Why We Background Check Our Pros

Rachel Strong

Rachel Strong

July 25, 2019

Bamboo was built on the basis of making remodeling easier, cheaper and more reliable. One of the ways we fulfill this promise to our customers is by doing background checks on all of the trade Pros who enter their homes. Background checks matter more in construction than in many other industries for several reasons. If you have previously done a remodel, it is extremely likely that you have had convicted criminals in your house without knowing about it. We want to avoid this happening and believe that background checking our Pros leads to having more safety, trust, and also quality assurance.

Safety

It is important to remember that these workers will be in and out of the house while you are away, at work or maybe running errands, etc. In a study done by the University of Cincinnati, they found that 52% of day laborers are convicted felons, and many do work in construction. This is quite an alarming statistic if you are working off of handshake contracts and your intuition on the judgment of character. Although all convicted felons are not bad people, it is still something important to know, and something we take very seriously.

Figuring out who has criminal records is harder than you would think. The US does not enforce the centralization of criminal records. There are national databases, such as the terror watch list and sex offenders list, and there are centralized felony lists - but for felonies and misdemeanors, it is optional for local counties to report up their conviction records. This is perhaps in equal parts astonishing and infuriating, but the net result of it is that all criminal background checks are not created equal. There are more than 3,500 individual court jurisdictions in the US, and according to The Hill:

"Though perceived by many as all-encompassing, the FBI database is not considered reliable as a single source for background screening purposes. Even for those entities that are required to use the FBI’s database, it is recommended that other sources be used to supplement the FBI search. Even the FBI acknowledges that its NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database is limited, noting that it contains only about 50 to 55 percent of all available criminal records, along with information taken from fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service."

Typically, just doing national background checks is much faster (and lower cost from background check service providers), but it also misses a significant proportion of information. Currently, from our own interaction with these services, it appears that both Thumbtack and HomeAdvisor only do national background checks (not local), and they only carry out the background check on the company owner (primary) not the actual workers. We have personally dealt with a builder here in Austin who used a general contractor he found via HomeAdvisor (who had been passed by a national background check) but turned out to be a convicted felon who made off with the deposit for the work and never even started the project.

This is true for the majority of general contractors around the country. Very few do criminal background checks on everyone who works on their projects for several reasons:

1. Background checks are expensive.

2. The turnover in crews is very fast, as the majority of these workers are day labor or independent contractors.

3. General contractors depend on subcontractors, and the subcontractors don't do background checks on their crews either.

How We are Different

We use Sterling Talent Solutions as our criminal background check service provider (as do Lyft, Care.com, and others). We also use the most extensive (and expensive) background check service that Sterling offers - it has the following steps:

1. Sterling uses the candidate's name and Social Security Number to run a national criminal background check.

2. Sterling then uses this information to determine all locations in which the candidate lived, worked or went to school. All of the corresponding counties are then searched for criminal convictions by the candidate.

3. Sterling maintains a proprietary national arrest database - 87% of counties are covered automatically, and the remaining 13% are covered by human "runners" in each county. Sterling finds every county in which the candidate has been arrested, then adds all these counties to the list for local searching.

According to Sterling:
"The Complete Criminal Locator is made up of three powerful locator tools – Social Security Number Trace, Multi-State Criminal Database Check and Locator Select – that together, uncover an average of 13% more criminal records than without this package."

There is no such thing as a perfect criminal background check, but we have judged Sterling Talents Solutions to have the most accurate process that is feasible for us to leverage.

We Check Everyone Who Could Enter Your Property

This may sound obvious, but hardly anyone does it. We do this for several reasons:

1. It's better, safer, and more trustworthy for the customer.

2. We aim to build long-term relationships with trades and our clients, not short-term engagements or one time contracts.

This is why we give our trades profiles in our app. If the trade is used on another Bamboo project under a different project manager (even in a different city), that profile and background check data travels with him or her.

It is a key part of our trust relationship with trades. Every person working on a project gets a profile, portfolio photos, reviews, friends/co-workers, etc. We encourage all Pros including trades to take pride in their profiles, and as they get more and more positive reviews, they can begin to increase their hourly rates. We believe that customers will pay a little extra for Pros they can trust, who do good work, show up on time, and are professional, etc.

This technique works in all kinds of marketplaces - from eBay sellers to car driving platforms like Uber and Lyft or cleaning companies like Handy. Once the Pros get credit for their work and their performance is reflected in their pay, their behavior changes for the better!

What We do with the Data

All US criminal background checks are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). When we take an onshore (US) Pro through a background process, any potential previous convictions get flagged, and the Pro has an opportunity to dispute the record (this process is handled by Sterling Talent Solutions). Once the timeframe for disputes is over or they have been resolved, the background check is considered final at that point in time.

Bamboo's team then has access to the finalized report. We will reject candidates who are on the sex offenders list, the national terror watch list, and certain types of recent violent felonies. If a candidate has a record that is deemed acceptable to our community, we will discuss the background with him or her, and then assuming the conversation is acceptable we will approve him or her to be visible in Bamboo. We retain any criminal background check info if the candidate has a history. Note that our bar for acceptable varies by role - we set the bar significantly higher for project managers than for regular trades.

When a US-based Pro is considered for a project, our central Bamboo team will discuss the candidate with the local project manager. A remodel of an exterior structure or an empty house is very different to say a kitchen remodel in an occupied house with a family and young children being there as work is carried out.

At Bamboo, we believe in second chances - people change, and sometimes there are extenuating circumstances for specific convictions. So does the US Government - if convicted criminals avoid repeat offenses for long enough, they can have their criminal records expunged or sealed. However, our priority is the safety and happiness of our customers.

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Customer testimonial

“Working with Bamboo App on our remodel project has been a breathe of fresh air. The use of technology to facilitate the project moving forward while also giving the homeowner oversight into the scope of work, timeline and budget is a true revelation for the industry.

Mike M.

August 18, 2018

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