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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 17, 2001

Businesses up for background checks

By Kim Curtis
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Two days after terrorist attacks toppled the World Trade Center, the chief executive of Empire International spent $40,000 for criminal background checks on all 500 of his livery drivers, most of whom work in New York City.

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He couldn't really afford it, since the slowing economy was hurting his business already, and travel to New-York-area airports had been practically nonexistent since the attacks. But it was the only way he could think of to reassure his clients that they're safe with his drivers.

"We wanted to give people an additional sense of security," said David Seelinger, president and chief executive of New Jersey-based Empire International Ltd. "So they know who's driving their car and that there are no problems."

Most industry experts agree that a criminal records check would not have rooted out the terrorists suspected in the attacks in New York and Washington. Still, it may be better than nothing.

"An identity check is probably a better preventative measure for terrorism than a criminal background check," said Gary Cornick, president of San Jose-based Peoplewise, which does both.

Peoplewise charges about $6 for a basic identity verification, showing that a person's name, address and phone number all match up.

Many companies already do the minimum, verifying information on job applications. The next step is a criminal records check. Peoplewise said its own surveys suggest that 64 percent of U.S. businesses did some type of criminal records check on its employees last year, up from 44 percent in 1998.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, clients have called to explore doing more intense checks, and airport-based businesses are particularly concerned, said Dave Cook, with Atlanta-based ChoicePoint Inc., which does risk management and fraud prevention, primarily for the insurance industry.

Pre-employ.com, based in Redding, Calif., hires people nationwide to go to courthouses and other locations to check for criminal records and other information. It hired extra staff to handle requests, which were increasing even before the attacks.

"We grow because of the fears of employers and landlords," said Robert Mather, president of Pre-employ.com. "I wish it was because we were selling Popsicles."