The Name Game: How To Make Sure Your Background Checks Are Effective

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Not-For-Profits Organizations

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts reports that a woman who embezzled more than $1.4 million from two nonprofits was recently sentenced to six years in prison and five years of supervised release. She was also ordered to make restitution to the two nonprofit victims.

The woman served as the chief operating officer from July 2013 until January 2018 for the first nonprofit, a Boston-based nutrition research and policy organization that provides programs for developing countries. Between Aug. 2013 and Jan. 2018, she allegedly stole nearly $1.4 million by making more than 350 unauthorized wire transfers, and writing more than 250 unauthorized checks, to herself, her husband, and those to whom she owed money.

In Sept. 2018, the woman was arrested for embezzlement. She was placed on pre-trial release contingent on not engaging in illegal activities. In Dec. 2019, the woman pled guilty to aggravated identity theft, bank fraud, and wire fraud related to embezzling from the first nonprofit. The conditions of her release were reiterated when she pled guilty and was released.

Following her arrest, however, the woman got a job as an officer administrator with an affordable housing nonprofit in Brookline, Massachusetts. She did not disclose her the fact she was under indictment to the organization and used her married name to conceal her indictment, according to the sentencing memorandum.

She worked for the second nonprofit from April 2019 until Feb. 2020. In Aug. 2019, the nonprofit's treasurer resigned. Over the following six months, the woman allegedly stole around $57,000 from the organization by changing the name of the payee on wire transfers, cash transfers, and checks.

In Dec. 2020, the woman was charged with embezzling from the second nonprofit.

The sentencing memorandum states that her employers "suffered extreme financial harm" and had "numerous charitable endeavors" either canceled or placed on hold indefinitely as a result of her embezzlement. "Woman Gets 6 Years After Defrauding 2 Nonprofits" (Jul. 19, 2021).

Commentary and Checklist

A criminal background check for all new hires should include a search for other names used by the individual, such as maiden and married last names, and a search for a criminal record under all of those names. Consider that applicants may be taking steps to hide a criminal record and what you should do to uncover that information.

Asking references about whether the applicant is eligible for rehire is key. If hiring for a financial position, ask the former employer if there were any financial irregularities when the candidate was employed there. Even if the applicant does not have a criminal record, a history of funds disappearing from the organization under the individual’s watch is a bad sign, as well as a past employer’s reluctance to rehire.

If the applicant does not list all employers or lists a false employer, then you should move on to the next candidate. Omissions are a red flag on any candidate.

Here are some additional tips for conducting an effective background check:


  • If a person has a criminal background, review the crime. A victimless crime may not hold the same risk to the workplace as a crime against individuals or the community.
  • Reference checks are a must. If candidates cannot provide recent references or their references refuse to cooperate, you should give preference to those whose references check out positive. It is important that you find past employers that can state the applicant has not committed wrongdoing and was an asset to the organization.
  • On personal references, question the reference closely to determine that the reference knows the applicant in the manner that was described to you.
  • Google the candidate. See if you can find blogs or other writings by the candidate or about the candidate that will shed more light on the candidate's personality.
  • Check social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Social media websites ask users to post personal information. How candidates describe themselves outside of the hiring process can be very helpful.
  • Check a candidate's educational background. Make sure that they obtained the degrees and achieved the accomplishments listed.
  • If an applicant is untruthful in the written application, then that is a sign to move on to the next candidate.
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