With new ‘deepfake contractors’ on the rise thanks to AI, even the fraudulent WhatsApp job scam is now a bit yesterday

The WhatsApp job scam isn’t to be taken lightly but hiring fraud is getting even more sophisticated and organised. It’s now regularly affecting both engagers and work-seekers, including contractors. And it’s being driven by technology and, in some cases, organised criminal groups.

New guidance to combat hiring fraud is now available

Following a parliamentary session on January 28th, featuring MPs, the prime minister’s Anti-Fraud Champion Simon Fell MP, and the Better Hiring Institute (of which I am chair), the UK’s first guide and toolkit on hiring fraud has been collaboratively produced, writes Keith Rosser, director of Reed Screening.

As the guide’s additional authors, Reed Screening and UK fraud experts Cifas will tell you, this first-of-its-kind guidance underlines the need for both engagers and contractors alike to be on guard against the now numerous hiring fraud threats.

Destination industries for contractors aren’t immune to hiring fraud

Financial Services and Healthcare are two industries being especially targeted by hiring fraud.

The rise of so-called Reference Houses as ‘fronts’ offering fake references at a large scale for thousands of work-seekers, are a visible example in both sectors of just how organised hiring fraud has become.

For the right price, these Reference Houses will even take calls from would-be (bonafide) employers to validate the fake reference over the phone.

I’m pleased to say Reed has developed digital solutions to red-flag suspected Reference Houses, and this has led to dozens of ‘red flags’ popping up each week. The actual number of such houses in operation will be far greater. One thing for contractors to factor in  -- as employers become more aware of these rogue reference providers, they will increasingly turn to digital solutions to help validate their temporary and contract resources.

Hiring fraud transcends these two destination industries for contractors, of course, and is now affecting most key industries in the UK. And that includes small scale ‘fraud’ such as lying on a CV, which is now actually being scaled up by technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Generally speaking, digital risks are growing since the launch of digital hiring (i.e. remote hiring done online). This, coupled with new technology, is presenting new risks such as deepfakes, in addition to false qualifications on CVs (directly and indirectly running at a rate of one in five candidates).

AI usage/abusage

AI brings many potential benefits to business in speed, efficiency, scale improvements but it is open to abuse too, and on a large scale.

Criminals are now using AI to produce thousands of fake identity and right-to-work documents for sale to individuals who need them because they cannot secure them legitimately.

AI brings many potential benefits to work-seekers too, helping to shape and improve CVs and job applications. However, AI is now being abused to create fictitious CVs and job applications at scale. It’s also being used to answer competency-based questions in technical interview tests; it’s even being utilised by some in virtual interviews conducted online.

Related, there is a growing risk that AI will start making decisions on the suitability of job candidates. This is a real concern for many. The BHI is working with MPs, Lord Holmes, academics, and industry to devise best-practice principles for the use of AI in hiring to counter the risk of bias. Many contractors will start being assessed for suitability by AI tools, if that hasn’t already happened. 

In fact, the FCA and BoE late last year found that the number of UK financial services firms using Machine Learning is rising, with 72% reporting that they either use or develop ML applications.

Deepfake contractors and fake jobs

A step on from the AI-designed fake identity and right-to-work documents is the use of technology to create deepfakes, in the form of contractors and job applicants created by criminal groups, with the sole purpose of inserting these 'people' into organisations for the purpose of doing harm.

Sadly for contractors, the ‘old’ job scam facilitated by WhatsApp (which I referred to at the top), whereby fraudsters offer jobs or training courses which in both cases don’t exist, continues apace. Like much of what I’ve outlined here, it is being dramatically scaled up by technology.

But fake jobs and deepfake candidates are often linked. Many fraudsters start by posting fake job adverts to get real information on people.

They then use this to create their fake identity which, using AI, can be surprisingly simple.

Public applications such as GitHub make altering voice relatively straightforward and technology is readily available to create a fake persona, crafting a fake face onto the fraudster's real one.

And it needn't be perfect to convince the unsuspecting. In fact, even slight glitches can be explained away and put down to internet connections during virtual interviews.

The danger here is potentially severe -- letting a deepfake contractor on a WFH/remote contract access a client-organisation and its network means access to proprietary information, sensitive data, as well as the opportunity to exploit security weaknesses. A deepfake candidate can take a company down from the inside, or even divert company funds if the remote role is senior enough or finance-related.

In such a short space of time, the changes to hiring and the advance of technology have created new, and serious problems for companies. 

But sorry contractors -- your rival for the next contract you go forward for being a deepfake contractor isn't the only thing we all need to watch out for on the hiring fraud front!

Top 4 tips to survive AI-powered hiring fraud, and hiring fraud defences

There are so many hiring fraud threats for professionals seeking temporary opportunities to be aware of.

Here’s my top four survival tips for contractors moving roles in 2024-25:

  1. Decide how to use AI (if at all) with your any application you make and be honest if using it.
  2. As employers improve their defences, avoid those CV ‘white’ lies.
  3. Fake jobs and fake recruiters continue to plague job-seekers -- be alert and report any concerns here.  
  4. Ask engagers/agencies about their hiring process so you know what's involved. Does it involve AI? How does it involve AI? What options are there to prove your identity? Is the hiring process digital or only face-to-face? 

Final thought

One final concern. There is a risk that employers begin to row back from digital and remote hiring -- which has done so much good for contractors -- because of the risks, threats and exploitative activities it can be used for. The new ways of hiring have driven a revolution in the flexibility of finding and doing work; so it would be damaging for this progress to be affected. It’s essential engagers build defences that ensure remote hiring can continue but in a safe way. This is my aim on behalf of the BHI -- to make UK hiring faster, fairer, and safer. UK hiring can continue to get faster and more digital, but as that happens it is essential it becomes safer in the face of new and developing threats.

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Written by Keith Rosser

Keith Rosser is a labour market expert with almost 20 years working in hiring. Currently a Group Director at Reed, the UK's largest family-owned recruitment business, and Chair of 2 joint UK government and industry bodies: the Better Hiring Institute and JobsAware.
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