X likes to begin a big-money investigation by verifying credentials
and claims on a resume or curriculum vitae. In short order, the
process should reveal whether or not the person is honest.
Former employers and business partners should at least confirm
someone's dates of employment or affiliation over the telephone. On
one occasion, Lawyer X uncovered deceit when a government official,
whose appointment calendar was public record, could not substantiate
a businessman's claim that he was a consultant to the office.
registrars will verify an individual's education credentials over
the phone. Many, however, require a signed release, or outsource
this work to companies such as
or EdVerify (currently off-line). These
verification services require a signed release and charge a small
You can confirm that someone authored a book
by checking databases available at
Copyright Office or the
Congress. If the book was published outside of the United
States, check Amazon's regional Web sites. By searching the Amazon
zShops, which sells used books, Lawyer X
discovered that a book cited on one resume was self-published and
Hundreds of databases
provide bibliographic information about published articles. Many
also contain the articles in full-text. If
an individual claims to have published
on a certain subject, look for a relevant,
subject-specific database of literature. An
academic library would be a good source of such information.
The librarians also can advise you on how to access the databases.
If the results of this verification process keep the players in the
game, then it's time to call the Securities and
Exchange Commission and the relevant state securities commissions
for any public information on file. The outcome of a phone call
often depends on the competence of the person on the other end.
Therefore, it's sometimes also worth running a few online queries at
sources such as the
SEC's Web site, National Futures Association's
Background Affiliation Status Information Center (BASIC),
BrokerCheck, LexisNexis' National Financial Institutions
Sanctions and Legal Actions, securities case law databases on
LexisNexis or Westlaw and a commercial EDGAR database such as
Such queries might also reveal undisclosed business affiliations.
You might discover additional relationships by searching state
corporate records. While you can sometimes conduct a personal name
search using the free databases available at the Web sites of the
secretaries of state, it's frequently cost efficient to run the
person's name through national research
systems such as
If you want to make sure you are not dealing with individuals who
have run afoul of the U.S. government, use a commercial source to
search the Federal Register or check the many free lists available
on the Web. These include the Bureau of Industry and Security's
Denied Persons List and
Entity List, the U.S. Department of State's
List of Parties Debarred for Arms Export Control Act Convictions,
and the Office of Foreign Assets Control's lists of
Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Blocked Persons. The
Listing System provides access to these lists as well as a
database of individuals and companies excluded from receiving
federal contracts or federal financial assistance.
Next, look for the individual's involvement in litigation. The
Party/Case Index section of the PACER
system indexes civil, criminal and
bankruptcy litigation from most federal courts. Review the menu
item, "Courts Not on Index," to make sure the relevant jurisdictions
are available. The low-cost
Online will help you find online sources of state court records.
If you want to uncover industry-related concerns, look for databases
maintained by the regulating government agencies. For example, the
Food and Drug Administration's
MAUDE database contains summaries of adverse events concerning
medical devices. The Federal Communications Commission enables
comments on file with the agency. The Occupational Safety &
Health Administration offers
databases for finding information about safety inspections,
accidents or violations. The
company research section in the
Database of Sources on The Virtual Chase provides information about many of
Finally, assuming the
person's name isn't common, or that you
have sufficient identifying information to add helpful keywords to
the search, you should query search engines such as
Lawyer X recommends these search tools over other public Web search
engines because they have unique databases. Descriptive terms useful
in narrowing the results of a query include words that describe the
person's profession, business affiliations, hobbies,
interests, places of work or residence.
identifying relevant Web sites, also review their
previous versions at the
Lawyer X once uncovered information at the Archive that lead him to
an active criminal investigation involving the individuals he was
The young associate looks up from the
PDA he had been using to take notes of the conversation. "Is that
it?" he asks half in hope and half in
"In a nutshell," answers X. "Of course,
different databases might come in handy in a different set of
circumstances. Do you want to continue?"
Tempted to rise to the bait of the challenge, the young lawyer
sighs, "No. I have enough to digest for now.
But I'll be back," he warns as he heads for the door.