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Call for professional online profiles to disclose conviction history

A business owner wants more stringent background checks for those creating professional online profiles after discovering a potential advisor is currently on home detention for corruption.

Gerard Gallagher was convicted in June for corrupt use of official information after trying to personally profit from information obtained while working for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and Ōtākaro Limited between 2014 and 2017.

Online, he promoted himself as a Business Advisor despite still serving a sentence of 12 months' home detention and 200 hours of community work.

Mark McIlroy did not think much about one of his Mr Green franchise owners talking about employing a business coach.

That was until he did an internet search for the coach - Gerard Gallagher.

"The master franchisor let me know that he was thinking about employing Gerard and I hadn't heard of him before so I just simply Googled the guy and then I saw all the different reports of his past history," McIlroy said.

He also found Gallagher's LinkedIn profile, a Bark.com listing, and his personal business website, where he called himself a "profit coach".

None of the profiles mentioned his employment history at the government agencies where the corruption occurred, but his LinkedIn lists his current place of work as the "Trusted Advisor Network".

"That's my biggest concern. I do not have a problem with someone continuing to run a business but they need to be upfront and tell people what they've done. Otherwise, it's just totally misleading," McIlroy said.

Department of Corrections Otago, South and Mid Canterbury district manager Emma Wallace said Gallagher had been fully compliant with his sentence conditions.

"His offending history is publicly available and has been subject to significant media attention, and we actively encourage him to disclose this information to his clients," she said.

But under New Zealand law, there was no obligation for Gallagher to disclose it.

In fact, it's illegal for anyone to ask for, or make someone reveal their conviction unless travelling to certain countries or applying for jobs in certain fields, like the police.

People should not believe everything they find online, even on a professional platform, NetSafe chief online safety officer Sean Lyons said.

"People get together on business sites and people talk business on dating sites so despite the fact that [sites] are set up with an intention, and we think that's what everybody's there for, we have to be really conscious of the fact that's not what everybody is there for," he said.

It was nearly impossible to legislate misleading or fraudulent behaviour on global internet sites, Lyons said.

"It's a big ask, when we talk about major transnational, global platforms, to expect them or put it upon them to make sure that all that information is correct. There's just too much. We do really have to think very carefully about how can we verify this stuff."

A good rule of thumb was to read a site's terms and to check information across multiple verified sources, he added.

In a statement, LinkedIn said it did not have any specific rules or guidelines around criminal conviction disclosure.

Its Users Policy stated: "You agree that you will not create a false identity on LinkedIn, misrepresent your identity, create a member profile for anyone other than yourself (a real person), or use or attempt to use another's account."

But the policy also said: "By using the services, you may encounter content or information that might be inaccurate, incomplete, delayed, misleading, illegal, offensive or otherwise harmful."

Bark.com had a disclaimer on professional profiles that said: "Professionals report their own accreditations. Please ask them for more details if required."

When it came to matters of employment, if in doubt, Lyons had some advice.

"If you're worried about someone's conviction history then doing a police background check with that person's permission is the best way, rather than trying to become a detective online."

Despite multiple attempts, Gerard Gallagher refused to comment.

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