Does your mall Santa have a dark secret?

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Every mall and festival across the country has a Santa ready to listen to kids wish lists.

But how do you know if the man behind the beard is someone who should be near your children?

One look at Lance McLean and his white beard lets you know what he does every November and December.

"I started out being Santa when friends asked me to dress up for church functions," McLean said.

Now McLean is for hire and as a member of Lone Star Santas group. In order to do so, he has to meet two very important requirements - he must have a background check and insurance.

McLean says he makes sure anyone looking to hire him knows his background and insurance information are readily available.

"Typically when I talk to a client I will give the information out first, and I will let them know that I am a Christian, real bearded Santa," McLean said.

The Houston Galleria is owned by the Simon Property Group, one of the largest retail ownership groups in the world. When it hires a Santa, it gets them from a contractor in Colorado that requires background checks for anyone wearing the red suit.

But there are still dozens of other places your kids might encounter St. Nick. Two years ago, a Santa in Cleveland, Texas was found to be on the state's sex offender list. The crime happened when the man was 12, and no one knew until a parent did some digging.

In that case, the Santa was a volunteer for the city, and because of that, he did not have to undergo a background check. Cleveland has since changed its policy.

Jeff Moore with Top Gun Security says parents should call the stores they plan to visit to see if the place requires background checks on Santa. He also suggests calling any place a class field trip might go to see St. Nick.

"If you are looking at protecting your kids, you deserve to ask on their behalf, 'have they had a background check?'" Moore said.

If no one can tell you if a character has been background checked, find out the person's name and enter the information into the state's sex offender registry yourself.

Moore adds that it is also a good idea to check the state's sex offender list if you are hiring your own Santa.

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