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| Identity and Documents Verification Checks
December 22 2022

Fraudulent References and Alibi Mills: Do You Know How to Spot a Fake?

Fraudulent references are quite literally a business — and a lucrative one at that.

Alice’s* reference was glowing. Her former employer even said they’d re-employ her given the chance. The hiring manager was more than satisfied with her interview performance. That and her reference were almost enough to seal the deal.

However, when HR passed Alice’s details to Verifile’s team for a final check, a different story came to light.

The HR Team had no recollection of Alice ever stepping through their doors. Plus, there was no record of her being paid for the work they’d (supposedly) so happily re-employ her for.

We discovered Alice’s referee was a PA at the business she’d noted as her previous employer. What’s more, the PA was her partner.

Stories like this are no surprise within the background screening industry. We’re already used to hearing about “degree mills” – entities that purport to be a genuine university offering “life experience” qualifications based on little or no real work.

Alibi Mills work in a similar way. After all, as the old adage goes, it is difficult to land that coveted first job without any prior experience. But how can you get the required experience without landing that first job?

Fraudulent references are quite literally a business — and a lucrative one at that.

Fresh-faced graduates are just one demographic alibi mills cater to.

People looking to make a career transition to an entirely new field, conceal time spent in prison, or gloss over an acrimonious departure from a previous workplace may also turn to these services.

Companies will outright fabricate whatever a paying customer requires. Some mills even act as HR departments on the other end of the phone to back up fake employment.

Those intending to deceive are good at what they do. As they become more sophisticated, it’s vital to remain vigilant. Simply accepting a candidate’s word at face value could be a costly mistake.

Imagine the damage that could be caused when someone who has fabricated their experience gets access to your systems, data, finances, and sensitive documentation.

Why use an identity and reference screening service?

Thoroughly verifying a candidate’s identity and references can be a time-consuming and complicated process unless you use a verification service.

As part of Verifile’s employment verification service, we adopt a rigorous approach to researching the employers a candidate claims to have worked for.

We scrutinize both the companies and referees to detect any abnormalities.

Our work, with contributions from some of our clients, has helped us compile a growing list of over 40 agencies suspected of providing fraudulent references.

7 tell-tale signs your candidate’s credentials are false

The main telltale signs of an alibi mill or hollow company come from its online presence. Look for the following anomalies when screening candidates:

  • Professionalism of the website — Some alibi mills’ websites can be an afterthought, simply built to digitally signpost their existence. Pay attention to the look and presentation of the website. How relevant is the content? Are there many grammar or spelling mistakes that could indicate the website was built in a hurry?

  • Company information — A genuine company has no qualms about providing phone numbers and physical locations. Are the company’s registration numbers and legal information visible?

  • Company registries — Check with Companies House for UK-registered companies. Are the details consistent with the company’s website (company number, addresses)? Equivalent registries worldwide can be found here.

  • Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions —These sections contain required legal information about data processing and control. Their absence is a red flag for the authenticity of the business.

  • View their offices — Google Maps and Street View can expose locations that do not fit with a company headquarters. Street View’s timestamped snapshots can verify the locations of smaller businesses that may no longer exist or have gone out of business.

  • Virtual addresses — Another potential cause for concern are physical addresses tied to Registered Office Addresses or services. While there are genuine reasons for multiple companies to be registered to one address, it’s worth checking this is a genuine business rather than a hollow company or alibi mill.

  • Online presence — Along with the company’s website check for other digital profiles. Social media profiles, online directories and job listing sites should be consistent. A company’s wider online presence, or lack thereof, can indicate foul play.

What to do if you suspect a referee is fake

We suggest requesting HMRC employment history documentation if you suspect a candidate’s credentials are not genuine. This can easily be obtained through the UK government’s employment history service. When employment is genuine, records appear in these documents. If not, further questions need to be asked.

Of course, even if a candidate can produce tax or governmental documentation to support their employment, there is no guarantee these documents are authentic. Most certifications and records can be forged with competent Photoshop skills.

We’ve seen candidates claim to have worked for these same suspected alibi mill companies time and again. No individual or sector is immune from fraudulent referencing.

One of our FinTech clients commented:

“Based on the findings from Verifile indicating that a company was not quite what it seemed, we investigated further and made an informed decision to withdraw an offer.”

Background screening is a priceless tool when it comes to recruitment and talent acquisition.

As we like to say, “Trust is good, but verification is better”.

*Not the candidate’s real name