Trust but verify

October 2016 Editor's Choice, News

Personal screening is a business that has been around for a long time, but has become more popular in recent years as people have had easier access to false documents and identities than ever before. You simply have to look at the history of the ANC municipal, regional and national governments to see how many people have been appointed to jobs on the basis of certain credentials that turn out to be false.

Sadly, this fraud is not limited to government, but occurs in almost every market and industry where people are required to have some form of qualification. Not only are companies faced with employees who are not qualified, they are also facing the challenge of employees using false identities to hide their criminal past or future criminal intent.

Jenny Reid.
Jenny Reid.

To combat these challenges many companies are resorting to pre-employment screening to try to avoid making the mistake of hiring the wrong people. But screening goes further than that. We have also seen numerous stories where long-term, trusted employees have suddenly been found to be helping themselves to their employer’s money. Some do it because it is so easy, others to pay off mounting debt, and still others to cover gambling or other addictions.

This led to more interest in post-employment screening, where companies could make sure their trusted employees weren’t getting into trouble or into situations where they may be tempted to help themselves to company money. To find out what’s happening in the screening world, Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to two people who have a long history in the business, Ina van der Merwe of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE) and Jenny Reid from iFacts.

Ina van der Merwe.
Ina van der Merwe.

A growing business

Van der Merwe says the demand for screening services is definitely growing. “According to MIE’s statistics, we have seen an 11% increase in the demand for background screening over the last five years. Companies are doing background screening checks not only on new employees, but existing employees as well.

“The most popular types of background check requests MIE receives is verifying qualifications and checking an individual’s credit and criminal history.”

Reid agrees, noting that iFacts has observed that more companies are starting to see the benefits of employee screening. “We would say that the sectors that use it the most proactively are security companies who employ security officers, cleaning services providers, logistics and freight forwarding concerns. There’s also an upswing from call centres and courier companies (as well as the retail and merchandising sectors).

“General pre-employment screening is still very popular, but for certain sectors, criminal record checks and credit checks are absolutely vital. Supplier and vendor verification is also becoming increasingly more popular.”

While the demand and need for screening services may be growing, one has to consider the economic situation too. The same conditions that are pushing people to take chances in the hopes of getting a job or helping themselves to others’ money may also be putting companies under pressure to cut expenses like screening.

Van der Merwe admits that we are facing tough economic times, but says a company not checking whether a candidate is qualified or possibly has a criminal record could find that, over and above facing major financial losses, they will also face damage to their reputation in a worst case scenario. “It is much more cost effective to do a background check on an individual than going through training and paying an unqualified person a salary.”

In the experience of iFacts, Reid says clients realise that the consequences and costs of not implementing a comprehensive screening process far outweigh the value of a group of selected checks that offer quick results and value for money. “Hiring on gut feel, especially in this economy, has become a thing of the past.”

The biggest lies

So what are the biggest lies when it comes to trying to pull the wool over your prospective employer’s eyes?

Van der Merwe says MIE deals with many candidates submitting falsified certificates. Areas that MIE has identified as having the highest percentage of fraudulent activities are:

• African and international qualifications – candidates don’t think these qualifications will or can be checked.

• National secondary qualifications – qualifications are tampered with or copied to reflect better results.

She adds that these are not the only tricks MIE finds. The company has come across BCom, BA and even MBA degrees that have been falsified. “People will take extreme measures to alter their certificates, use technology to assist with falsifying a document or purchase a qualification from a degree mill.”

“Some of the most common discrepancies that we pick up on behalf of our clients take place when it comes to driver’s licence verifications, credit history and past employment references,” adds Reid. “Many people who are desperate to find employment are dishonest about their reasons for leaving their previous employer, and there are a multitude of unqualified drivers or people with convictions applying for positions that require driving as part of their job.

“Fraudulent Matric qualifications are often submitted where candidates have the required experience for the job, but not the entry level qualification.”

Post employment screening

As mentioned above, many companies also carry out screening of employees already on the payroll. Reid recommends ongoing employee screening (also known as in-service screening) and believes this should take place on an annual basis or when circumstances change in people’s lives. “There are also other assessments which are important and where employers can assess the level of their employee engagement with their work. We recommend that companies create an Employee Screening Policy so that employees understand this to be a normal company procedure, which not only protects their employer, but them as well.”

The best way for a company to implement this is to have the correct policies in place, explains Van der Merwe, noting that it is important for an organisation to be compliant with the country’s employment and privacy laws. “With the correct policies in place, this should be clearly communicated to all employees and make sure they have a good understanding of the process when joining the organisation. Employees have to give their consent for these checks to be done.”

Consent is critical

Consent is an important part of the screening process as companies must ensure they adhere to the relevant laws and regulations.

Reid adds that employment screening is legal and an acceptable part of the recruitment and employment process, but all employees or prospective employees must be made aware of the policy. “Of course, anyone can refuse the process, but they are unlikely then to be seen as a viable candidate for employment. Employers do have a right to protect their own organisations,” she says.

“Employees consent to the screening process by signing an indemnity form on application. This allows the employer to do the necessary research on data that is not in the public domain, such as criminal records and credit history.”

Van der Merwe says an employee can refuse to be investigated, but this can potentially be seen as the candidate wanting to hide something. Relevant laws in this regard are the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPI) and the National Credit Act.

“The purpose of the PoPI Act is to ensure that people’s privacy is protected and that all South African organisations collect and store the personal information of consumers in a responsible manner,” she explains. The National Credit Act Amendment (NCAA) promotes a non-discriminatory, transparent, resourceful and accessible credit market.

“A candidate’s credit history can only be assessed if the candidate’s prospective position meets certain criteria. The credit information needs to relate to the position, which requires honesty in the handling of cash or finances, and it needs to be included in the job-description.

“No background screening check can be done without specific and informed consent from the candidate,” she reiterates.

For more information contact: Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), +27 (0)12 644 4000,; iFacts, +27 (0)11 609 5124,


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