Informus offers speedy background checks on Internet Employers use service for financial, criminal data


Ever file a workers' compensation claim? Wrecked a company car? Received a speeding ticket?

Prospective employers can find out if you did. And now, thanks to the Internet, they can do it almost instantly.

The aptly named Informus Corp. makes a living giving curious employers information such as the names and phone numbers of your neighbors. Besides providing knowledge of workers' comp claims, Informus connects employers to credit bureaus and state agencies that store financial and criminal information.

The 3-year-old Madison, Miss.-based firm made its Internet debut in January.

For competitive reasons, Informus Marketing Director Alan Lange wouldn't disclose clients' names or the number of clients Informus has. But he said the customer list includes national household names.

Informus is "like the Wal-Mart of information," Mr. Lange said. "None of the information we sell is information you can't get somewhere else. But you can't get it as fast as we can."

Although Informus encrypts information shuttling between users and its own computers so that hackers can't intercept it, Mr. Lange admits that people can abuse its potential. Recently, Informus canceled an account after someone did an illegitimate credit search on O.J. Simpson.

Informus minimizes abuse by screening customers and doing random checks.

"The information is public, and employers have a right to it," Mr. Lange said.

All information gathered by Informus is from public records -- except for credit history, which requires a release from the job applicant. In 40 states, workers' comp records are public. However, 10 of those states, including South Carolina, require a release from the worker.

Verifying backgrounds isn't cheap. Informus clients pay a $250 setup fee and a $100 annual fee in subsequent years. Plus, they pay an "a-la-carte" fee for each search.

Verifying backgrounds is also legally risky. It's against the Americans with Disabilities Act for an employer of 15 or more employees to ask applicants about past workers' comp claims.

Not hiring someone because of past work injuries also violates the ADA.

Of course, one's driving record could be used if the position in question requires driving. A bank can reject an applicant for a teller job who has been convicted of embezzling money.

"The safest thing for the employer to do is to seek information which is relevant to the job and which helps determine whether the person can do the job," said Landis Wade, a Charlotte, N.C., employment attorney.

Are the extensive background searches offered by Informus necessary for most jobs? Mr. Lange said employers can't afford to not do the searches.

Hiring a person who has a criminal record -- even as a $5-an-hour floor sweeper -- could be a legal liability if he later attacks co-workers or customers, Mr. Lange said.

"It's so difficult to discharge a person today," said Landry Adkins, manager of security and personnel at Peavey Electronics, which employs 2,100 workers and is one of the nation's largest makers of sound-amplification equipment. "It's much easier to not hire the wrong person in the first place. Nothing is certain, but these checks improve our chances of getting the right person." In addition to Peavey, which has used Informus for several years, health care facilities, convenience stores and manufacturing plants are among Informus' customers. Most of the searches are on people applying for hourly jobs, because those jobs have more turnover than executive-level jobs, Mr. Lange said.

There are other reasons why pre-employment screening firms are popular, said Kenny Colbert, director of employee and industry relations at the Employers Association in Charlotte. The group offers human resource services to its member employers.

"Every time you pick up the paper, there's a story about someone embezzling money or about workplace violence," Mr. Colbert said. Plus, many companies turn to third-party investigators because many employers don't give references for ex-employees because of the risk of a slander lawsuit.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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