How iSolved developed a way to ferret out fake applicants

Hint, hint: Get consent for background checks upfront.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

As an employer of roughly 2,400 people across multiple states, the HR platform iSolved screens scores of applicants on a daily basis. And almost every week, one of those applicants is fake, Amy Mosher, the company’s chief people officer, explained to HR Brew.

Fraudulent candidates can employ a multitude of tactics, with varying degrees of technological sophistication. While fake job listings target the job candidate with the aim of stealing money or obtaining sensitive, personal information, fake candidates target employers. The most common ploy in Mosher’s experience, is a “no call, no show,” which involves a new hire failing to clock in, but still quoting a company for billable hours.

“They’ll be terminated after three or five days, but you already have their bank details. And from an employment perspective, you better pay them,” she said, as some states require workers to be paid even if they fail to show up. California, for example, allows the absentee worker to collect payment if the circumstances for the absence meet a certain threshold.

Mosher explained how her company saw a rise in fake applicants during the pandemic as workforces migrated to remote setups. Initially, the uptick caught her and her team off guard, but through collaboration with iSolved’s IT department and some refining of its remote recruiting process and ATS, the company established a protocol that she said ferrets out bad actors with regularity.

“I haven’t had anything come through that really got us at all, in the last three years,” she said.

How does the fake applicant scam work? There is a wide breadth of methods, with certain scammers going as far as to employ deepfake technology, the FBI warned last year. Deepfakes, which create a digitally altered version of a person, can be prone to snafus, the agency said in its warning. A.J. Nash, VP and distinguished fellow of security at the cybersecurity firm ZeroFox, told HR Brew that companies should acquaint themselves with techniques that tend to be more subtle. Candidates “may well have a presence somewhere on the internet,” he said. If a candidate’s social media profile looks different from the person you interviewed, you could be falling prey to a scam, he added.

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Some of the clues might seem farcical, or pulled from a whimsical sitcom: Like when someone offscreen answers questions that are lip-synced by the applicant, or when someone is hired and a completely different person shows up for the job. When it comes to objectives, fake applicants may seek to perpetrate a modest swindling, or they could, in more extreme cases, try to access intellectual property, Nash claimed. “It could be business intelligence, it could be technology, it could be straight IP and development. There’s a real opportunity there, which can be incredibly profitable.”

In Mosher’s experience, fraudulent applicants will often decline to be interviewed on video. When this occurs, an iSolved recruiter either takes a phone call or provides free software to “allow them to send relevant information and potentially use the camera on their laptops.”

Background checks in the front. Conferring with her IT department, Mosher determined that an easy way to weed out bad actors was by refining their internal ATS, which the company developed. “We were able to put best practice questions in for every candidate ahead of time so we can get their information. Is their mailing address different from their…physical address? If you work from home, what state do you work in? If you’re working from the office, what state?”

Asking for candidate permission to conduct a background check at the initial stages of the interview process, rather than in the later stages, has also proven vital, she claimed. Knowing that a background check is forthcoming means fraudsters might pull out, she said. “We’ve seen a significant drop, because they know that you’re going to go through a diligence process.”

Mosher said that other companies with less robust IT protocols might not be as lucky as iSolved. “Those are the companies that if they’re hiring at a high scale, if they’re in growth mode, [they] are really susceptible.”

Still, uncertainty lingers over how to entirely snuff out bad actors. “I wouldn’t say there’s a really great answer to this question,” Nash said

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