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TODAY   |  August 20, 2013

Rossen Reports: Felons enter homes as workers

Could the service worker you admit to your home be a violent felon? TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen reports that there are no federal laws requiring background checks for service workers, with sometimes tragic consequences.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this morning on rossen reports, a new warning about the companies you hire to do work inside your home. who are these guys we welcome? and could they be dangerous? today national investigative correspondence jeff rossen found frightening results.

>> good morning. we don't think twice about it. need the tv fixed you call the company and need your deck cleaned, you call the company. we trust them to send safe workers but some of the workers are violent felons that robbed and even attacked customers inside their own homes.

>> reporter: this little girl was just four when it happened. chased around her own living room by a sexual predator . he was here to fix the family's fireplace, sent by a company the girl's mom trusted.

>> it was a well-known company that did work in homes across seattle.

>> so you figure the worker they're sending to you is safe.

>> i had no reason to stop and think differently .

>> reporter: all seemed normal. he came in wearing a uniform and started working. but while the babysitter was in the next room, james warning turned his attention to sally's daughter playing just feet away.

>> he said to her let's play a game. i want you to be as quite as you can. he exposed himself to her and started to touch himself. he wanted her to take off her clothes. and she managed to keep the couch between herself and him so he wasn't able to touch her.

>> as a parent, what was this like for you?

>> it was terrifying. it's a feeling of total loss of control.

>> reporter: even more terrifying, he had a criminal past. a violent felon who spent 15 years in prison for attacking another little girl . that reputable company that sent him in never did a criminal background check .

>> i have his rap sheet right here and it's scary. convictions for kidnapping, attempted child molestation and attempted murder .

>> and we let him into our living room .

>> reporter: he was caught and thrown back in prison. while cases like that are rare, it's happened from chicago, to memphis, to new york. all convicted criminals sent to work inside people's homes.

>> it was the most horrific thing anyone should ever go through in their lives.

>> reporter: she runs an organization fighting for tougher regulations and it's personal. her sister sue was murdered by a florida contractor sent to work in her home in 2001 . turns out he was a twice convicted sex offender on parole.

>> like so many consumers, she assumed that the company that she hired would be sending safe workers into her home.

>> how many of these companies are doing criminal background checks .

>> we don't know. not enough.

>> and that's the danger.

>> exactly.

>> reporter: believe it or not, many companies don't have to. there are no federal laws and only spotty local laws requiring service companies to do background checks . checks that may have protected this little girl .

>> if the law isn't changed it's going to keep happening.

>> there needs to be federal legislation requiring proper criminal background checks . legislation that is strong and has teeth in it and would protect consumers.

>> victims are hoping all of those cases will get the attention of federal lawmakers because right now there is no pending legislation to fix this. important, they say, because background checks are expensive and many companies won't do them unless they're forced to. if you're having work done in your home today, here's the takeaway for you. ask the company about their policy. do they screen workers? also invite a friend over so you're not alone in the house with that worker. if a friend can't come over, call someone in front of the worker. get on the phone and say, look, john smith from so and so company is here that way the worker knows someone else is aware. of course important to note, many workers are perfectly safe but victims say you should never let your guard down, savannah.