Background Investigation: Checking out the Nanny

Okay. Let’s get started. Let’s use the ‘Potential Nanny‘ as an example. But first let’s go over a few very important issues:

IMPORTANT! Simply because someone has a clean background is no guarantee they will not commit improprieties. The reason that background checks are known to work is that people are creatures of habit. A person who has been convicted of a crime may very well have a tendency to commit crimes. Or someone who has sued another may have a tendency to sue. When we find information on people and the like, we focus in on patterns of behavior, as our driving force in making a decision. Again, a clean background check is no guarantee that your nanny will do the right thing. For better security we recommend installing surveillance equipment to periodically monitor your nanny.

IMPORTANT! Please consult the laws in your state or seek the advice of an attorney, regarding hiring of employees and what information you may or may not ask of a potential employee. An example of this would be what ‘race’ or ‘age’ is the potential employee. If you ask these types of questions you may liable for discrimination, So, please read the law!

Please remember that all the techniques can be applied to performing a background check on any person, business, or entity.

There is one important difference between this type of background investigation (Pre-employment) and most of the other types, and that is that the subject, in this case the nanny knows the investigation is taking place and will sign a release of information so that you may obtain privileged or confidential information, such as a credit report or scholastic records. Other types of investigations may be considered ‘surreptitious’, or without the person’s knowledge.

First have your potential nanny fill out and sign an employment application.

You can find an application for employment at you local library or law library, or stationary mega-mart, or you can search for it here on the Net. The application should contain fields that ask for their full name and aliases and maiden name, date of birth (DOB), social security number (SSN), previous employment for ten years, education background (names and addresses of institutions), previous addresses for ten years, full names of spouse and/or children, names and addresses and telephone numbers of at least three references, whether or not the applicant has been convicted of a crime or is in any kind of litigation, or is being treated for mental illness, what kind of medications they are taking, and if there are any restrictions that may impede their performance, and a name and address and telephone number of the closest living relative not living with the applicant, and a contact in case of emergency. Please tell the applicant that you wish to have the entire application filled out and that you will not accept blank fields without an explanation. Also, Please read the laws in your state regarding hiring, or consult an attorney.

Next have the Nanny sign a release of information form.

Click here for an example. NOTE: This is just an example. You will probably want to tone it down a bit else you might scare away a good nanny. FYI: This for was taken from the Maryland State Private Investigator’s License Application Packet. This gives you an idea of the scrutiny many of us Private Eyes undergo.

Now you will have to verify all the information stated on the application. For the most part, this will entail making many telephone calls and doing a little leg work. There is no order in which you have to perform the research. However, if you find that your applicant has been convicted of a child abuse, you may opt to discontinue further investigation. So, below is a general guideline of the order in which to perform the background. Also, to save time, you will want to coincide various aspect of your research together if they apply. For example, most governments (including local governments), oftentimes locate all there offices in a single location. So you should plan to do your civil and criminal records searches at the same time, because the civil and criminal clerks office may be just across the hall from one another. Also, if you have more than one applicant you are researching, try to orchestrate the research so you are not going back to the same agency several times.

The single most important and most challenging aspect of this procedure is verifying whether or not the information you are viewing is about your applicant OR about someone else with the same name. What you have to do is simply play a little matching game with the information provided to you by your applicant. Try to find and match the following information: DOB, SSN, middle name or initial, addresses, telephone numbers, aliases, etc., from the information provided to you with the record you are viewing. If there is a positive match somewhere in your document, you have probably found a hit. If there is NO match, do not rule this record out until you can verify it. If there is a negative match, such as a VERY different SSN, DOB, etc., then you should rule that record out. The information has to be very different, meaning that you have to take into consideration Human Error. Examples: a police officer at 3AM writing a report on his fifth drunk driving case of the night, amongst other things, may very well spell the name Gonzalez like G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-S, or a clerk may enter a middle initial of ‘K.’ when she meant to enter in the letter ‘L.’, which is next to ‘K’ on the keyboard.

Court Records

With the importance of accuracy and verification permanently ingrained in you, you should now be ready to to do some investigating.

You will want to search federal, state, and local court records.

Depending on your subject’s name and where you live , this may be the most confusing aspect of background investigation. Note that these records are open to the public and in no way should you be restricted from seeing them and you should not have to divulge why you are requesting to see the records.


Can I get someone’s “rap sheet”? No! Only after a person has been convicted will the information become public. Why? The U.S. Constitution provides that we are innocent until proven guilty. If you were innocent and got arrested because of mistaken identity, would you allow those arrest records to be used in making a decision about your employability or reputation?

A little legal lesson

State courts in the U.S. have two ‘levels’: an upper court and a lower court. Depending on where you live, they may be referred to as Superior Court and Municipal Court, Circuit Court and District Court, or Supreme Court and Municipal Court, etc.. The ‘Upper Court” handles bigger matters and matters that originate within the County’s jurisdiction. The ‘Lower Courts’ handle cases that are smaller in nature and originate within a city’s corporate limits. The important thing to remember is that there are at least two courts that you will want to search. Oftentimes they are located in the same building, but are just down the hall from each other. Now each court has a number of divisions, a civil division and a criminal division, a traffic division and a small claims division. A criminal court handles all cases involving ‘crimes against the public’. Civil courts handle disputes between citizens, companies, and governments. Traffic court handles ‘ most’ traffic violations – MOST, meaning that serious traffic offense (repeated drunk driving, vehicular homicide) will be handled by another court’s criminal division.

Federal Courts will have civil and criminal files, AND bankruptcy filings. Bankruptcy filings may be a very important link in your background investigation. If your nanny is in financial trouble AND has a couple of law suits pending against previous employers, you may want to consider other nannies. Bankruptcy filings also have a wealth of other information: bank accounts, a list of creditors, and other persons involved – divorced spouses, etc.. Make sure you are thorough; check all sources.

In short, for each jurisdiction you plan to search, you will want to search approximately eight different indices. Indices? What in the !@#&\ is that? It’s plural for index. Courts, and most other public records, are stored on shelves and in boxes and each case or record has a file number and the names of the parties involved. An index is created to provide easy reference and access to these records.

The index or indices are located in the clerk’s office. When you go to a court, ask where the civil, criminal, or traffic clerk’s office is. Nowadays, a very large number of courts have indexed there cases and stored them on a computer data base. There are usually hard copies lying around, too. Oftentimes, the clerk will perform the search for you on their computer terminal. But be careful when someone else is doing the search: Clearly spell the name you want to search.

There will be at least several different indices for you to choose from. Since you are researching a name you will want to use the alphabetical index. There will most likely be several indexes, ‘A-L’ and ‘M-S’ and ‘T-Z’, or something like that. Choose the appropriate one that matches with your subject’s last name. IMPORTANT: Make sure you check the range of dates in the indices! Why? You might be wasting your time. If your nanny lived in Silverado, CA between 1995 and 1996 and you are viewing an index from 1990, most likely your nanny will not turn up, unless she has some other history there.

Simply search the indices for names that match your nanny’s name. Write the file numbers down and ask the clerk to pull those files for you. Once you receive the file(s), look for any identifying information in the file. Look for SSN, DOB, full name, middle name or initial, addresses, relatives, etc.. You should be able to verify pretty quickly whether or not the file you are viewing matches you nanny. If it doesn’t, move on. If it does, make copies, and make a decision. If the records shows that there is a positive ID on your nanny, and if the records shows a serious criminal or civil infraction, you will have to decide whether or not this can affect the nanny’s employment qualifications. This may be a legal matter, so please read the laws in your state regarding hiring. You may or may not be able to consider certain types of information in making an employment decision. You surely do not want to be sued.

IMPORTANT: You will want to search the courts in each of the jurisdictions that your applicant claimed to have lived for the last ten years. This could be as little as one and a many as ten or more. It all depends on how many addresses your applicant claimed on the application. You will want to be as thorough as possible.


With your signed release of information you legally obtain credit reports. There are many sources for this. You can contact the major credit reporting agencies (TRW, Equifax, TransUnion), or you can contact information service providers. Please be aware that credit reports can be very difficult to read and interpret. Ask your info broker if they can guide you.

What can I find in a credit report?

You can find many things, including but limited to: Name of spouse, employer, previous addresses, bank accounts, credit card accounts and balances, mortgages, other loans and balances, defaults, judgments, liens, other aliases, other SSN’s used, other people who use the same SSN.


With your signed release of information you legally obtain scholastic records. This can take a while. You may just want to verify whether or not your nanny attended the schools she said she did.


With your signed release of information you legally obtain medical records. Simply contact the institution that has your applicant’s records and ask what the procedure is for obtaining the records. Chances are you will have to go through a lot of red tape. You will most likely have submit a request in writing along with an original letter of release and your intentions for the use of the records. Depending on where you live and where the medical institution is located, you may not be able to receive an records at all.


This part is easy, but not simple. You will have to contact all previous employers, references, relatives, etc.. Speak with them in a friendly and direct manner. Tell them why you are calling them and tell them you are simply verifying information stated on an application. Do not ask them for their opinion on the applicant! This may not be considered a legal method in your area. Instead, engage them in conversation. Say something flattering about the nanny – how cute she is or that she seems very caring, etc. Your reference will most likely respond with something truthful. Thank them for their time and go on. REMEMBER to take copious notes!


If your applicant has had another profession that required a license. Call the Secretary of State in your state to verify the existence of the license and whether or not there had been any complaints filed, whether or not the license is in good standing, etc.. You may also want to check the County’s FBN or DBA files. Huh? FBN is an abbreviation for Fictitious Business Name; DBA is an abbreviation for Doing Business As. It is a requirement in most jurisdictions that someone conducting a business under any name that there given name has to file that name with the county. NOTE: This my not be enforced in your community. The form usually lists all the interested parties and there addresses. Use this information to conduct the same kinds of investigations stated above. Contact the other parties, if you see fit.


Deparment of Motor Vehicles records can provide some very pertinent information, if you can get it. Many states’ DMV’s now restrict access to their records, and they also restrict what information they can provide to those who have legal access. Simply make a telephone call to your local DMV and ask what restrictions, if any, they have for public access to information.

If you are lucky you may be able to obtain your subjects driving record, list of all vehicles registered in their name, other names attached to their vehicle, social security number (some states use your SSN as a driver’s license number), correct address, insurance company, etc..


Before you go snooping around your applicant’s home, please read the laws in your state. This may be illegal. Drive by where the applicant lives and hang around for a while. See what goes on. Most likely you will get bored and go home. But you may see some valuable things going on. Pick a license plate or two; you may need it in the future.


Be thorough. Be accurate. Be professional.

There will be instances where the techniques stated herein may not apply. If you should have any questions, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to answer.

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