A multi-service screening company's background check on a prospective employee will verify educational and work history; check social-security number, as well as driving and credit records; and look into past criminal activity and public filings. Many also do psychological, physical, and drug testing.

Those defensive measures won't find you the best candidate, but they'll quickly rule out those who misrepresent themselves. That's a bigger problem than you may think. Carl King, president of Team Building Systems, an employee screener in Houston, Tex., says 30% of all résumés are falsified.

An average background check costs about $100. But finding the best screener, listed under "management consultants" in the yellow pages, may take a bit of your own investigation. Here's what to ask:

* Can you do it all? You may not sign on for every service, but find out what's available. Also ask about turnaround time.

* How do you get your information? In addition to databases, the company should have researchers for less accessible information. Also be sure the screener can explain the legal limits to the information it can get in various states.

* What's your background? Look for experience, preferably accompanied by a professional degree in personnel, criminal justice, or industrial psychology.

* Could I see a sample copy of the report I'll be getting? Better yet, ask the company if it will run a background check on you.

* Do you use your own services? Yes is the right answer. Ask how often.

* Can I have five references from longtime clients? Call them.

Finally, you should ask your state's Department of Consumer Affairs if the company is licensed, and check to see if any complaints have been lodged against it with your Better Business Bureau or chamber of commerce.

-- Ellyn E. Spragins

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