Use MS Teams, or work in DevOps? Careful you’re not accused of working the imposter candidate scam
Forget fake agents, trying to fleece you by masquerading as household agencies on WhatsApp! In my 26 years of tech recruitment, the most desperate and deceitful scam -- which is massively on the rise, concerns fake candidates. Or more accurately, it concerns ‘imposter candidates,’ writes Matt Collingwood, boss of IT recruitment agency VIQU.
Imposter candidate scam: traits and growth
Before I reveal the imposter candidate scam’s modus operandi, here’s three indicators of how common it is right now -- yet first, two criteria which, if applicable to you, means you must read on to the end as they mean your client is more susceptible, and you closer to being affected:
- Your end-client uses MS Teams or other video calling software to conduct ‘technical interviews’ with candidates, and;
- Your end-client takes on full-timers and contractors specialising in DevOps.
What I’m about to disclose – the imposter candidate scam – is so rife that:
- Our agency now informs ALL new contractor candidates of our processes from the outset, so EVERY new sign-up knows right off the bat that the scam won’t work, or that they will get found out.
- The scam very recently happened to our agency for the THIRD time, with the two prior ruses being within the LAST YEAR.
- It affected our two newest recruiters but in addition, BOTH recruiters said it happened at their previous employers too!
A new era of fraudulent interviewees (and they’re more brazen than ever)
The starting point of the imposter scam is, for me anyway, to acknowledged that the landscape of the UK’s tech staff market has undergone a transformation, presenting quite marked challenges for some IT contractors compared to the contracting heydays of yesteryear.
And it in these comparatively more trying times that some ‘contractors’ are resorting to desperate measures in their quest to secure work. But this short-sighted, fraudulent ruse -- the imposter candidate scam -- has potentially severe repercussions on the reputations of all contractors, especially the two ‘contractors’ peddling the scam. It has a detrimental effect on clients and recruiters. too.
Here's how the imposter candidate scam works.
- The (genuine and unwitting) agency receives a seemingly genuine contractor CV.
- The agency qualifies the contractor/candidate's suitability for the assignment/role.
- The agency puts the contractor/candidate forward to the client and, in so doing, sets up a technical video interview. Please note, DevOps in all the scams we were targeted by.
- The candidate who appears on the screen (Candidate 1), sails through the interview and completes all the tests with aplomb.
- Making the grade, Candidate 1 is offered the assignment/ role.
- On the first day of the new assignment/role -- when they are due to attend the end-client workplace, it isn’t Candidate 1 who arrives; it’s a completely different person (Candidate 2).
- Candidate 2, untested and unvetted, is loose in the client workplace, hopes to never be detected, and continues on in place of Candidate 1 -- who is never seen or heard from again.
Most ContractorUK readers will have never heard of this scam. And I’m thankful for that. But I’m bringing it to the attention of contractors because there is clearly a tiny but growing pool of wannabe techies (who may very well be wannabe financial fraudsters too), soliciting the assistance of other, more skilled, impressive, and better-rehearsed IT professionals -- for the purpose of impersonating them in interviews and successfully securing work.
Old dogs, new tricks
This scam is not entirely new. Older variants from the past involved phone interviews or online tech-skill assessments where seeing the candidate wasn’t required. Now, a small minority of workers have the audacity to allow someone else to assume their identity during a face-to-face interview on MS Teams (which was the video-phone software which the scammer duo used in all three scams which tried to dupe us). So both MS Teams and DevOps are the constants here.
Our first brush with the imposter candidate scam was when we were recruiting a DevOps Engineer for a national retailer. And it was actually the client-manager who blew the whistle!
How it went down with Zak, Bill and Ben
Let’s call the candidate ‘Zak’. Our recruiter had performed a phone interview with Zak, and then arranged for the technical test-interview with the client. Zak impressed during this virtual face-to-face with the client.
Interestingly, the client’s stand-in manager ‘Bill’ conducted the interview on behalf of the usual client manager ‘Ben,’ who was on holiday.
Bill thought Zak was an excellent candidate, and recommended Ben hire him. Once back in the office, Ben hired Zak, but immediately noticed issues with Zak -- his skillset didn’t correlate to his CV, and his capabilities were a let-down compared with the the test-interview.
Ben grumbled to his employer; our client.
Bill was confused why Ben was unhappy. After all, Zak had come across excellently during the interview-test. Wanting to get to the bottom of it, Bill came down from head-office to visit the DevOps team, see Zak and broach his performance. Stunned before he got to his desk, Bill immediately noted that ‘Zak’ was a different person to the person he had interviewed.
It’s not normally the contractor’s ‘skills’ that raise the alarm
On this occasion, it was the contractor’s skillset that aroused suspicions. But on the other attempts to pull off the imposter candidate scam, it was Candidate 2 being visually different to Candidate 1 that raised the alarm!
And the consequences for the scammers are pretty stark. In the most recent attempt, the candidate had relocated for the role, and had been provided with a place to live by the employer through a relocation scheme. When his identity on day one didn’t match the successful interviewee, the job and home were immediately withdrawn.
Recruiters, take preventative actions
As a recruitment agency, we’ve taken serious steps to ensure our clients will not fall victim to these scammers again, and we would implore other agencies and businesses handling their own internal recruitment to do the same. I believe the key is to be upfront about the imposter candidate scam with every candidate.
Make clear you know about the imposter candidate scam and what steps your operation takes to prevent it being successful. If the ‘candidate’ before you intends to act deceitfully or fraudulently, you would hope you nodding to it would make them drop out of the process. In the five instances of this scam I know about in detail, every time the scammer was confronted, they just accepted they’d been caught rather than put up a fight.
- Ask for permission to take a photo of the candidate during their first MS Teams interview.
- Ask the end-client if they would like to record the entirety of each video test-interview.
- Ask the end-client if they would find beneficial the candidate visiting them in-person, with two forms of identification, prior to the candidate’s start day.
If you’re an able, skilled, and impressive contractor (a potential Candidate 2) who receives an approach from a wannabe techie or aspiring fraudster (a potential Candidate 1), don’t be tempted.
Names and identities of those involved are circulating within recruiter WhatsApp groups. And no doubt further of interest to legal eagles, contractors who fraudulently misrepresent themselves present a compelling case for damages and losses in the courts.
You might ask why I would share with you the fact that my recruitment agency has been targeted by the imposter candidate scam! My view is that only through the professional community, and sharing good and bad practices, can we learn and do better. When I posted details of the scam recently to LinkedIn, I received numerous comments and direct messages from businesses and recruiters, unfortunately detailing similar experiences.
I should add that although the clients were very understanding in all the attempted scams which we – and by extension they – were subjected to, not all end-users will necessarily be as sympathetic. There may well be cases where clients look to assign blame. This is understandable given the significant time invested in the hiring process. So agents and agencies could be in the firing line.
Lastly, my message to IT contractors…
To bonafide, skilled, and ethical IT contractors, I’d like to point out that you face a detrimental effect on your way of working and even your own professional offering when legitimate technical expertise like yours is overshadowed by fraudulent misrepresentations -- by individuals who say they’re qualified but aren’t.
The imposter candidate scam is so widespread that genuine contractors should probably wonder how many times they have lost out on a lucrative opportunity because they came second best to a scammer-duo.
Hopefully the vast, vast (vast!) majority of technologists, agents, and client-staff that agree with me that the UK tech industry should have no time or place for people who obtain work by getting others to sit their interviews, can come together to stamp out this practice. To that end, please feel free to share this article to raise awareness about this imposter candidate scam and help protect others from this growing threat.