Any good company will tell you that it loses business sometimes, to unscrupulous competitors who make promises to customers that they can’t keep, and who will quote artificially low prices to win business. The honest company loses money immediately, but it takes time for the naive customer to realize that the promised product at the lower price is of inferior quality; that customer support is non-existent; or that the vendor is just an outright fraud.

The customer gets hurt, and the honest vendor loses business.

It’s no different in the world of job hunting and hiring. While I believe people are generally honest, we’re kidding ourselves if we pretend that liars and cheats don’t steal jobs from honest job applicants.

We all know what the problem is: A troubled economy, employers that are hesitant to hire, and databases full of millions of resumes that employers pore over to find job candidates for you to compete against. It all lends itself to dishonest business.

So, you apply for a job, and you lose it to someone whose credentials are more stellar than yours. Or are they?

Liars, cheats & dirtbags

Employers today use sophisticated methods to check references, right? Quite a bit of the time, that’s wrong.

Many companies don’t check references at all, or they do only a cursory check. Worse, they outsource reference checking to naive “investigators” that are in too much of a hurry to do a good job.

Even when the human resources (HR) department does the checking, fabricated backgrounds and credentials can fool anyone but a savvy hiring manager who knows what questions to ask about a candidate’s work skills.

Just as you can buy a professionally-written resume (Is that a lie by itself, because you didn’t produce it?), you can buy fake college degrees and credentials. And now, with the help of a new kind of dirtbag “service,” liars and cheats can fake their entire background and their references. That’s who you’re competing against.

watchIsn’t that illegal?

But who would fake their entire background if it could get them tossed into jail?

Q) Is all of this legal?
A) YES! Perfectly Legal. Misinformation on a resume isn’t a crime!

So says, which will fake everything you need to convince an employer to hire you. Once you pay the fee, this fraud engine will create an entire fake record, including:

  • Fake companies you’ve “worked for,” complete with fake physical address and letterhead.
  • Fake employee bio including your actual photo on a complex and impressive, but fake, company website.
  • Fake HR managers who, when called for employment verification, will “make sure to use the FIVE HIRING BUZZ WORDS used among Human Resource Professionals” to make you look good.
  • Fake schools, including phone numbers and school websites for fraudulent verifications.
  • Fake phone numbers and voicemail boxes, answered by fakes (“Just like the REAL thing”).
  • Fake educational certificates, seminars, and training.
  • Fake resumes, dates of employment, and salary history.
  • Fake references (“We say… Whatever YOU tell us to say.”)

Is this really legal? I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t give out legal advice, but it seems that unless you’re lying to a legal authority or on a certification or contract, misinformation is “little more” than a blot on your integrity and reputation. says:

Q) What if I get caught?
A) With all things, there are risks. If the deception is discovered, you could very well be terminated; evicted or suffer embarrassment and humiliation.

In a MediaBistro interview, TheReferenceStore’s operations manager, David Everett, tells of a customer who paid the fraudster company “to build out a fake broadcast journalism career path. The new resume showed him growing in the business all the way to executive producer for a large radio station in the Great Lakes area.”

“‘We built two separate fake radio stations and one fake TV station,’ Everett explains, ‘where he claimed to have worked as an intern, writer, associate producer, and producer. We wrote a beautiful resume to correspond with the virtual history we created.'”

How does Everett sleep at night? Probably with hundred dollar bills wadded under his pillow. Beneath an image of a man praying, the website’s contact page playfully says, “Closed Sunday. And Brother??? We need it.”

Avoid liars & cheats

How do you compete with liars and cheats that use services like this?

Avoid hiring channels that expose employers to fraud.
Don’t apply via job boards or through blind resumes to the HR department, which might be suckered by candidates that supply convincing misinformation. When you get in the door through personal contacts who vouch for you, much of your competition disappears, because you’re the candidate with the proverbial inside track.

Of course, a job candidate who pays for a fraudulent history cannot claim to be from a major company — it would be too easy to check. But an HR manager may not realize that a reference call to a former boss’s home is actually being answered by David Everett. (“Just like the REAL thing.”)

Educate the employer.
How can you avoid being compared to people with glowing but fake credentials? Take along a copy of this newsletter, and offer to show the employer — right there on her own computer — how the fraud works. Ask the employer, “Do all your candidates demonstrate that they can do the job? I’m ready to do that.” (While How Can I Change Careers? is written for career changers, it’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the interview by showing they can actually do the job.)

If you feel you’ve got to join ’em because you can’t beat ’em, consider that Lies, lies, all lies just aren’t worth living with.

Well, now… isn’t this all a tad sensationalized and unreal? What if the employer Googles a fake employer or turns to higher-level verifications, like the state department of commerce where a fake company is supposedly located? Certainly, the fraud will be exposed. But not all the time. And not by all investigators. Many employers outsource their reference checking clerks who look only where they’re told to look. Then you lose. And the gamble pays off.

Employers: Get smart

What can employers do to protect themselves?

Limit the bureaucracy.
Employers should stop relying heavily on indirect candidate assessment methods like resumes, job application forms, and credit and background checks. Those are the security holes that dirtbags like TheReferenceStore are good at exploiting. They can fabricate references, but they can’t influence people you know and trust.

Recruit through personal contacts.
Have department managers talk to applicants before you put them through the mindless meat grinder. A savvy manager will spot a fraud that a greenhorn personnel jockey might not. The more personal the contact that brought the candidate through the door, the less likely the credentials are fake.

Use the legal means at your disposal.
When you recruit people that you found through personal sources you trust, the last thing you want to do is “process” them before they meet or talk with a hiring manager. But when you get to the point of filling out an application form, make sure it has teeth. Candidates should sign a statement attesting to the truth of everything on it. Don’t make it onerous, but make it a legal document. Explain to the applicant that the company does not tolerate lying or cheating: “That’s to your advantage. We try to make sure you’re competing with other honest applicants.”

Then, fire liars and publicize the fact that you do.

Playing the odds that HR is lazy

TheReferenceStore posts extensive disclaimers to protect itself legally, and makes it clear that you could get fired (and worse) by using its services. So, why do people use it? Because odds are, the next candidate a company interviews is honest. And the odds are against your having to compete with a liar or a cheat when you’re looking for a job.

That’s what TheReferenceStore counts on: Its lying, scum-sucking customers are rarities in the job market. No one is expecting them. Those customers are betting that no one will carefully check all those thousands of unknown applicants that employers process every day. Someone will slip through. To liars and cheats, those are acceptable odds. Remember: We’re not talking about people with integrity here.

But TheReferenceStore bets that employers are playing the odds, too. That’s the critical assumption in its business plan. TheReferenceStore knows that employers — rather than going out and recruiting the people they really want through sources they know and trust — will use job boards and unknown, indirect sources of candidates, because it’s easier. That’s why TheReferenceStore is in business: to capitalize on lazy gamblers on both sides of the hiring desk.

That’s how companies unwittingly hire liars and cheats, and it’s how you get cheated out of job offers.


You were the best candidate. But the other guy cheated, lied, and faked his way into a job offer. You probably didn’t even know it.

Or, your company finds its candidates on job boards and outsources reference checking because HR is just too busy handling all those thousands of applicants coming through the pipeline. Do you know who your employees really are?

Dirtbag companies that sell fraudulent identities count on you to keep moving right along after you get screwed. How do you protect yourself from cheats and liars? Have you encountered cheats? Has your company caught one — especially one that used a service like the one described here? What did you do about it?


  1. So now I guess a Talx verification isn’t such a bad thing? Can a place like TheReferenceStore report actual income earned and fake a W2 earnings statement. Of course not. Are companies that lazy that they don’t suspect when someone graduates from a fake school like Sequoia University.

  2. As long as companies who know better write job descriptions with surgical precision, and expect Jesus Christ to come in and walk on water form $20 an hour … how can they expect anything except like treatment from job hunters? All the liars, cheats and cut raters can just go there,and the quality candidates should go to quality companies.

    I for one prefer to work with quality people at a quality establishment.

  3. This is Market Capitalism at it’s finest. I think that this “service” would work well for those pursing financial and business positions where BS is the coin of the realm. In that case, the Reference Store is far more ethical than the too big to fail banks that we bailed out. Maybe, the “liars and cheats” who buy their services would be a step up from the current management at these companies.
    Sorry for the rant, but I’m a little edgy today.

  4. Candidates should take Nick’s advice about not sending credentials to blind PO Boxes or posting them on shady online job boards. People out there will harvest your work history and someone else will walk in the door with pieces of your resume as their calling card.

  5. I guess I am naive. I had no idea this existed. It would never occur to me to use this kind of “service.” But, there are desperate folks who want/need a job and will go to these lengths to get one. I have a friend who works in HR and plan to share this information with her.

  6. Nick said: “TheReferenceStore knows that employers — rather than going out and recruiting the people they really want through sources they know and trust — will use job boards and unknown, indirect sources of candidates, because it’s easier.”

    “To make one hire, recruiters wade through more than six times as many applications from job boards than they do from their own websites, according to an analysis of hiring data by Jobs2web Inc…

    Companies look through about 219 applications per job from job seekers who discovered the posting on a major board, compared with 33 applications per hire from job hunters who find the job on the company’s own career site.”

    Source: Wall St. Journal, 5 April 2011.

  7. Great article. A part of me agrees with L.T. As long as companies use automated tools that zero in on “Resume SEO” then there will be fraudulent operations and applicants with ethical flexibility.

    The hiring process is broken that much is certain. This could be one of the main reasons that many companies are turning toward “try before you buy” contract employees. If you are a fraud, it will probably come out in the wash after six months of contract work.

  8. C’mon the response to finding out that people lie isn’t to blame the nasty employers who don’t hire you.

  9. @Lucille,
    Yes, the scammers employing these dishonest tactics are at fault. However, I also agree with LT. Employers make job requirements too specific, to the point that they will not consider combinations of education / experience, but consider each of these separately. So a MS with 10 yrs of experience is not considered equal to a PhD with 5 yrs of experience, and vice versa. It gets way more nitpicky than that! I know of someone who sold chemistry accessories for a certain piece of equipment, but was considered unqualified to sell chemistry accessories for a different, but similar, piece of equipment. The person used both in school and prior employment. The hiring manager only wanted to hire a person who sold EXACTLY the same thing! Oh, and they do want us to work for peanuts, or no benefits, though they sure don’t. I know several people who are getting multiple offers for way lower than what they worked for before. These are people with great credentials and glowing references from executives, former managers and industry connections, not lazy slouches. Long story short, I think that “nasty employers” (your words) do share some culpability. There is plenty of blame to go around. Fortunately, it is nearly impossible to outright fake being in the physical sciences, but some ethically-challenged people do inflate their credentials.

    Thanks to Nick for exposing this sleazy practice and shame on anyone who is using this “service!”

    • Years ago when I was a headhunter headhunter I saw an ad in the paper for someone with two years experience with Word 5.0 which just came out the preceding month. With job specifications so unrealistic no wonder you get weird applicants!

  10. These guys wouldn’t be in business if companies checked references very carefully. It’s like junk mail: The response rate may not be high, but the incoming desperate job hunters are probably innumerable.

    Consider that they likely have lots of customers that get busted. These slimeballs still get paid. See all the disclaimers.

  11. I think Erika hits the nail on the head. And I close with this idea in my column. Employers set themselves up for this. The more reductionist their recruiting strategy (keywords, keywords, keywords), the more susceptible they are.

    @Steve Amoia: Thanks for that link to that bastion of job boards, the WSJ itself. (See WSJ’s, which uses advertorials to get you to spend more time on the site’s job board…)

    “To make one hire, recruiters wade through more than six times as many applications from job boards than they do from their own websites.”

    Meanwhile, companies hire 1 out of every 10 candidates that come in through personal referrals.

    Yah, how stooopid do you thinks we iz?

    And employers wonder why job hunters are so pissed off?

  12. @Mike: “Resume SEO”

    Man, you da MAN! Wish I’d thought of that! Can I use it?? Good title for an article!

  13. You are more than welcome sir to use the term Resume SEO however you like :) Just Google that buzz-phrase and groan at all the experts who are going to pack your resume with keywords, “yet it will still be readable!”

    With all the smoke and mirrors that surround recruiting it all falls back to who you know. Unfortunately, a lot of people are terrible with developing and nurturing a network of contacts. So they have to rely on job boards to hopefully get in front of the right people. It’s not like I’m not guilty of this too.

  14. You know, this will sound silly but I wouldn’t even have imagined this was possible. Maybe it was my honest approach to job hunting. Seriously. I had heard of being able to buy your degrees, but that was it.

    Funny thing is that the last two companies that attempted to get information from previous employers got no information other than I had worked for them unless the person calling had my SS#.(which no one has unless I am hired) No one has called any of my personal references that I know of.

    I guess that I will have to change my strategy.

  15. Dear Nick,
    Thanks for pointing out this scam.

    However, I think it would be relatively easy to compete against a scammer during the interview process.

    I’d bring my portfolio of coding examples, ask for business problems to solve and my best to prove I can do the job.

    I imagine that the scammer would make it easier for me to impress the boss.

  16. @Lucille: Individual motivation can beat all. Especially scammers.

    @Mike Meikle: Thanks! One of the nicest compliments I ever got was from a reader named Ray Stoddard.

    Ray wrote to me: “The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

    Enjoy any edge you can get!

  17. Re nitpicking job specs: A major international company’s job posting was literally impossible to meet. They wanting 10-15 years of full-time, in-depth experience in about a dozen fields, some of which were hardly that old. One might have mastered one or even two of their desired skillsets, but no could have mastered them all. They searched for 18 months before hiring me and I had and unusually broad and long experience in my field. I suspect they did this to thin down the applicant pool, but also to justify saying NO if they wanted to discriminate on non-professional grounds. The hiring manager was also sharp enough to know the job specs were BS, so if any resume came across his desk claiming to fill them, he knew it was bogus.

    Problem with most companies is the hiring manager is seldom in the loop soon enough and HR doesn’t know how to detect the fakery or just doesn’t care. If a manager interviews and can’t detect the fake, I would question the manager’s competence. The honest prospects might consider themselves lucky not to work for a manager that incompetent.

  18. @RayS: Thanks for demonstrating why employers can take forever (18 months??) to make a hiring decision. Your assessment about why they include the kitchen sink in the job spec is pretty reasonable. But your story really reveals the larger problem: HR should not be involved in recruiting or candidate selection. The manager should handle it.

  19. I suppose this is the logical culmination of the ever increasing job requirement inflation (quickly followed by resume inflation) that has been going on for almost 30 years. I remember reading in the 80s and 90s many articles about resume embellishment. Recent ones quote pretty big percentages. Yet there was never any consideration as to why this was happening, other than to imply some sort of creeping shysterism was inexplicably overtaking job applicants. No thought this could be a reaction to increasingly elevating and impenetrable job requirements that no real person could ever met, which has now reached truly absurd levels.

    Of course, cheating is never right, but who really started this mess? (Hint: not employees.)

  20. Your article smacks of elitism. Its so very easy to take the Moral High Ground! I have NO doubt that you, yourself weren’t completely and totally honest when YOU were out of a job. I think its Brilliant!Finally! Something to level the playing field. Maybe they can help get those Un-employment numbers down; and turn those people back into TAX-PAYERS! After thinking about it, there seems to be very little risk of being caught. Not to mention, The Reference Store isn’t BREAKING ANY LAWS! To make a case for fraud, you have to prove a LEGAL INJURY! Everyone lies about something on their resume. Without exception. Even if it is just a little. (A lie by omission, is still a lie). Its amazing how people take the moral high ground on something as important as “Finding a Job and feeding your family” yet, say nothing about “Marital infidelity” or pass a homeless person without lifting a finger.