Note: This “think piece” is designed to stimulate your thinking about new-hire identity fraud.
New-hire identity fraud is now more likely because of the shift to 100% remote hiring. Unfortunately, that could mean that the recently hired employee that you remotely interviewed and that you’ll now see only on a Zoom screen is really someone else. This employment impersonation can be called, ghost hiring, hiring fraud, candidate impersonation, or candidate identity theft. It is defined as when someone working in a field applies for a job by assuming the identity, the resume, and the work history of a real person that is fully qualified for a job.
It is now occurring more frequently because much hiring (and work) are 100% remote. With remote work, fewer team members are participating in hiring interviews. Coupled with the absence of one-on-one in-person conversations with employees that occur during normal hiring. Together, they reduce the chances that their impersonation will be found out during hiring and after they become an employee. And because qualification fraud is always involved, the impersonator new-hire will be less capable and have lower job performance. This can cause expensive catastrophic errors which may lead to skyrocketing insurance costs and negligent hiring lawsuits.
Without fingerprints or a DNA test, how would you know that your candidate/new-hire is actually who they say they are?
Think About It… How Would You Really Know?
It’s not breaking news that people have been misrepresenting themselves on resumes for years. But total identity impersonation has been much more difficult to pull off. After the impersonator was hired, dozens of employees, and customers would have physically interacted with this new employee both at work and in social situations. With so many interactions, the odds of an impersonator being caught were extremely high.
But now with remote hiring and exclusively working from home, the number of interpersonal interactions will drop, and with it, so will the chances of discovering an impersonator employee. Even though their cited references will still give a glowing recommendation, it is unlikely that the reference will know that they are really providing a recommendation covering a work history that has been assumed by an impersonator. As you hire more remotely located workers from around the world, it will become even more difficult to prove a new hire’s actual identity because checking references in many less-developed countries, where references speak different languages, is extremely problematic.
Yes, Unfortunately, It’s A Growing Practice
Now before you assume that this is a theoretical problem, realize that it has been a significant issue at Google for some time. Where previously (because they use hiring committees) it occurred periodically only during interviewing. However, now more recently with 100% remote hiring, it is also occurring among their new hires. Another high-profile case recently occurred in Australia. But realize that you won’t hear a great deal about this emerging phenomenon because most companies are embarrassed, they won’t reveal that it is happening to them. Also, few organizations purposely check for it, only a small percentage of candidates/employee impersonators are ever actually caught.
Possible Ways For Minimizing Candidate/Employee Impersonation
Like most identity theft, it takes a data-driven planned effort to identify the employment cases where your organization is being defrauded. Unfortunately, there is currently no foolproof single easy solution. I recommend you start reducing its occurrence by assuming that it is happening to you and that you simply don’t know about it. Your next step should be to work closely with your professional reference checking and credit agencies to find the most effective approaches for your situation. Start by considering these un-cloaking actions.
- Warn applicants upfront. Start by preempting some likely fraud. By educating applicants and especially candidates that are invited to interview that you have processes for identifying candidate impersonators. Also, let them know that you will prosecute all discovered employment fraud.
- Alert your hiring team. Be sure and educate your hiring team. Make them aware that applicants with major flaws or lower qualifications may be fraudulently impersonating a candidate. If an applicant appears to be “too good to be true” for your job and company, it’s okay to assume the worst and heighten your screening effort.
- Use references to help verify. Consider asking a candidate’s references if they knew that the person was actively looking, and if they appear to be surprised, consider asking them to call the person to verify they have applied. Or give them your contact information for the candidate and ask them to verify that it matches theirs.
- Ask for a copy of official documents. During the reference checking process, ask each top candidate to send you a copy of official documents that are hard to duplicate or alter. Like passports, professional licenses, and, in some cases, their driver’s license.
- Crosscheck their picture. If their LinkedIn profile contains a picture, you can compare it with a picture taken from their remote interview. However, realize that they might have purposely chosen someone to impersonate that they resemble, like a relative. If the job requires a professional license, you may be able to find their picture in government files. If you do a social media reference check, you might also search for pictures that reveal the real person.
- Request a formal credit check. At least for finalists, ask your credit agency for a complete credit check. During the interview ask them about a particular event or previous address that only the real person would likely know about.
- Rely on employee referrals. If you require, as part of the referral process, that your employees thoroughly know the individual and their work, an employee referral will likely have a lower probability of being an identity fraud.
- Reserve the right to fingerprint. Every law enforcement person knows that the only real way to know if you have the right person is by using fingerprints. If the cost of a negligent or fraudulent hire is extremely high, reserve the right to require a fingerprint verification at a fingerprinting service in their location. Sometimes just the thought of having to provide fingerprints may be enough to scare most impersonators away. Or, even request a DNA test only for ID purposes (when it is legal) if you really need to know.
- Act on your experience weak interview or new-hire performance. If you are severely disappointed with the candidate’s interview responses and if you decide to proceed, assume the worst, and increase the rigor of your interviewing and reference checking. If you are disappointed with a new hire’s job performance, it may be wise to assume that there may have been identity fraud and do further checking.
Since this pandemic started, it has become common for leaders to state that “everything in HR has changed.” Well, now it’s time to add to that list of dramatic changes in candidate/employee identity fraud. Because with remote hiring and global working at home, it really has become much easier to pull off. And with skyrocketing unemployment and no significant punishment when they are caught, there are many more reasons for unscrupulous applicants to attempt it.
Author’s Note: Please pass this article on to your team and network if it stimulated your thinking and it provided actionable tips. Also, take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn or subscribe to his Aggressive Recruiting Newsletter.