November 6th, 2019 | Taylor Liggett, Vice President of Business Development, Sterling Identity

Identity Verification: You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

Identity Verification: You're Probably Doing it Wrong

Not long ago, I learned about a large company facing a tragedy. They’d hired someone who was able to hide a long rap sheet and pass a background check by falsifying basic biographical information. That employee then went on to commit a serious crime, leaving the company and the public shocked and angry. Didn’t they know who they were hiring? the press asked. How could we have missed this? the company asked itself.

Sadly, such instances still happen, even with companies doing their best due diligence. The fact is that the hiring processes most companies follow have fallen behind the times. In the era of data breaches and alternative workforces, companies have to modernize their hiring practices and verify the identity of the people they’re interviewing as early as possible.

Work Has Changed

First, it’s no secret that people work differently today than they did even a few years ago. For one, we have more temporary and seasonal workers than we had in the past due to the rise in trends like online shopping (and, therefore, a lot more packing, shipping, and delivering in peak season).

At the same time, people don’t work for companies as long as they used to – and even when they do, they don’t always work on site. The shift toward shorter tenures and remote workers means that companies don’t have the kind of tight connections with employees that once existed, further exacerbating the possibility that an employee isn’t who you thought they were.

Perhaps most important, though, has been the rise in gig workers. More and more employers are hiring contractors who in turn have direct access to customers. These workers are hired almost exclusively through online practices, making it easier for mistakes or deliberately false or misleading information to creep into the process.

In all these cases, you might say, employers still check IDs when the person is hired – and that’s true. But how many HR employees are experts at identifying fraudulent documents? And if that information doesn’t match the information used during a candidate background check, how do you know if you’re looking at the same person whose information cleared it?

Identity Fraud is a Big Risk

Second, the rise of data breaches and identity theft has brought about a pressing need to double- and triple-check who we’re hiring. In the past, evaluating a candidate’s identity seemed fairly simple: background checks ensured that the person could be trusted, and government-issued documents checked after a candidate was hired ensured that they had a legal identity. For decades, we considered that enough to deter bad actors and keep businesses from hiring people who put them at risk.

But today, it just isn’t enough.

With the rise of the internet came an explosion of information, and with it an onslaught of new ways to steal identities. People openly shared personal information with online stores and services, and bad actors followed. Data breaches became more and more common – from 136 in 2005 to nearly 1600 in 2017 alone [1] – and each breach contained more data than the last. Today, over 1/3 of US adults have experienced identity theft, and that number continues to climb[2]. Identity theft is getting more sophisticated, too; deepfake technology has made it eerily possible to alter video and audio to mimic another person.

Which begs the question: does our current process of verifying identity really verify who we’re hiring?

Time to Get Ahead of Identity

It’s time for companies to rethink their hiring approach. Waiting until after we hire someone to verify their identity leaves us open to both deliberate fraud and mistakes, and we can’t afford either. Identity needs to become the foundation of our hiring approach.

Think about it – companies have traditionally relied on the federally-mandated I-9 process to verify identity, but very few new-hire staff are experts in detecting fraudulent documents or information. And even if your staff is trained, even the team expert can still be fooled.

Forward-thinking companies are adopting advanced technological solutions to verify identity and capture biographic data from government issued documents during the initial screening process. They verify identity, reduce fraud, and minimize data entry errors all at the same time, and when it matters most: before a hire.

As one of these advanced solutions, Sterling Identity Verification leverages cloud-based AI technology to deliver fast, convenient, accurate identity verification before you request a background screen. This technology is backed by human experts who check and re-check results as needed, ensuring you get the most accurate verification possible. At the same time, the candidate application is available anywhere with a cell connection 24/7 — a tremendous boon for those of you who hire temporary, remote, and gig workers as well as those who want to attract the best talent with their hiring practices.

What’s Next?

This new focus on identity will transform more than hiring. The exploding gig economy and increased need for remote hiring, coupled with ever more sophisticated identity technology rooted in biometrics for verification and blockchain for assertion, will naturally evolve toward a portable and reusable identity model. In the future, we should expect to see individuals prove their identity once, then share only the aspects of their identity necessary for a particular need. Solutions in this space have the potential to offer tremendous convenience and value to individuals working in gig or seasonal jobs as well as their employers.

As we transform hiring practices with solutions like Sterling Identity Verification, situations like the tragedy referenced at the start of this post will hopefully decline. We may never fully eradicate identity fraud, but we can do much more to protect against it and make the world and our workplaces safer in the process.

Questions or comments? My team and I would love to hear from you. Contact us today.


Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.