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Five Lessons for Global Investigators

1. Technology. In developed countries, most background information can be obtained from government agencies electronically. This is not the case in developing nations, which drives up costs. For instance, a basic background investigation can cost around $250 in the United States. The same investigation might cost up to $1,800 in a developing country because many investigations require in-person visits, and a great deal of time, to acquire documents.

2. Reliability. Criminal records in developing countries are not generally as thorough or accurate as they would be in a developed nation. For example, official names on national databases often lack middle names, initials, and even birth dates. If an international investigator is able to narrow down a list of names and identify a possible conviction, he or she would still need to verify any criminal records by visiting the court in question to review the full case files. In a country like The Philippines, which is made up of more than 7,000 islands, this becomes a daunting task.

3. Missing records. In many developing countries, bribery or user error can quickly expunge an electronic criminal record. International investigators must check any electronic records against the hard copy source files, which are far less likely to be manipulated. In my experience in Southeastern Asia, for example, up to 1 percent of the millions of criminal records are illegally expunged.

4. Corruption. The culture of corruption is strong in many developing countries. Some local unlicensed providers will be able to conduct background investigations at lower rates than a fully registered and licensed local competitor due to lower overhead and salaries. But sometimes this includes underpaying employees. The resulting general lack of motivation on the part of the investigator may lead to shortcuts or falsification of reports. Clients should ensure that investigative firms are members of an international professional association. 

5. Professionalism. When tracking down sources in a developing country, an investigator faces a lower level of professionalism and a higher level of bureaucracy and apathy. He or she may have to cultivate someone to help work through cultural nuances before getting down to the matter at hand. Most reputable investigative companies in developing countries are registered and licensed with their respective governments, operate out of a registered office, pay their employees the minimum wage, and offer some degree of recourse if a problem develops.  

--By Jeffrey A. Williams, CPP, BAI (BOARD Accredited Investigator), CII (Certified international investigator),is president and managing director of Orion Support Inc., Manila, The Philippines