Earlier comment discusses dangers of social media. Merely Googling or Binging someone’s name might produce some good background. How about more serious background checks?
Criminal and civil court records availability – Did you know that more and more courts are making their documents available publicly? I know that all the counties in Southern California make their documents available on-line. I have been casually watching the court docs in a couple of cases that affect people I know at church. The filings and status updates are available on-line!
You can find the documents too. Will only take you a few minutes to find the court’s web site (search for your county name and superior court, or municipal court, or whatever term your state uses). Take a few minutes to learn the system and you can be looking up names to find case documents.
Search criminal and civil databases – Commercial services are available that can search all the criminal or civil records in a state or across the country. Many states don’t have their data available yet, but many do. When you find a case that is of interest, go to the public databases (see the previous paragraph!) and look up the case number. Bingo! You can see the filings and the code sections the case involves. In California, the criminal and traffic cases list a code section, so you have to go look at the on-line state law to find out what the actual issues are. What is the cost? One service that I am familiar with costs under $100 per year.
Why do I mention this? First, so you are aware how easy this information is to get. It is in our best interest to know how much information is public and how easy it is to get in the internet age. So if you have skeletons in the closet, you would be well advised to know it is publicly available so you can take proactive steps to prevent damage. Might be situations where it is better to tell someone (your employer, business partner, etc.) about that ‘little problem’ on your terms instead of having it come up at an inopportune time.
Second reason is that for us CPAs, there is a useful tool available. Remember those comments in your continuing education classes when it was suggested you do a background check on potential clients? “Yeah, sure”, you though. Hire a private investigator for a two-week audit or a several day review or a simple tax return? “Not a chance”, we all say in unison. Now with Google, Bing, and a public record search capability, we can run a background check at minimal cost and only a small amount of time.