and their most comprehensive is $58.45. But this is a consumer oriented product.
  • IntelliCorp – The corporate arm of IntelliCorp InTouch. No pricing is available, one must request an account and await a call to find out about pricing.
  • CrimCheck – No public pricing available, must contact.
  • BackGroundPI – $15.95 for Criminal Background search. The site lacks enough detail and references, but the pricing is good. Would require further research to see if legitimate/worthwhile.
  • eFindOutTheTruth – Site design is confusing and overwhelming, but pricing is very good and one can build custom background checks with only the desired features.

Based on my brief review of the sites, pricing, and etc. I would probably lean towards Intelius or IntelliCorp. They both offer a professional image and reasonable prices. But in the end, the best deal (for churches/non-profits) appears to be Group Publishing’s Church Volunteer Central (CVC). CVC costs $100/year and includes a wide variety of resources for running a church/non-profit and training/leading volunteers. It also includes a partnership with Lexus Nexus to perform criminal background checks.

Their basic background check is $9 and includes a national criminal search. For $23 one can add criminal records at a local county court. They also have a number of other packages available.

Update (9/24/11):

As I mentioned above, the CVC package seemed to be the best deal…but the process is quite painful, so I’ve gone with another alternative. Group (which owns CVC) partners with Lexus Nexus to provide the inexpensive background checks mentioned above, unfortunately Lexus Nexus has a frustratingly manual process before one can begin utilizing the background check service. This includes filling out detailed paperwork and faxing or emailing it to them (around fourteen pages worth) along with providing several forms of business identification (not all of which are always readily available) and several vendor verification forms (businesses which will verify that they do business with you and that you are who you say you are).

This in and of itself is a bit of a nuisance, but what really frustrated me was the technological aspect. On the form it asked questions about the IP address that would be used to access their system. Granted, I have a semi-static IP since it is a FiOS connection – but that isn’t truly static and I wasn’t looking forward to what I assume is a manual process to update the external IP records with Lexus Nexus when it changes.

I did some more searching and found that LifeWay, another major Christian company, had partnered with BackgroundChecks to offer affordable checks as well – and that their process was basically digital and simple. I went with them even though the price is perhaps $2-$3 more per check b/c of the ease. I setup my account and launched a background check on myself (as a test) without any problems. So far I’m pretty impressed.

Now, I think Lexis Nexus requires all the extra hoop jumping b/c they are providing information related to one’s financial state – and I can understand the need to maintain the confidentiality of this information, but in the case of churches and other non-profits, we don’t want to perform financial background checks – just make sure that criminal background checks are clear (e.g. no convictions for pedophilia).

For those who are interested, here is a link to the LifeWay co-brand page for background checks.

Fixing the Banking System.

2005 US cent, obverse side
Image via Wikipedia

Today as I was driving home from work1A very short five minute commute. I was listening to NPR2Does that make me a liberal? and heard a story about the congressional battle over capping fees banks charge for purchases. Such a cap would benefit retailers (anyone who accepts debit cards) and would theoretically result in lower prices for the consumer. Apparently, the battle has been pretty thick and furious.

I understand the retailers (and stereotypically liberal) perspective that the fees are unfair and unjustly inflate prices while rewarding banks. I have very little sympathy for our financial institutions which have received tremendous bailouts on the taxpayer’s dime. On the other hand, I understand the banks (and stereotypically conservative) perspective that free market forces should be allowed to reign in this situation…

That said, I’d like to suggest there is a better way to resolve the issues of our banking system – which does not require government intervention and which would result in forcing the industry to readjust. A non-profit bank. Traditionally, companies send their financial returns into the pockets of shareholders or owners/employees, in the case of a non-profit the financial returns are largely expended in accomplishing the company’s stated goals. Thus the shift of focus moves from individual prosperity to the accomplishment of a specific goal (in this case, the facilitation of exchange of goods and services).

The difficulty is who is willing to start such a non-profit? Sure, I could start a non-profit – but I can barely pay my own bills much less facilitate the exchange of finances. It would have to be someone with a significant amount of financial resources – or a group of individuals who worked together.

It might be possible to get such a bank off the ground by starting local and small – and building business over time to cover larger regions – but even then one would need a significant amount of capital…and one can’t expect other banks to play nice if they see such a non-profit bank that threatens the very core of their financial profits expanding.

Perhaps a few of our bigger tech giants would consider undertaking such an endeavor? A Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

The easiest way to accomplish this on a nationwide or global scale almost instantaneously would be to buy out an existing business involved in the market – the most sensible option being PayPal. With its extensive customer base, existing systems, and so on – it would be a fairly simple process to lower fees and  increase features. Folks would be able to use their traditional banking means simultaneously with PayPal based non-profit banking, but the shift would be significant and instantaneous as one received significantly lower interest rates and fees on purchases and sales. Retailers (such as Amazon) might move to offer discounts to folks who used PayPal to make purchases instead of Amazon – perhaps half of the amount they would be saving from reduced or eliminated transactional fees.

Granted, there will always be interest and fees. I am not suggesting that banking should be free – bankers need their bread and butter as much as we do. Additionally, one must consider the losses which occur due to bad debts – in order to offset these losses it is necessary to charge interest and fees….but they could be cut drastically and the incentive for poor fiscal judgment would be significantly reduced without the pressure of shareholders demanding a return and the promises of personal wealth.

The credit unions appear to be a positive step in this direction – as they function on the concept that the members of the union are the owners of the union. However, I have never been part of a credit union (hmmm…maybe I should look into that…) and I haven’t heard of them having aspirations for this sort of national or global endeavor. Finally, the union, strictly speaking, exists for the benefit of its members and not for the goals or ends of the company – which in my mind can become somewhat confusing. Are my goals as an individual member or as a group of members for myself or for the method of accomplishing financial interactions as a whole? A non-profit would be committed to facilitating the exchange of services and commodities – the credit union, at least in theory, is primarily concerned with providing for its own membership and only tangentially with the facilitation of exchange of services and commodities as a method of serving its membership.

Other positive steps in this direction seem to be accruing through direct lending – such as that offered by Prosper. These services are not non-profit, but do take unnecessary middle-men out of the equation simplifying the process of facilitating lending.

There are also digital currencies like Bitcoin which might offer some promising alternatives – though they need to be significantly simplified to bring about real-world usage. Bitcoin uses the membership to manage (automatically) the financial transactions, eliminating significant amounts of middle managing.

What do you think? Is the banking system broken? How? Can we fix it? How? What downsides would exist from going with a non-profit bank? Why don’t credit unions expand more rapidly? Why has no one formed a non-profit bank yet?

The Girl in the Window.

Sometimes it is good to weep, to feel compassion in your soul, to remember how blessed we are, to remember how in need others are and to forget our own selfishness for a while. If you are ready to weep, to cry out to God, then I recommend reading this story.

Lane DeGregory is the author and Melissa Lyttle is the photographer, both work for the St. Petersburg Times. The story told is of horrific neglect of a little girl and the redemptive action of love when she is liberated from the abusive home.

My first reaction was, “My God, how can you allow this to happen?” Then, “How can we as humans be so awful?” And finally, “God gives me the opportunity every day to help lessen this suffering…to increase love and peace in this world.”