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Credit and Background Checks

Digging up dirt on the people that affect your business

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This story appears in the July 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine.

In the hard-boiled version of private investigation, characters like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe got information the old-fashioned way: by schmoozing leggy blonde secretaries and questioning thugs who grunted, "Keep your nose out of it, shamus." Today's private eyes have evolved beyond using the rumor mill as an intelligence source and getting important leads from matchbook covers. They're taking full advantage of the information age to help businesses hire wisely, choose reliable clients and monitor employees who may have poor definitions of "profit sharing" and "flex time." Although information-gathering isn't just for professionals, there are tricks to the trade that make it easier to think like a P.I. and, more importantly, act like one.

"The first thing to keep in mind is that the next person who comes in your door could be the reason for your [business'] success or failure," says Ed Pankau, a Houston private investigator and author of Check It Out! Everyone's Guide to Investigation (Contemporary Books, $19.95, 800-323-4900). Whether that person looks like a golden job candidate, a stellar client or a generous new investor, Pankau says your standard practice should be to follow the X-Files mantra, "Trust no one."

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