"When in doubt, check them out." Good advice from Linda J. Alexander, founder and president of WhoisHe.Com Inc. (and twin site WhoisShe.Com), a company that provides online background checks. Alexander, 48, started the site in 1997, after she started talking online with a presumed widower. Her suspicions got the best of her and, as an attorney, she checked public records and discovered the "widower's" wife was alive and well.
"I'm a reasonably intelligent woman and if this could happen to me, it could happen to anybody," Alexander says.
Six weeks later, she was up and running on the Web, doing background checks on prospective dates, nannies, stepfathers, employees and missing people.
In her Vista, California, office, Alexander and her team sort through hundreds of daily e-mail and phone messages from potential clients to determine which cases are appropriate.
"If a person is looking for someone under the age of 25, in most cases, we won't do it because there's not going to be a huge paper trail," she says. "But if someone's questioning whether the person who their child has met on the Internet is really 22 or actually a 45-year-old predator, we're going to do that check."
Alexander's site gets 750,000 hits per month, and thousands of clients have already ordered basic, comprehensive, civil and criminal record checks, with prices from $39 to $75. Because all the information comes from public records, searches can go back seven to 15 years. Alexander's team goes through 60 billion records and usually returns results in two to four days.
"About 60 percent of the time we do background checks, we find people haven't been truthful," she says. "You really look forward to those 40 percent when you can actually give good news to people."