Bright Horizons Under Fire for Alleged ID Theft by Backup Nanny

Bay Area parents say they were robbed of their identities and had thousands of dollars taken by a nanny sent to their home from the Bright Horizons network of back-up providers

Here’s the premise: When a parent’s normal childcare situation falls through, there are companies that can send help with as little as an hour’s notice.

Think of them as emergency nannies or backup providers who come to the rescue, allowing working parents to stay productive without last minute childcare headaches.

Bright Horizons is one of the biggest in the business. It contracts with 850 employers internationally: Yahoo!, Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at San Francisco, among others. Bright Horizons also contracts with the parent company of this television station: NBC Universal.

The company reported $1.1 billion in revenue last year and boasts on its website that is has the “largest national network of high-quality centers and carefully screened in-home care providers” for both back-up childcare and elderly care.

But the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has found some parents may not be getting the childcare services they expect because Bright Horizons subcontracts with hundreds of smaller companies. When something goes wrong, it’s those subcontractors, not Bright Horizons, who may be ultimately responsible. The Unit also discovered that the rigor and methodology of the background checks by the subcontractors varies widely, and who is to blame when something goes wrong is not always easy to pin down.

“We basically invited this person into our home we were told was capable of caring for our little girls,” North Bay mother Binbin Wang said. Wang and her husband, Aaron Lewis, say a nanny sent to their San Francisco home by one of Bright Horizons’ subcontractors left a cyber-trail of destruction on their home computer. They say they called Bright Horizons to arrange for backup care for their twin toddler daughters on Jan. 2.

But when the physicians returned home that evening, they noticed their computer’s Internet history had been deleted. A forensic investigation of their computer revealed that someone in their home stole thousands of dollars from their bank accounts, created fake user accounts to monitor their financial activity, made multiple attempts to purchase Walmart money cards and continued to monitor their bank accounts for weeks.

“From the investigation it looked like they were on the computer from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.,” Wang said. “You can see every five to ten minutes they were on the computer trying to do some sort of search.”

When asked if she knew what was happening to her daughters during this time, Wang blinked back tears, “We try really hard not to think about that part."

"The best we can hope for is they were left in their cribs to scream it out for seven hours because the alternative is much worse.”

The couple says about $5,000 had been withdrawn from their accounts. They say the nanny admitted that her husband came to their home to drop off lunch. The investigation of their computer found a motel room was booked with his name and credit card, and that his Facebook page was opened. But without cameras in their home, the Lewis’ have no way of knowing who was in their home that day.

They filed a police report, but even with the evidence from the computer search and the nanny’s phone number and home address, the San Francisco Police Department says it doesn’t have enough resources to investigate. SFPD officers say because the Lewis’ were eventually reimbursed by their bank and Paypal, the police department won’t follow up.

“Although they have their suspicions about a suspect, since there was no financial loss, we will not be devoting resources to this case at this time,” said Officer Albie Esparza in an email to NBC Bay Area.

The Investigative Unit called the nanny, using the cell phone number she provided to the Lewis family. She did not deny being the home that day, but hung up when asked her about the allegations.

Multiple attempts to reach the nanny and her husband for comment were not returned. Because the police did not make an arrest, NBC Bay Area is not identifying the nanny.

“We were basically told it’s unfortunate what happened to you but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Lewis said. He said they asked Bright Horizons for compensation for the time and costs spent recovering their identities, replacing their computer, and changing the locks at their home.

The parents said that’s when they were told they would have to take it up with Med Staffing LLC, a Fremont-based temp agency.

NBC Bay Area learned it is one of 1,200 subcontractors in the Bright Horizons network of providers.

No information about these providers is available on the Bright Horizons website. Parents are informed that a backup nanny from one of these subcontractors will be coming to their home when they call the Bright Horizons toll-free number to set up care.

“As soon as responsibility came up [Bright Horizons] referred us to Med Staffing,” Wang said, “whom we have not heard a peep from.”

Med Staffing declined to tell NBC Bay Area when the nanny in question was removed from employment, how long she had worked there, or how many other homes she has worked in throughout the Bay Area.

Branch manager Erin Parsons emailed a statement: “We have provided backup care services to hundreds of Bright Horizons families for almost five years. All of our caregiver (sic) are criminal background screened and referenced prior to working any assignment. The caregiver in question is no longer a (sic) employee of Med Staffing. We take this matter seriously.”

In a statement from Bright Horizons, company spokesperson Bridget Perry wrote:

“We have clear processes in place to ensure that all caregivers in our network meet the highest standards, that they undergo a rigorous review and quality assurance process that includes a thorough background check…We regret that the family has had to go through this, and we are very glad that despite attempts, no money was actually taken from them. While in our history we have never had a case like this, our processes are in place to protect families and would have provided full recovery had any theft occurred.”

“[Background checks] aren’t all created equally,” said Cindy Mall, senior program manager at at theCalifornia Childcare Resource & Referral Network (CRRN) said parents should always ask for a childcare provider’s name and driver’s license number so they can check it through the state’s Trustline database—the only authorized screening of in-home caregivers in California with access to fingerprint records at the state Department of Justice and the FBI.

It’s free to use and available to all California parents. “It also looks to see if a person ever had a childcare license revoked or a teaching credential revoked,” Mall said.

“It’s really focused on a ‘caregiver’ background check, not just a background check for general employees.” While many caregivers will boast of “rigorous” background checks, Mall said parents need to ask, “Does it include all the counties in the state of California? Are the records updated? Do they have current information? Does it include all convictions and arrests?”

Mall offers this list of questions for parents to ask of anyone who comes into their home, as well as the agency or subcontractor providing the service:

  • Do you comply with California’s law that requires agencies placing babysitters and nannies to use the TrustLine background check housed at the California Department of Social Services?
  •  What type of education and/or training is required of the caregivers you place? First Aid? CPR? Units or workshop in child development, caring for children, etc.?
  • What documentation of this training do you require? 
  • How much and what type of experience is required of the caregivers you place?
  • How many references of the caregiver are checked and what questions are asked of references?
  • What is your agreement with the caregiver? What is acceptable/non-acceptable behavior while the caregiver is providing care?

Mall said often when parents ask these questions upfront, it can be a deterrent to potential problems.

The Lewis family said they are grateful their twins are unharmed, but they are soured on the experience of relying on big name care providers. "All you can do is try to use people you know very well personally," said Lewis.

Helpful Resources:

  • 1-800-822-8490
  • California’s background check for babysitters and nannies and Child Care Resource and Referral (R&R) programs are available in every county in California. They provide free child care information and referrals to licensed child care providers. Contact 1-800-KIDS-793, to locate the R&R program that serves your area.

Do you have a childcare experience to share? Contact Vicky Nguyen on Twitter or message her on Facebook.

If you have a tip for the Investigative Unit email or call 888-996-TIPS

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