If you're thinking about fudging on your next job or housing application, keep in mind that there are people like Dwayne Chasteen out there.
Chasteen is co-owner with his wife of Clears Inc., which performs background checks on prospective employees and tenants. Clients in Wichita include schools, businesses that send their employees into homes, and the city's public housing department.
Chasteen says just more than one-third of applicants lie about their past, and about 50 percent have something in their background "that raises a red flag."
That information may not be enough to cause a potential employer or landlord to reject an applicant, Chasteen said, but it does allow them to make a more informed decision. Preventing workplace theft and violence is a key selling point for his business.
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Chasteen started the company a dozen years ago after spending 11 years in banking and then getting a law degree at night school. Retiring early to his native Kansas, Chasteen says he found himself "unsuited by temperament to leisure" and began looking around for something to do. He spent a year researching the consumer reporting business — as his industry is known — before opening his doors.
"I decided I could do a better job and probably for less" than competitors, he said. "And that turned out to be the case."
Today, he said, there are less than a handful of similar operations in the city.
Clears is not a private-investigation firm; its researchers don't follow people or interview their associates. The basis of its background checks is databases maintained by a variety of government and private entities, such as county court clerks' offices and companies that track the use of Social Security numbers nationally.
The records that Clears has access to include criminal, driving, sex offender, credit reports, workers compensation claims histories, education and employment verification and eviction notices.
The company offers "a la carte" services tailored to a client's needs. For instance, landlords are most interested in a potential tenant's ability to pay rent, while a transportation company wants to know about a prospective employee's driving record.
Chasteen said Clears has survived by offering rates as low as any competitors, including Internet-based services. Certain background checks start as low as $6, he said, and most can be completed in hours, if not days.
Despite that, the past two years have been challenging, he said. After the company had its best year in 2008, business dropped 26 percent last year. Chasteen worked without a salary.
"I didn't want to let anybody go," he said. "I spend a lot of time training my people."
Business is inching back up this year, which Chasteen said could be a sign that the city's economy is improving. Chasteen hired former television news reporter Jennifer Bocchieri for a newly created marketing position.
"There are an awful lot of companies that should be using us and aren't," he said.
Asked whether running background checks for a living has taught him anything new about human nature, Chasteen smiles and says, "No."
But there are plenty of surprises in individual checks.
"You'll have a guy who may forget to mention that of the three years he spent in Texas, two of them were in the pen," Chasteen said.