Key information sources and techniques for a credentials check: Internet Scambusters #446
A credentials check is not infallible, but it can give you a
high degree of confidence that someone is who they say they
are or that they have the right qualification or license to do
In this week’s issue, we show you the main sources of
information about people’s jobs or employers.
We also explain the basic rules for doing an Internet-based
credentials search and simple checks you can do when someone
arrives at your front door.
Before we begin, you may want to spend a moment looking at
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Now, here we go…
How to Do a Credentials Check on Almost Anyone
In an age when, more than ever, you can’t be sure that someone
is who they say they are, or have the qualifications they
claim, a credentials check is an important part of protecting
With contractors, other businesses and people in public
employment, like teachers for instance, it’s relatively
straightforward to check credentials with state governments.
Many other types of employment require membership of
professional bodies that provide online or postal credential
checks and verification.
However, there are other individuals whose credentials may be
important to us but are more difficult to verify.
For example, how do you know whether a utility worker or
charity collector who arrives at your doorstep is genuine or a
Well, let’s look at these different groups and what you can do
to check credentials or, if that’s not possible, how you can
minimize the risk of being conned.
State Boards and Licensing Bodies
Individual states differ both in the ease (and cost) of doing
a credentials check and the precise names of departments or
boards that maintain these records. But a good starting point
is your state’s main government office or the principal
website, which is usually “www.” followed by the name of the
state, followed by “.gov” (without the quotation marks).
Most websites have links to a list of online agencies such as
an Education Department and a Construction Contractors Board
where you will find search pages that let you check
credentials of teachers and contractors respectively.
State Medical Boards can also usually be accessed via this
route enabling you to check doctors’ credentials including
their medical education and whether there have been any
malpractice judgments against them.
Other credential checks you should be able to do via your
state government office include registered CPAs, real estate
appraisers, architects, chiropractors, dentists, dieticians,
engineers and land surveyors, geologists, landscape architects
and contractors, massage therapists, medical practitioners of
all types (through individual Boards), morticians,
professional counselors and therapists, realtors, social
workers, tax practitioners and veterinarians.
Whew! Note that this is a sampling taken from a couple of
states. For more information, you should contact your state
Many of the professionals and specialists mentioned in the
list above also belong to professional organizations and
industry associations, quite a few of which at the very least
enable you to check their membership.
So, for instance, you can run a credentials check on a realtor
through the National Association of Realtors or a physician through the Federation
Credentials Verification Service (registration required).
This is a service of the Federation of State Medical Boards.
In fact, you can check doctors’ credentials in even more
detail. For $10 you can buy a full profile through the
Federation’s DocInfo service.
The key technique here is to use the power of the Internet by
using a search engine like Google and simply keying in the
name of the profession followed by the words “credentials
One problem when you check credentials of an individual,
however, is the number of organizations that offer
accreditation. After all, anyone can set up a supposed
professional body, offer membership and allow people to put
letters after their name.
This challenge is particularly common in the worlds of natural
medicine and finance and our advice is to check out such
Some are clearly beyond reproach. For example, you can check a
stockbroker’s background through the Financial Industry
Regulatory Authority (FINRA) BrokerCheck page.
Others are more questionable. Be on the lookout for whether
membership requires examination and/or academic qualification
or whether it’s just by application (and a fee!).
And note what others might have said online about the
Remember, being a member of any organization doesn’t vouch for
the character of an individual if negative behavior hasn’t
Running a credentials check is more difficult when someone
just turns up on your doorstep asking either for money or
access to your home.
But there are a number of things you can do to either verify
who they are or avoid the chance of being scammed.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Ask to see their ID and actually thoroughly check it. If it
has a photo and you have a scanner, ask if you can make a
If they’re supposed to be in uniform and/or driving a
company vehicle, check these. For instance, a utility worker
wouldn’t turn up in an unmarked truck. Make a note of the
Ask them for their office address, phone number and name of
their manager. If it’s a scam, they’ll stumble at this.
If you feel suspicious, actually check the number against a
directory listing and call it to see who answers.
Did they have an appointment? If not, don’t let them into
your house without further verification.
If they’re collecting for charity, quiz them about the
organization and its aims. Again, a scammer would stumble at
Ask to see other ID credentials, such as a driver’s license,
and make a note of the details. Check the photo!
If you’re in any doubt about an individual’s identity, don’t
give them money or let them into your home.
If necessary, ask them to call back after you’ve checked them
out. If they’re crooks, they likely won’t return.
A Couple of Final Things
As we’ve previously reported, there’s quite a bit of
information on just about everyone on the Internet.
If all else fails, simply key their name into a search engine
and see what’s returned.
If a person’s job or education credentials are important to
you, seek their written permission and contact their employer
Finally, security experts and psychologists say there’s one
more powerful weapon you can use in your assessment of an
individual — your gut instinct.
Sometimes, things just don’t feel right about an individual,
and oftentimes that’s more reliable than a credentials check.
That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!