Businesses looking to take on new employees have been warned to be on the lookout for fake references from former employers after a joint Federation of Small Businesses and BBC investigation revealed the extent of reference fraud targeted at the UK’s smallest employers.

There are now a large number of websites which offer fraudulent references for job seekers in exchange for cash. The FSB / BBC study found that 17% of 1,800 firms had uncovered applicants had used fraudulent references while applying for a job.

The majority of the fake references were for lower level positions – 80% of the fraud uncovered was for entry or mid-level positions, but it seems the UK’s executives are not totally immune to the lure of a hooky endorsement – 12% of the fraud was amongst applicants for management positions, and 2% was for Director-level positions!

The Federation’s Mike Cherry said:

“To see the scale of fraudulent referencing taking place is shocking, as getting the wrong candidate can have a catastrophic impact on smaller companies. With nearly one in five of our members having received applications with bogus references, it is clear that small businesses must be on their guard about this kind of fraud and take steps to check the employment history of candidates.”

The study also revealed that 71% of businesses are unaware websites offering phony references even exist, prompting the FSB to contact its members to warn of the practice. The study will form the basis of an episode of the BBC’s “Fake Britain” series.

Photo by Simon Cunningham