By Carole L. King

Do you occasionally rent out a room with Air BnB, call up a Lyft or Uber, have groceries delivered by Door Dash or use an app to locate a pet sitter or even a babysitter? If so, welcome to the 2020 Gig Economy! What started as a little side hustle made possible by the smartphones in our pockets has now grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. In fact, this side-hustle gig economy is projected to double in size to nearly $500 Billion in gross sales by the year 2023, up from $204 Billion in 2019.

Today we hire strangers we've connected with via a mobile app to walk our dogs, babysit our kids, deliver our groceries, or pick up our fast food. We open our doors to them, ride in their cars, and sometimes we even give them the keys to our apartment or house. Why do we trust them so easily? Because they've passed a background check, of course.

But how safe are background checks? Who's doing them, and how frequently are they updated? Are the records that are used to check applicants reliable? Are the reports verified by trained investigators or are these checks merely information that is aggregated by bots and web crawlers? How reliable are these background checks?

Not so reliable, sadly. A quick visit to sites like Who's Driving You reveals the dark side of the global Gig Economy. Demand for background checks has skyrocketed, and many criminal background checks are processed in less than a minute. Despite background check approvals, thousands of violent crimes continue to be reported. Bad actors continue to slip through the process, and much more must be done.

Adrienne Kallweit, private investigator and founder of SeekingSitters, shows that reliable background checks can be done. She was an early adopter of more careful background check processes and built her nationwide babysitting company on solid background investigations for both the sitters and the families that hire them. Since they opened the doors in 2004, the company has maintained a 100% safety record over the 16-year period.

"It is not impossible to keep the end consumer safe," Kallweit says. "Put your eyes on every investigation and really do the work."

But "putting your eyes on every investigation" seems to be the problem. Background checks have become a multi-billion-dollar industry in recent years, according to Ariel Nelson, in Broken Record Redux (Dec. 2019). Speed of turnaround is a key component of profitability for the companies that conduct them.

For example, the five-year-old company Checkr, co-founded by Silicon Valley veterans Daniel Yanisse and Jonathan Perichon in 2014, uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to speed things along. Checkr processes a million background checks a month, according to company reports. This is roughly 22.5 background reports per minute, in a 31 day month. The company, whose portfolio of clients includes Uber, Lyft and GrubHub as of this writing, became a Unicorn tech startup with an estimated valuation of $2.2 billion in September of 2019, after just five years of being in business (Business Insider, December 2019).

But that's small potatoes compared to the older top producers. Three of the largest companies - First Advantage, Sterling, and Hire Right - produced 56 million background checks in a recent 12-month period, according to Nelson's report. That's over 4.6 million per month between them, or 104.5 completed background checks per minute. At such speeds, no human eyes can possibly verify the facts that are cobbled together from various county, state and federal records, aggregated by bots that crawl the web and scrape information from local court record sites.