By Dominique Kato
SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced here Monday that a company that in the course of providing a range of domestic services from child care to house keeping, does sex-offender background checks—Care.com—will pay $1 million dollars in civil penalties and restitution and will be subject to permanent injunctions.
The lawsuit was filed jointly by San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Theis Finlev and Marin County Deputy District Attorney Andres Perez, who alleged that Care.com misrepresented their background check services, and unlawfully enrolled their customers in auto-renewal subscriptions without their consent.
Care.com sells subscriptions to various services that allow families seeking care for children, seniors, and pets to find and pay for prospective caregivers. As part of their service, they offer the ability to purchase background checks to determine whether a prospective caregiver is a listed sex offender on the registry.
The district attorneys alleged that Care.com falsely represented that its background checks included a search of the National Sex Offender Registry and that its higher-priced background checks included more robust background checks than its lower-priced option.
However, the National Sex Offender Registry is a database maintained by the FBI and is only available to law enforcement, not Care.com or other third parties. Further, all of Care.com’s background checks included a search of the same publicly accessible national sex offender website.
“By misrepresenting their sex offender background checks, Care.com gave families a false sense of security about the stranger they were inviting into their homes,” said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, adding, “That practice will end immediately and consumers will be better off because of that.”
The People also alleged that Care.com unlawfully enrolled its customers in auto-renewal subscriptions without obtaining the customers’ affirmative consent and without providing various disclosures required by law.
The settlement states that Care.com will pay $700,000 in civil penalties and $300,000 in direct restitution to customers who purchased Care.com’s higher priced background checks.
Care.com will also be required to state that its background checks may not reflect an individual’s entire sex offender history, and it will be enjoined from representing that its background checks include a search of the National Sex Offender Registry.
Lastly, Care.com must notify customers that they can cancel their subscriptions before they automatically renew.
“I am very pleased that, as part of this settlement, Care.com has agreed to clearly describe the limitations in sex-offender background checks available to consumers,” said Assistant DA Finlev.
But, this is not the first time Care.com has been sued over the misrepresentation of their background checks.
In February of 2018, the Office of Attorney General Maura Healy sent a press release informing the public that Care.com agreed to pay more than $480,000 and change its practices to resolve allegations that the company misled Massachusetts families about the comprehensiveness of its background checks.
The Massachusetts Attorney General claimed that the company violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act when selling consumers Massachusetts-specific background checks on Care.com. The firm told consumers its background check products would include a review of criminal records for the “states and/or counties” in which the caregiver resided during the prior seven years.
The AG’s Office alleged that these background checks only reviewed Massachusetts Superior Court records and did not check the criminal records from District Courts in the state, which hold the vast majority of misdemeanor records, as well as many felony records.
Under the terms of this previous settlement, Care.com had to pay $126,820 in restitution to approximately 2,900 consumers in California who purchased the Preferred or Preferred+ background check, and an additional $355,000 to the state.
“When families pay for a background check service, they should get what they paid for,” AG Healey said. “This settlement will provide restitution for families who were misled, and requires Care.com to ensure that parents know what they are getting when they purchase a background check.”
A year later, in 2019, Care.com released a press release stating the company will begin to implement additional screening on caregivers, looking to match with families and additional safety measures.
These new enhancements would include a Social Security Number verification process for caregivers, an in-depth background check that includes federal and county-level criminal records checks dating back seven years, and displays of the date of the most recent background check on each caregiver’s profile.
In addition, Care.com announced the appointment of former Homeland Security and State Department Inspector General Clark K. Ervin to its Board of Directors.
Care.com issued a statement to the Vangaurd: “Care.com is committed to providing clear explanations of our services to consumers and believes it has done so consistently. We voluntarily made changes a number of years ago to address the concerns the district attorneys have voiced. We maintain that Care.com has always appropriately described the comprehensiveness of our products, including the automatically renewing nature of its subscriptions and that the background checks we have made available have always included databases of sex offender histories. Additionally, in 2019, Care.com introduced CareCheck, a required background check of caregivers that includes a review of the National Sex Offender Public Website, along with other criminal records searches.”
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