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We were alerted to a profile on LinkedIn which turned out to be completely unreal

It was when employment fraud entered the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Top 10 scams to look out for’ this year that Keith Rosser, chair of Saferjobs, realised the issue had reached the national agenda. “We have seen a huge rise in the volume and variety of job scams over the last year,” explains Rosser, who helped to set up Saferjobs as a not-for-profit, joint industry body to protect jobseekers and employers from identity and other types of fraud.

These scams can take the form of anything from posting bogus jobs on job boards to lure people to hand over personal information or an up-front fee, to premium rate phone scams, where an ‘employer’ sets up a telephone interview, the candidate calls the number but is kept on hold. They only realise it’s a scam once it’s too late.

One of the highest profile cases of this type was a gang of fraudsters who posted a series of jobs on the buying and selling site Gumtree, supposedly advertising jobs at London department store Harrods.

But when candidates downloaded applicant packs, this would launch malware programmes onto their computers which would trawl their hard drives and web histories for bank log-in and security details so the gang could steal money. The fraud was uncovered when job-hunters complained, and members of the gang were jailed late last year.

And identity fraud has even taken its toll on an employment site set up by the government. Universal Jobmatch, set up by the Department of Work and Pensions a year ago, has been “bedevilled with fraud”, according to Frank Field MP. An investigation revealed that hundreds of job adverts were repeat postings by recruitment agencies and that fake employers had targeted the site.

The shift towards online recruitment – while a revolution in terms of cost and speed per hire for employers – has unfortunately made it far easier for fraudsters to hijack information or adopt fake identities. Rosser explains: “Some people fish for personal details, advertise a fake job and build a relationship with candidates. The ‘company’ offers the person a job and then requests personal details such as bank or passport details and candidates just hand them over because they’ve built up trust.”

“The recruitment industry as a whole faces broad reputational damage from this, with candidates becoming increasingly distrustful of genuine job opportunities,” says Fiona Rigby, head of loyalty at Jobsite, one of the member companies in Saferjobs. In addition, individual recruiters and employers face having their brands discredited too. She adds: “For example, fraudsters use well-known company names within their scams to convince jobseekers of the validity of the email – even though that jobseeker may never have had contact with the brand.” 

One of the growing areas for fraudulent activity is LinkedIn profiles, where there has been a rise in people creating false identities. Jo McGregor, director at oil and gas recruiter McGregor Consultants, says consultants at her agency have seen this first hand.

“We were alerted to a profile on LinkedIn which turned out to be completely unreal – they’d taken his picture from a magazine,” she says. “It turned out to be a CV one of our consultants had on file; someone had stolen the candidate’s details and were trying to sell them into one of our clients.”

This wasn’t a lone occurrence, either. The agency has received calls from people posing as candidates to try and get information about client hiring managers or job postings, and even received requests from rogue agencies asking for payment for opening an email with a CV attached. McGregor now advises candidates not to post full CVs up on LinkedIn for fear that disreputable companies or individuals take those details and try to sell them on.

The key risk for both recruiters and employers when it comes to identity fraud is reputational damage. And it’s not just people posing as the hiring companies that present that risk either. One of the most common job scams is when candidates produce fake documentation or references once they’ve been offered a role.

Vanessa Di Cuffa, a partner at law firm Shakespeares, says hiring managers might unwittingly accept documents that seem authentic (such as right to work permits) and only become aware they are fake when an issue arises or someone gives them a tip-off. The problem then is that it is impossible to dismiss someone – even for providing fake documentation – without due process. “One of the key premises of employment law is that you have to go through a process, you can’t just sack people,” she says. “But it’s getting harder for employers: people can buy qualifications online, getting hold of good solid references can be difficult.”

Di Cuffa advises using sites such as LinkedIn to verify references, and advocates an investment in stringent background checks, even if they are not a requirement for your particular industry. “If something does go wrong, you will have some form of defence if you have carried out the appropriate checks,” she adds.

According to Rosser, based on employment figures and estimated churn rates, the cost of recruitment fraud could be as much as £616 million, while outsourcing company NorthgateArinso estimates that around 5% of jobseekers are rejected each year due to fraudulent applications.

So how can recruiters tackle this burgeoning problem? Saferjobs’ advice to agencies is to research any companies you work with. Are they registered with Companies House? Do the details they post on LinkedIn match up with their official website? Another warning sign may be an agency that posts only one or two roles or is vague about exact job specifications.

“Try to meet candidates or other recruiters face-to-face – most genuine companies will want to build up a relationship. And never give money or personal details up front,” advises Rosser. Jobsite, meanwhile, runs regular candidate awareness campaigns to provide advice to jobseekers on how to spot a job scam.

In some ways, the growth in suspicious recruitment activity happening online has proven a reputation booster for agencies. “The recruitment industry actually has a high level of vigilance because this issue affects both the industry and individual companies’ reputations,” says Rosser.

McGregor agrees. “It was worrying at first, but genuine candidates and clients know us for our specialist knowledge and we like to build up a personal relationship. They’ll only deal with companies they know.”

In an industry often maligned with a negative reputation, it’s good to know that the personal touch is winning over. 

Source: Recruitment Agency Now, April 3rd 2014, written by Jo Farragher
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