Fake Job Applicants: 

 Fake Job Applicants

As we continue the discussion on how to identify fake job applicants, I am constantly asked “But why not just call and verify past employment?” Seems like a reasonable question…doesn’t it?

And many Clinical Operations Managers who are aware of the candidate fraudulence epidemic feel they are protected because their company does background checks. I agree that you should do background checks. But conducting background checks and employment verifications isn’t always going to protect you from candidates who represent a fake job history. 

Here’s why…

The Existence of Non-Existent Fake Companies

Never assume the companies listed on candidate resumes are real businesses. And be aware that these ‘fake companies’ have folks who will answer the phone and “verify” employment. We first noticed this trend in 2010 when candidates from certain “companies” consistently failed our competency assessments. As we dug deeper, we realized the companies didn’t exist and that the candidates were fake job applicants who were using these bogus companies to represent monitoring experience they didn’t have.

To date, we have identified 47 of these phony companies…with an additional 119 classified as highly suspicious. The trend of candidates using fake companies on their resumes is one of the most elusive and alarming trends we have seen.  


Because it is sometimes hard to identify that a company is fake (which is why we have so many categorized as highly suspicious). These shell companies have websites and the individuals who establish these counterfeit companies trick Google into assigning locations to them. Business Insider first reported on this issue in 2015, not only confirming what we were already seeing in our industry but also blowing the whistle on an organization that admits to creating hundreds of phony companies.  

And don’t underestimate how committed these fraudsters are. Not only do they have staff members who answer phones to “verify” employment, but for an additional fee, they will provide positive references from “past supervisors”.

How to determine if a company is real:

It is easier to confirm that a company is real than it is to prove it is fake. However, there are specific steps you can follow which will provide insight into a company’s validity.  

Check State Registrars.

As a rule, if you have never heard of a company you should search for its registration. If a company has legitimately been organized, it will be listed on the appropriate state’s registry. However, realize that companies do not always have to register their business where the business resides. For example, our company’s headquarters is in Florida, therefore our business is registered with the state of Florida and can be found on Florida’s Division of Corporations site. But we were once registered in Georgia and would also be qualified to register in the state of Delaware. 

So while you want to start with the state where the company’s headquarters is located, you may have to broaden your search if you want to rule out fraudulence. 

This brings us to Manta and OpenCorporates.

If searching the Secretary of State or Divisions of Corporation site for the state where the company resides doesn’t yield results, consider using the Manta Business Directory. Manta scrapes each state’s corporation database and also allows companies to register with them directly. While not as reliable as the secretary of state listings, it can be a good resource if you are unsure which state a company may be registered with.

One of my personal favorites is to use OpenCorporates.  Their database consists of filed corporations across the globe and is extremely accurate. However, if you use this resource often you will be required to pay a membership fee; but if you hire CRAs, the fee is worth it. 

What isn’t likely to be found:

Fictitious Names and Trade Names can be difficult to trace. For example, while you can easily find our corporation name on our state’s corporation site, you won’t be able to find our trade name. Meaning, that while trade names are required to be registered, they aren’t easily searchable like corporation names are. Much like single-member LLCs, they can be difficult to track down and even more difficult to prove as fraudulent. 

What happens if you can’t verify the company is real?

If you are unable to verify the legitimacy of a company through a corporation search, you can certainly research its online activity. 

Start with a LinkedIn presence. While not all valid companies have LinkedIn, if the company does have a LinkedIn presence you will be able to gain insight into its validity. Start by assessing how fleshed out the company’s profile is. Then take a look at the individuals who are connected to it along with their titles, etc. You should know that anyone can build a fake LinkedIn company page and have many people connect to it, but real people will be posting as well as sharing information about company milestones. LinkedIn companies also include an Insights tab that will show a history of employees connected to it.   

And if the company is a sponsor claiming to conduct trials in the US, you can also check out clinicaltrials.gov. Just be aware that not all studies are required to be on this government site. You can also search for press releases, and check out other resources such as Crunchbase

We also keep a history of companies we can’t verify (note the 119 companies I referred to as ‘suspicious’ at the beginning of this section).  Let’s just say that trends will start to reveal themselves if you just track history. 

Even if the Company is Real, be Diligent in Background and Reference Checks

I am finding more and more companies failing to conduct thorough reference and background checks. And here’s the problem…often the operations managers don’t know these important steps are being skipped or side-stepped. 

If you are an operations manager, find out what the background and reference check processes are.  We provide some important items to consider in a different article, but here are a few important things to confirm.  

See if there is a financial threshold for background checks. 

I just spoke with someone last week who told me their HR would only pay for a ‘first level’ employment verification. Some of our larger industry CROs and Sponsors require a verbal employment verification and background check companies will charge extra for that extra step. 

In this particular instance, my friend told me that she had gut churns when interviewing the candidate and was counting on the employment verification to either confirm or deny her suspicions. She didn’t know human resources wouldn’t conduct an employment verification if it required an extra charge. Unfortunately, sidestepping this employment verification resulted in a bad hire. She later found out that the individual had never worked with the large CRO represented on his resume.  

Being thorough in the background check would have avoided the situation.  

Find out if there is a limitation as to how much your company will spend on any aspect of the background check. Keep in mind that a thorough background check goes well beyond a criminal history and employment verification analysis. If there is a threshold set for any portion of the background check, either obtain permission to exceed that threshold or speak to your leadership about alternative methods of obtaining a thorough result. 

Always do both. 

Companies will often skip reference checks, but as noted above, background checks aren’t always effective. Because of our experience with fake job applicants, we actually put more stock in reference checks…if done properly.

Especially when it comes to confirming the experience of contractors. Just know that background checks aren’t going to be effective in some instances and reference checks aren’t effective in others. Do both and you will increase your chances of confirming the candidate’s qualifications. 

Reference checks should always be verbal. 

Why? For two reasons. First, references can be easily falsified. Fake job applicants will go to great lengths to represent someone as a past clinical operations manager when they are really a sister, a wife, a friend, a colleague, or someone from their ‘fake company’ arrangement. 

Business emails can be spoofed, so even if the candidate is using an email from a well-known company domain, don’t assume it is valid. Create a reference template that includes open-ended questions that cover hard and soft skills. Then verbally speak to each reference. Verify the candidate’s title, the dates they worked together, and the company where they worked together. Then dig into the reference questions. Be sure to listen with your ears and with your gut. Pay attention to what they are saying as well as their pauses while also tuning into energy shifts. If you are ‘using your gut’ during these calls, you will be able to feel it if something is amiss.

This brings me to the second reason why you want to verbally check references. People are more likely to be forthcoming with the truth when in a verbal discussion versus responding to a questionnaire through email. When you ask a direct question, honest people will want to answer it. They may still pause, but they will still be more honest with their answers.  

Was the Company in Operation when The Candidate ‘Worked’ there?

I just had an applicant whose resume showed she was employed by a company two years before it was formed. We also consistently see where folks state they worked for a company after it was no longer in business. Always make sure the candidate’s employment dates align with when the companies were active so that you can catch fake job applicants who represent they worked for a company before or after the company existed.

We have also seen a strong trend where candidates list multiple companies on their resumes that did exist but have been acquired or gone out of business. This act alone doesn’t necessarily mean fraudulence, but digging deeper to verify employment can be a challenge. And in some instances, impossible. 

In Conclusion

You are probably thinking that being thorough with background checks (especially employment verification) and references is a lot of work.

It is.

We analyze every candidate who crosses our threshold using the above steps. Every time. Being thorough in our approach is how we have been able to identify that approximately 60% of the candidates applying to our open positions are fake job applicants. This qualification process is time-consuming and can be overwhelming. But it is important because our practice of being thorough has enabled us to build history on candidates and identify fake companies. 

It takes time to identify those candidates who are valid. And while it isn’t always possible to prove that a candidate is fake (until it is too late), knowing who is ‘real’ and truly qualified is extremely important.

Make sure you and your leadership team are diligent because fake job applicants can pass a background check. If you see something that seems off and would like our advice, just let us know. We are here to help!