The Job Applicant Scammed You: You Let It Happen


We recently hired a manager who turned out to be a disaster. He fooled all three of us when he interviewed; he said all the right things. Once hired, he didn’t produce, and worse, got us embroiled in a sexual harassment claim in his first month.

Based on his interview and four glowing letters of reference and because we needed someone right away, we didn’t call any of the references or his current employer. Several of us knew her, but he said she’d only furloughed him because of COVID, and if called her and then didn’t hire him, she might hold his job search against him.

Once we decided to hire him, we thought “what the heck,” why call her, we’ve already decided. He seemed like a dream candidate and we wanted to move forward before someone else snapped him up.

When we got the claim, we put him on administrative leave and hired an investigator who called his references. His most recent manager said, “It wasn’t a furlough, it was a termination.” Two of the references hadn’t written the letters we relied on. One said he’d written a phony positive letter to avoid future problems. The investigator hasn’t been able to track the fourth down and suspected the employer doesn’t exist.

We wasted a lot of money. Is there any way we can get any part of it back?


You learned a lesson

Consider it an educational expense. Your recent hire taught you to never skip reference calls again.

Fake references

Reference letters serve as a starting, not an ending, point. Some represent the truth; others slant reality; others are complete fiction. Job seekers with access to company stationary can write and sign their own letters.

Supervisors swamped for time often give departing employees permission to write their own letters, saying, “Write what you want, and I’ll sign it.” They then feel obligated to sign letters that overstate reality. Reference letters may come from a conflict averse supervisor who wants to placate a departing employee or an employer that fears a wrongful-termination suit.

Getting to the truth

You won’t know what’s true until you call listed references. You can also call supervisory references not provided you by the applicant. In this Internet era, you can locate former supervisors even if they’ve moved on or the company has dissolved. While we urge our clients to conduct background checks to uncover criminal and civil legal problems and phony educational histories, background checks don’t replace reference calls.

Resume fraud

You and other employers also need to know about companies such as, one of several Internet sites offering fake work histories and references. These services provide job applicants with fake references from live receptionists.

Applicants using can develop a fake yet validated resume with prompts such as “choose your career history”; “pick your start and end date”; “get rid of a three-year resume gap”, and “choose your salary.”

CareerExcuse’s home page offers job seekers they “act as either your current or previous employer to provide you with 100% verifiable references.” The site brags they provide applicants “a real company with an actual address and a real 800 number” with “operators standing by” to field prospective employer calls. claims “bankrupt companies make a great previous employer,” and offers that they have “dozens of bankrupt companies…ready to provide any inquirer your desired reference information.” 

Protecting yourself

What protects you? Make the calls yourself. Ask searching questions. The good news about Their operators give glib answers that you can see through—if you make the calls.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, and “Solutions”, (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Send your questions to her at, visit her @ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

3 thoughts on “The Job Applicant Scammed You: You Let It Happen

  1. Great insights and recommendations for practical action. As this case shows, haste makes waste and then wastes time and costs money from the troubles you’ve gotten yourself into. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m suspicious as a default reaction to all reference letters a job candidate proffers. I’ve seen cases where the applicant wrote them all him- or herself, including one where they were all written in the same type font on the same logo-stationary. The font was a little unusual, so it caught my attention right away. They were also from prominent people that a skeptic might wonder how the applicant knew them. The person in this case was eventually persuaded to resign–the employer was exceptionally lucky, eh?

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