By David Thun
Signing agents have asked many questions about the annual background check prescribed by the Signing Professionals Workgroup, and included in their five standards to certify signing professionals. Christopher Ballas, CEO of Backgrounds Online — the company that conducts background screenings for the NNA — spoke with the Notary Bulletin to answer questions about how his firm conducts screenings and clear up some common misconceptions about background checks.
1. MYTH: Few if any professions require an annual background check.
Many positions require annual background checks, especially if the person handles sensitive data or is expected to enter a customer’s home as part of their work, Ballas said. For example, he pointed out that his own staff must undergo two background checks every year. Heating and air conditioning repair, cable television technicians and professional limousine drivers are other jobs requiring annual background checks. Staffing companies sometimes run multiple checks on a worker in a single year because they place employees in positions with many different companies, Ballas added.
“Notary Signing Agents not only handle sensitive documents and private data, they represent lenders, title companies and signing services,” Ballas said. “Someone in an office doing data entry is not as much of a liability risk as someone who represents a business going into someone’s home.”
2. MYTH: Ongoing background checks are redundant — a one-time check is enough to ensure any professional is trustworthy.
While less than two percent of Notaries screened by Backgrounds Online in 2013 failed to pass their background checks, Ballas said that ongoing background checks are important because anyone’s conduct can change over time — and it’s essential for a professional in a position of trust to maintain a good record. He described a case in New York where an elderly employee of a Catholic diocese was excused from getting a background check because she had a screening done 10 years ago. According to Ballas, the employee was later discovered to have embezzled $2 million.
3. MYTH: If I get a background check, my private records will be shared with other parties without my knowledge or consent.
When Backgrounds Online completes a screening and generates a report, the signing agent retains sole control over the detailed results of the background check and is the only one who may share that information, Ballas said.
“We only share pass/fail information with the National Notary Association,” Ballas said. “We do not provide the report directly to the lender or anyone else who asks for it — even if they have a release form saying they have permission. We have had people call us and ask, ‘Has Notary X passed this background check?’ We won’t even discuss the background check with them — we refer them to the Notary.” Any lender who shared a signing agent’s background check information without the signing agent’s consent could be subject to legal consequences, Ballas said.
Also, if a signing agent has a problem with a background check — for example, if incorrect information appears on the check due to identity theft — Backgrounds Online will work with the signing agent privately to resolve the issue without notifying any other parties, including the NNA, Ballas said.
4. MYTH: Getting a background check requires me to make my Social Security number public to other parties.
Backgrounds Online reports do not publish complete Social Security numbers on background screening reports.
According to Ballas, screening companies submit only the minimum information needed to conduct a search — in most cases, only the person’s name and date of birth. Other personal details such as Social Security numbers are only used during a check in rare situations where additional data is needed to confirm a person’s identity — for example, if there are two people with identical names and dates of birth that turn up in a search.
5. MYTH: Once I submit my private information for a background screening, I have no way of knowing if the screening company will keep it safe.
Background screening companies are required to safeguard private personal information following rules set under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. “We have an obligation under the Act to make sure that information we gather is safe and a background screening is accurate. That is our responsibility,” Ballas said. “If we don’t follow state and federal laws, we are out of business.”
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.