A ‘Very Credible’ Candidate: This Recruiting Scam Is Underway Now

“Victoria Jones,” head of leadership consulting at Exec Search Pros Inc., emailed yours truly on Oct. 29 about a client that had “retained us to fill various senior-level positions in one of their recent acquisitions. I was referred to you by an outside talent sourcing firm and based on your previous experience I think you are a very credible candidate.”

Résumé sent! What’s next? 

Nov. 1: “I have forwarded your resume to Mr. Brad Wilson who is leading this project. You will hear from him shortly for an interview call.”

If this interaction follows a previously experienced pattern, it will turn out that Jones and Wilson are not just flatterers — they’re scammers. 

Dec. 9, 2020, email from “Chris Kelly,” senior executive recruiter from SE Recruitment Agency: “Our client has retained us to fill various senior-level positions in one of their recent acquisitions. I was referred to you by an outside talent sourcing firm and based on your previous experience I think you are a very credible candidate.”

Résumé sent.

Dec. 10, 2020, email from “Russell Smith” of SE Recruitment Agency: “We are having trouble uploading your resume to our candidate management system. Have you ever had issues with your resume before? There may be an issue with the file, can you please send me another copy so I can try again. You have a professionally written resume. I am not sure what the issue is.”

Résumé sent again … some other back-and-forth … and then:

Dec. 11, 2020, email: “We are still having the same issue with your resume; even I converted and tried both PDF and Word versions. It is a common ATS compatibility issue. I asked my colleague, and he instructed me to ask you to check your resume through layered-designs.com and see if you can identify and fix the problem. They provide a free resume review if you email them directly. However, for expedite[d] service, they charge a small fee of $5 on their website. I recommend the free service. We can open the file without any issues. Still, the problem is with the way information in your resume is structured and the formatting used, resulting in a lot of missing data in your resume’s experience fields when the candidate management systems parse your resume. Please try fixing the issue so that we get the correct data in our candidate tracking system. Similarly, reviewing this now will also help you with future submissions.”

ATS means applicant tracking system, a common layer in the job hunting process that many candidates see as a barrier.

The aforementioned email communications and their seemingly plausible details are familiar to Techlicious. According to its 2019 article, the nominal fee charged by résumé review services would be only the beginning. “They will tell you why your résumé needs to be redesigned to work with company applicant tracking systems and show off your skills, which they will be happy to do for an extra $150 and up,” according to the tech site. “If you go for the résumé service (or choose to opt out), the recruiter will then sadly inform you that the job you were supposedly in line for has fallen through.” 

Another variation of the scam has candidates paying upwards of $2,500 for job placement to land a purported job interview, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

“While many staffing agencies, temporary agencies, headhunters and other placement firms are legitimate, others lie about what they will do for you, promote outdated or fake job openings and charge fees for so-called services,” according to a December 2020 FTC guide to employment scams. “Legitimate placement firms do not typically charge a fee. Instead, the hiring company pays them a fee to find qualified candidates. If a placement firm asks you for a fee, walk away. You could be dealing with a scam.”

Image: Laila Milevski/ProPublica with illustration elements from Cath Virginia, special to ProPublica

In April, the Federal Bureau of Investigations warned that scammers may be after more than money: “Fake job or employment scams occur when criminal actors deceive victims into believing they have a job or a potential job. Criminals leverage their position as ‘employers’ to persuade victims to provide them with personally identifiable information (PII), become unwitting money mules or to send them money.

“Fake job scams have existed for a long time but technology has made this scam easier and more lucrative,” the FBI wrote. “Cyber criminals now pose as legitimate employers by spoofing company websites and posting fake job openings on popular online job boards. They conduct false interviews with unsuspecting applicant victims, then request PII and/or money from these individuals. The PII can be used for any number of nefarious purposes, including taking over the victims’ accounts, opening new financial accounts or using the victims’ identity for another deception scam (such as obtaining fake driver’s licenses or passports).”

In 2020, the FBI logged reports of employment scams from more than 16,000 victims. They suffered damage to their credit scores and losses of more than $59 million.

Preying on vulnerable job seekers, such “cyber criminals” may request the same information as legitimate employers do, “making it difficult to identify a hiring scam until it is too late,” according to the FBI. Its red flags included virtual interviews set up using non-company email domains; requests that candidates pay for background checks or start-up equipment from the company or its recommended vendors; and job listings that appear on job boards but not real company websites.

Tips include never sending money, credit card or bank info to someone met online and never sharing Social Security numbers or other PII with someone who doesn’t need the info. Candidates also should scrutinize the websites of hiring companies; scammers are adept at making sites look legitimate without actually representing the possibly real companies they say they do.

Within a few days last December, Smith confirmed that the job opportunity had fallen through because “the deal fell apart.” Wilson and Jones had not responded as of this week and their website, execsearchpros.com, continued producing a connection timeout, as it had for weeks. 

Evidently your author’s candidacy is actually rather incredible.


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Jay Campbell

Author: Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell in 2004 created travel business newsletter The Beat, in 2006 co-founded Travel Procurement magazine and in 2010 integrated them with Business Travel News. He served as editorial director until 2013. Jay made his travel industry media debut in 1993 at the Air Travel Journal of Boston while earning his undergraduate degree in journalism at Boston University.
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