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The Dangers of Fake Applicants

How businesses can protect themselves from deepfakes and other scams

Back Article Apr 10, 2024 By Mark Berry

This story is part of our April 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Many job applicants are growing savvy to the risks of job scams, which reach 14 million people each year, according to the Better Business Bureau, and mine sensitive information like one’s Social Security number. Fewer businesses are aware that they can be the target of job scams, too. For example, an unfamiliar face could show up on the first day of work, having hired someone else to complete their interview.

More troublingly, in 2022 the FBI issued a warning that more employers were reporting job applications from fake candidates scheming to steal data or hack the organization’s system. The most tech-savvy scammers can deploy deepfake technology to impersonate real people in interviews. Since then, fake applicants have only become more pressing of an issue. The goal of the scammer once they get the job is usually to steal data or install ransomware. Unfortunately, with the advancement of AI technology, fake applicant scams are unlikely to disappear overnight.

Businesses who want to understand how to identify and protect themselves from these scams should follow a few important guidelines.

Train recruiters to see red flags.

Many fake applicant scams for both high- and low-tech schemes target 100 percent remote jobs. To identify low-tech fake applicants, it is important to understand their motives are not always hacking or data theft. In fact, many fake applicants are pursuing the job for themselves, but they choose to misrepresent their background, skills and/or immigration status to get the job. Other times, a fake applicant may be posing for someone outside of the country who has promised to complete the work for them and split the salary.

To catch low-tech fake applicants, recruiters need to be trained in red flags that signal a candidate may not be presenting themselves truthfully. Ideally, a thorough background check will identify scammers, but the goal is to spot these people before then. Fake applicants may have a resume that is too perfect for the job. They may repeat the job description word-for-word, offer sparse details on their LinkedIn and send communications riddled with errors. While it is important for recruiters not to make assumptions, they need to watch out for suspicious signs and consult their team if they have doubts about a candidate’s legitimacy.

Watch out for deepfakes (convincing digital replacements of a person’s likeness).

Catching deepfake candidates is harder for the average recruiter, especially because the technology has evolved rapidly in a short timeframe. That means few Americans — recruiters included — are well-equipped to discern a deepfake clip of a political candidate from reality or even tell a fake applicant from a real person. Unfortunately, the signs of a deepfake applicant can be subtle. Often, the candidate seems “off” in an imperceptible way, like a disconnect between the movements of their mouth and their audio. The interviewer may also hear the candidate speak though their mouth does not move on screen. New resources like Northwestern University’s Detect Fakes platform also teach people to know the difference between AI-generated images and reality.

Check, check, and check again.

References and background checks are a critical part of the recruitment process, even if a role needs to be filled as soon as possible. When employers do not investigate the candidate’s work and education history, they become vulnerable to unscrupulous applicants who take advantage of their trust and misrepresent themselves. Most people are honest, but the cost of hiring a fake applicant can be extremely high, so employers must include background checks and ask for references in their hiring process.

Verifying a candidate’s identity by checking legal documents can also weed out deepfake candidates. If a candidate’s personal information is inconsistent, businesses need to investigate and confirm it was an innocent mistake. Another way to verify identity is to require at least one in-person interview. Once they are told of an in-person interview requirement, the scammer will likely self-select out of the process. Any money invested in flying candidates to meet key decision-makers could be well worth it if it successfully stops scammers in their tracks — and, as a bonus, ensures legitimate candidates are a strong culture fit.

Another method to identify fake applicants during a remote interview is to ask a number of open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” such as, “tell me about your most successful project completion and what your contribution was to make it successful.” This pairs well with the 80/20 rule, which, simply stated, is that the applicant should be doing 80 percent of the talking versus the interviewers’ 20 percent.

Scammers are growing increasingly clever, which means businesses need to learn the latest tricks, too. There is no guaranteed way to identify a fake applicant every time, but with enough safeguards in place, businesses can lower their risk of being successfully targeted.  

(Photo courtesy of Mark Berry)

Mark Berry is a senior human resources consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources offering the most comprehensive suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace. For more information about Insperity, call 800-465-3800 or visit www.insperity.com.

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