All You Wanted to Know About Education Checks

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Continuing the series, we will look at education checks in this post.

While education checks in India can cover verifying Class X and XII board certificates, typically, they are focused on verifying the higher education degrees, certificates and diplomas at undergraduate (Bachelors), post-graduate (Masters) and doctorate (PhD) levels.

The layman’s (and most common) method of verifying the academic credentials is to do a physical scrutiny of the original certificates. However, procuring or even producing the fake certificates which are identical to the genuine certificates is not a very tough task. Hence, just relying on the physical inspection and storing a photocopy in the records, is a very crude way of doing education checks.

Unfortunately, only a few of the higher education institutions have placed their graduates’ lists online. Also, the HRD Ministry sponsored National Database of Academic Qualifications is still in the development stage (this project was mentioned in one of the earlier blog post). So the only reliable option left for verifying the certificate is to go directly to the registrar’s office of the issuing university/institute. Doing this over courier/post, phone, email or via any electronic means is virtually impossible (except maybe for a handful of ‘progressive’ universities). It boils down to someone physically visiting the registrar’s office with a photocopy of the certificate (and sometimes copies mark sheets and examination hall card too!). This is the reason why education checks remain costly and time-consuming.

India is a land abundantly blessed with higher education institutions :-). Unfortunately, some of these are bogus or what is called in the industry jargon as ‘fake’ universities (as indicated by University Grants Commission)! If the degree belongs to any of these universities, the employer need not worry about going ahead with the verification process as the verification agencies too will just send back the verification request without taking it further.

Our recommendation: You have the option of verifying certificates across Class X, Class XII, Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate levels. At the minimum, you should aim to verify the highest level certificate for every employee.

All You Wanted to Know About Address Checks

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Focusing on the needs of those who are responsible for deciding about and carrying employee background checks, this post will look deeper into address checks (used interchangeably with ‘address verifications’).

Even in today’s highly connected, online, cyber-existence, the physical address of an employee still remains a very important credential. Let us look at various reasons which make address a very important credential for employers:
• For carrying out correspondence with the employees in pre-hiring and post-termination phases. This could cover sending out offer letters, application forms, or final settlement documents and dues.
• For ensuring that the employee is locally based. This is important for roles which require physical presence in office, instead of virtual working.
• As a first point for querying in case of absenteeism, disciplinary issues, or any violations.
• Sending out legal notices, if things have gone beyond control completely!
• Helping law enforcement authorities in case of any criminal acts by employees. A verified address supports the police in moving ahead with investigations.

Depending upon the specific requirements, you can opt for verifying either the current address or permanent address. In either case, you will require complete postal address, preferably along with identifying landmarks.

Address verification is conducted through a field officer’s visit to the mentioned address. The field officer will gather information like:
• Does the named person live there?
• If not, did the person ever live there? Has the person moved to another location? When?
• For how long has the person lived there?
• What’s the relationship of the respondent with the named person?
• Does the person rent/lease or own the dwelling?
• If the door is locked, can any neighbour, landlord or guard verify person’s residence?

The cost of such a check will typically depend upon the remoteness and accessibility of the location. In general, the address checks in cities and towns will be cheaper than rural and remote areas. The address checks may be infeasible in certain disturbed areas or may cost extremely high.

Our recommendation: See if any of the reasons mentioned above seem to be applicable to the specific employee or department or company in general. If yes, decide if you want to verify current address, permanent address or both.

Our Local Wiki – Your Learning Centre for Employee Background Verifications

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This post is primarily for those who are interested in learning more about employee background verifications. This will be the first in a series which covers various background checks which form part of employee background verifications.

Employee background verification is not a one-size-fits-all type of solution. The needs of a small retail business owner will be very different from that of an HR Director of a medium sized manufacturing company or the HR Manager of a large outsourcing provider. Only you can decide what works best for you. So the first step is to understand various kinds of background checks which are available to you.

One way to do this is to visit our Local Wiki (Learning Centre) and just browse through the various topics and entries over there. The Wiki acts as a starting point to get high level overview of different available checks, how they are done, and what are the associated benefits. Based on this preliminary review, you can reach a reasonably good decision on what all employee background checks may be useful for you, and for what types of employees within your company.

For example, if you are a software development company that mostly hires fresh graduates, your interest may be mostly on education verification. If you are a BPO/KPO provider serving international customers, chances are that you already have been requested by your customers to include complete criminal record verifications. If you are a small retail business, you may be interested more in address and reference checks rather than education verification.

In the subsequent posts, we will look deeper into various types of verifications and also how to select a background verification partner.

Three Mega-Projects with Potential to Transform Identity, Education and Criminal Verifications in India

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It is a common lament within the employers and background verification providers that India lacks the integrated database to do comprehensive background checks. While to a great extent, it continues to remain true, I see three mega-projects which have the potential to transform how the identity, education and criminal verifications will be done in future.

First: Aadhar – India’s Unique ID (UID) Project: I had covered this in one of my earlier blogs. Aadhaar will definitely lead to instant identify verifications even though the overall database will be off-limits to third parties (including employers) and background verification providers. The first UID numbers have been issued and things will continue to get more exciting as we go forward.

Second: HRD Ministry led project to create National Database of Academic Qualifications: Announced in early 2010, this initiative aims to create a national database of academic qualifications in electronic (or dematerialized) format enabling online verification and easy retrieval of academic credentials, right from the school boards to universities and higher education institutions. As of now, National Academic Depository Bill 2010 has been drafted and placed for legislative review. The depository is expected to be functional in 2011.

Third: Home Ministry led Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS): Conceived in 2008, this project aims to “facilitate collection, storage, retrieval, analysis, transfer and sharing of data and information” within and across 14000 police stations and around 6000 higher offices in police hierarchy. This project will definitely facilitate online nationwide criminal verifications, instead of physical checks at multiple police stations which are required to be done today. The project is fully underway with the completion expected in 2012.

So what will happen to the background verification industry? The need for doing physical address checks, employer, reference and other specialized background checks will always remain. Additionally, the background verification companies will continue to add value by facilitating access to and consolidating the information across all the verifications. In summary, these three mega-projects will allow the background verification industry to move to the next level of efficiency, accuracy, reliability and technology-orientation.

Announcing New Feature – Adding Your Entry in People Search

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We had received requests from some users of People Search that they were not able to find their own entries in the search and would be keen to have their details entered. Till now, we were asking such requests to be sent by mail. And these were then added to the People Search database.

We are pleased to bring the user entry feature online through a web form, doing away with the need for sending details via mail. The option shows up in the form of a message ‘Unable to find your record! Click here to add your details’, just below the People Search entry fields, after a search has been done.

Once the web form has been submitted, the details start showing up in the People Search results after a few hours. The record is clearly marked as ‘User generated record’ in the search results to distinguish it from the publicly available records.

We hope that this feature will make the People Search even more useful. Your feedback is always welcome.

Recalling the Launch Day – Look Inside our Startup

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I recently chanced up this excellent blog – Why founding a three-person startup with zero revenue is better than working for Goldman Sachs from Antonio Garcia-Martinez, Co-Founder of Adgrok (I thank Lalit Manral for sharing this on Facebook). The startup life which Antonio brings out so vividly is probably experienced in one way or another by most of the startups, including JantaKhoj.

It is more than four months since we went live with JantaKhoj.com. But the day of the launch, 27th April 2010, is still so very crystal clear in my memory. After shifting the public beta launch date a few times, the pressure was really intense to go ahead with it on that day. The last minute testing and checks went on through most of the day. The temperatures were rising – both within and around the team. The summer in Hyderabad is relentless and this year was no different. The legendary power-cuts during the peak summer months were back in full swing.

Generally we used to get around one hour of power cut at most but as you know, we can always rely on Murphy’s Law to bless us when it is least wanted! So, on that day, the power cut continued for around four hours non-stop. The office building backup generator supported us for around two hours. While the generator does not support the air-conditioning, we survived with the fans. When generator also breathed its last (the building supervisor mentioned something about more diesel being procured but it did not show up till next day!), we continued working with power from the UPS. But yes, the fans were silent now!

The temperatures continued to rise but our valiant warriors of Engineering kept on hammering on the code, well supported by others in the testing. After one and a half hours more, the UPS also ran out of the battery charge! While the laptops continued to work on their own battery and mobile Internet card, the desktops and LAN also fell silent; the Web connectivity too was lost as the broadband line required the power. Clearly not the best of the working situations on the day of launch!

Thankfully the dedicated server hosted on the top-tier datacenter was safely tucked away from all this mess and Suresh (our Head – Engineering) continued to move ahead with the help of laptop and mobile Internet card. Eventually the primary AC power came back (after an outage lasting more than four hours) and everything started humming again – we were back in the business with full strength. Having seen the ‘worst’, we could only go up now. The effort continued till very late evening and finally, at around 1130pm, the site was thrown open for public beta. The next day, we announced it to the world and have thoroughly enjoyed these four months since then.

Announcing Enhanced People Search

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Introduces Advanced Search, Filters, Social Media Profiles and Web Coverage

We are delighted to release the next generation of JantaKhoj People Search. At a high level, the new People Search introduces advanced search, more filters, public social media profiles, pictures, videos, blogs, court records and other Web references.

Advanced search and additional filters allow narrowing down of search results by State, Gender, Age range (minimum to maximum fields), Phone number, Family and neighbours. This had been a consistent request from our users and was one of the highest priority items in the new release.

The new search also adds a whole lot of new panels which index and aggregate information from a wide variety of other public sources:
• Social media profiles (BigAdda, Facebook, Friendster, Fropper, ibibo, MySpace)
• Business networks (LinkedIn)
• Photo sharing sites (Bing, Flickr, Google, Picasa)
• Video sharing sites (Bing, Google, YouTube)
• Blogs
• Court records (coverage across judgements of Supreme Court and most of the High Courts)
• Book results (Google)
• Web links and references
• Phone books
• Patents

We will continue to add more public sources as we go forward. In case, you feel that we have missed out any important source, please do let us know via the Feedback Form or a mail to feedback[at]jantakhoj[dot]com.

Happy searching!

Interview with Yogesh Bhura – Pioneering Guru of Background Verifications Industry in India

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Yogesh Bhura has been a highly successful entrepreneur in the area of background verifications and due diligence. He has co-founded Quest Research (acquired by First Advantage), IntegraScreen (acquired by WorldCheck) and Q2 Consulting. Tarun Bangari (Founder & CEO, JantaKhoj) interviews him in this post.

Tarun (T): How did you get to the idea of founding Quest Research?
Yogesh (Y): Quest Research was formed as a result of common vision between four entrepreneurs/co-founders who wanted to create and grow the Background Screening and Due Diligence segment in Asia Pacific region. Thus Quest Research was formed in 2000 in Hong Kong.

T: How were the early days? How did the firm establish itself? Initial challenges?
Y: Early days were challenging as between 2000 and 2002, world went through a recessionary phase. So recruitment and other business activities were severely impacted. Being a start up with zero base, it could not have been worse than what we went through during that phase – so we remained committed and focussed towards our business objectives and goals. This helped us tremendously as we could capitalise during the rapid growth phase which followed 2002, including the boom in outsourcing industry.

T: What do you think made Quest Research so successful?
Y: Combination of many factors –
• Chemistry between founders even though all four of us belonged to different nationalities
• Our focus on being a profitable and specialist provider of background screening services at pan-Asia region
• Our ability to build a good team of professionals to scale up the business
• Redeployment of cash flow back in growing the business
• We created standards for the industry at Asia Pacific region and our brand was synonymous with the trade name – as an example, most of the companies refer “background check” as “Quest check”, even in their tender documents.

T: What were the prevailing attitudes then around employee background verifications?
Y: Most of the time, the attitude was “we know how to do this ourselves” even though they were either not doing it at all or doing it randomly in-house. However, as progressive organisations started using background screening as a “must have” rather than “good to have”, it was a matter of time that most of the companies started adopting this as a good business practise. During early stage of our business, it was expensive for a firm to adopt this practise – but rapid growth, technology adoption and competition allowed for a sharp fall in prices, thus making it affordable for most companies to adopt them.

T: How competitive was the space? How did you beat the competition?
Y: I think Indian market was and is more competitive than the regional market. Even now, there is good scope for a # 2 or # 3 at regional level but am surprised not too many players have tapped this opportunity. However, landscape in India is just opposite – I am told now there are more than 500 vendors competing for business in India and at ridiculous prices. Often, companies are ignorant of the “value’ they are getting even though they may believe they are getting services at “very cheap cost”. There is disconnect and lack of understanding of what people are buying and selling – leading to disparity in pricing.
This business requires highest standard of integrity as slightest deviation could impact on your reputation, key for sustaining your business. We used to be very upfront and honest with clients about practicality and feasibility of where they wanted to spend money, often at the cost of losing revenue. Predictably, this used to work in our favour in most of the cases. Despite serious competition, we would win more than 70% of new businesses being floated in the domestic market.

T: How did the acquisition by First Advantage(FADV) come around?
Y: Around 2004 and 2005, Quest Research became very popular amongst most of the US based players and almost all of them approached us to acquire us. Our board decided to go for a competitive bidding process and FADV was the most aggressive among all US based players. We saw the trend of local/regional contracts becoming global contracts and hence this acquisition created world’s first single platform to fulfil customer’s global needs. Till then, no US player had any meaningful presence in Asia.

T: How did the idea for IntegraScreen come to you?
Y: Quest Research right from beginning had two divisions – Background Screening and Due Diligence. When FADV acquired background screening division of Quest Research, we decided to retain the Due Diligence business and thus hived it into a new entity – IntegraScreen.

T: What was different about IntegraScreen compared to other players?
Y: While Quest Research was an Asian play, IntegraScreen was a global play. The segments were different but similar to Quest Research experience; IntegraScreen created standards for the industry and helped bring down cost/price per unit for our customers. This ‘affordability’ helped our customers to implement vendor/business partner Due Diligence at global scale.

T: What made you go ahead with IntegraScreen’s acquisition by WorldCheck?
Y: Similar to FADV, we went through a competitive bidding process and World-Check emerged as a winner. World-Check has a phenomenal track record in Anti Money Laundering segment and an undisputed global leader. We saw synergy between their and IntegraScreen’s service offerings.

T: How would you summarize the background verifications industry in India today?
Y: Even though I don’t have enough visibility, I do understand that it is still highly fragmented and competitive and there is a serious need for consolidation whether through acquisitions or other mechanism. I think the industry is under-invested on technology leading to high cost and low service levels for end-customers. I believe consolidation would help bring investments in technology to bring down cost and improve service levels.
Except for FADV, no serious US player has considered India for ridiculously low productivity – when they compare revenue per employee in India vis-a-vis US or for that matter even productivity per employee, it appears scary to them. However, I see this as an opportunity for us to improve this through use of technology and database.

T: How would you compare it to equivalent space in a developed economy like USA?
Y: USA is highly technology driven market – the average turnaround time is 2-3 days where as it is weeks in India. This has helped in a very stable pricing environment as delivery/processes are predictable. In most of Asian countries, the required information is either not digitised or not easily accessible, resulting in huge delay in fulfilment. Ironically, despite India having a low cost environment in most of goods and services, cost of background screening is higher in India than US!

T: Why has B2C (individual consumer) verification market lagged in India?
Y: Awareness, Accessibility and Affordability are three key factors responsible for scaling up of any segment. It is a matter of when rather than if. Also if we can improvise on productivity and reduce cost/price, this would help accelerate growth of this segment. I am hopeful on this as I know few players who are focused on Tenant Screening, Student Screening and Matrimonial Screening – these are early days but have tremendous potential.

T: What is your new venture – Q2 Consulting about?
Y: Q2 is based in Singapore and provides informational resources to governments, multinationals and the background check industry.

T: Thank you very much for joining us today. And best of luck with Q2-Consulting!

People Search – Privacy Concerns

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This post is in continuation to the earlier one on People Search – A Brief Introduction and Landscape Review and goes deeper to address some of concerns which accompany People Search services.

Such services have become mainstream in the developed world. For example, USA itself has dozens of such providers with Intelius and USSearch (now acquired by Intelius) as the two largest players in the paid online people search space. These two providers have indexed billions of public records related to US residents, covering the entire spectrum from light weight information (like contact details including address, phone numbers, family members) to more serious stuff (like property registrations, value of the property owned, criminal and court records, sex offender registry, income, bankruptcy). The sources of such records encompass telephone directories, utility company records, tenancy and property registration records, business records, court and criminal records among other. If you doubt me, I invite you to go ahead and search for ‘Tarunendra Bangari’ (my full name) on www.ussearch.com.

People Search Screenshot 1

The 4 results shown are mostly accurate (except the age as I still have a long way to go before 90!) but of course, you have to pay up anywhere from $1.95 to $39.95 to get all the details.

People Search Screenshot 2

The point which I am driving home here is that with paid reports, you can get to know my full name, date of birth, relatives, neighbours, average income, address, phone numbers, address history, criminal and court records! (Caveat: Of course, since I was in USA only from 2000-2004, some of this information will be outdated.)

Now let us focus on the Indian context. To the extent I am aware of, there is no such provider of People Search services except JantaKhoj. Just like the other global People Search providers, JantaKhoj has relied exclusively on public records. It means that these records are either publicly available on the Internet (though they may not be so easy to find) or available in the public domain for anybody to access.

JantaKhoj does not disclose these various sources of public records, primarily due to business and competitive reasons. But this non-disclosure does not indicate that we have resorted to using clandestine or unscrupulous third party lists which are available all over the market. Each and every record shown within the JantaKhoj People Search is backed by a publicly available link (URL) or source, which was indexed by JantaKhoj. JantaKhoj has also deployed deep web data extraction technology which means that quite a few of the records may not even show up on regular search engines like Google.

We have kept the privacy concerns of the individuals at the highest consideration. Our Privacy Policy clearly mentions how individuals can have their records removed from the People Search service. As and when we receive such requests, we take action on them as per the timeframes mentioned in the policy. The challenge is to explain to the concerned individuals that this information is already available in other public sources and even if we suppress our records, the information will still be available on the original sources.

The more interesting bit is that we have received a fairly large number of requests of people who were not able to find or view their own records in the People Search and have requested inclusion of their details. This number continues to go up every day. While we process these requests on a case by case basis right now, we are in the process of releasing a web request form which will allow users to have their details included in the search database with great ease.

In summary, while the concept of People Search is relatively new to India and causes privacy concerns occasionally, in the longer term, this segment of web based search is poised for explosive growth in the coming years.

Scouring for the Hidden Skeletons: The State of Matrimonial Verification Services in India

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A friend recently entered, what his family considered as ‘the marriage-able age’. He has done well – gone to a reputed engineering institute, bagged a prestigious job in the campus interview, went abroad for a long term project and finally settled in Bangalore. In short, time was ripe for the bride-hunting to begin and it had begun in all earnest.

I met the guy sometime back, while on a trip to Bangalore and while we sipped latte at Barista, I asked him about the criteria being considered when his parents were looking at a prospective bride. He said a lot of things, but the gist was:
1. They were keen to verify the job she had mentioned in her online profile.
2. They were checking her personal background including the education.
3. They were trying to check the background of the family. Were they really the kind of nice people they projected themselves to be, or were there some hidden skeletons in the cupboard?

Fair enough. For both parties. You would love to know that much before tying the knot for life. And even fairer since arranged marriages still rule the Indian matrimonial landscape.

The state of matrimonial verification services in India
The problem is how do we carry out such verifications? As an off-shoot of the arranged marriage scenario, the Indian matrimonial landscape is flooded with websites and databases about prospective brides and grooms (BharatMatrimony, Shaadi, Jeevansathi, SimplyMarry, to name just a few), but there is hardly any satisfactory way to run a background check.

Therefore, people generally inquire about the whereabouts personally, or in some extreme cases, employ the service of a private investigation agency. The former is too informal and the latter quite expensive. Unfortunately, there is no single, unified database for such checks, and if someone decides to hide something, it is well-nigh impossible to figure it out before the marriage.

Solution
This is where a service like JantaKhoj might be relevant. JantaKhoj brings to the reach of individuals the best of consumer services like matrimonial, tenant, domestic help, and driver verifications that have so far been under-served. For citizens, it means a considerable relief from the uncertainties that abound in a typical urban setting. Given that personal information is poorly integrated and is haphazard, JantaKhoj is a definitive move ahead. So the next time you want to carry out matrimonial verification, you know where to head to.

Stop worrying. Start the Khoj!