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What risks do interns pose?

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With a saturated job market, and experience being a major employment requirement, more job-seekers are taking on low-paying — and often unpaid — internships for short periods to gain on-the-job knowledge to boost their CVs.
This arrangement is also greatly beneficial to companies, giving industry leaders the pick of fresh, upcoming talent. But while this can be a win-win situation for both parties, when an intern engages with a company’s client-base, they are automatically seen as a facet of the company and any negative behaviour on the intern’s part, is a reflection of the company as a whole.
Often, when it comes to bringing interns into the fold, businesses tend to forgo the necessary background checks, leaving the door open to reputational risk.
Time and cost are the main factors preventing this step in the hiring process from taking place. However, the dangers that accompany interns are the same as those that come with any other potential employee.
Rudi Kruger, GM of risk management at LexisNexis Data Services says businesses should always take the “rather safe than sorry” approach when considering internships.
“Interns usually fly under the radar, because company leaders often feel that conducting checks on individuals who are spending only a few weeks or months within the business is an expensive practice.
“However, it is always necessary to bear in mind the role you want the intern to take on at your company. Does it involve company funds, customer engagement, or access to sensitive information? If so, then the answer to: ‘Should we conduct a background check on this individual?’ must be a resounding yes,” Kruger says.
He points out that no company or industry is immune — not even NASA. In 2002, the aeronautics and aerospace research centre became a victim of grand theft when an intern stole 101,5 grams of moon rocks — collected from every moon landing — from the agency’s coffers.
Closer to home, a national real estate agency recently made headlines when a long-time intern was implicated in a crime involving one of the company’s customers.
“It must be remembered that not every intern will receive a job offer at the end of their initial tenure. Knowing that their positions are not permanent, can sometimes influence unethical behaviours in interns,” Kruger adds.
He advises that checks are key to the hiring process of interns. Verification checks that should be included to form a complete picture of the candidate are: ID verification; fraud listing; employment history; fit and proper screening; professional association membership; driver’s license; bank verification; business background search; professional driving permit; consumer goods council verification; citizenship verification; and director/member confirmation.
The Lexis RefCheck services include verification of tertiary and secondary academic qualifications held by the individual from registered local and international institutions; identity and South African citizenship validation; fraud history checks via the South African Fraud Prevention Services; credit history checks through detailed TransUnion and Experian credit bureau reports; criminal history check via AFISwitch (electronic fingerprint collection and processing); verification of local and international employment history and professional association membership; and matching of bank account against an identity number or registration number.