Mia* grew suspicious when she was asked basic questions during a Zoom interview for a human resources job. Her doubts were confirmed when her future employer demanded she pay £275 upfront for recruit training. Suspecting it was fraudulent, she backed out.
“When you think of scams, you might think of a pickpocket or, online, someone sending you a false link. Not something that comprehensive and not in the job market,” she said. “I’m glad I was suspicious from the start.”
Mia first came into contact with scammers after moving to London from Australia. She applied for and failed to get a job as an HR administrator with an entity trading as Inglemoss Consultants, advertised on the job site Indeed. A week later she was contacted and told she had been shortlisted for another HR role.
She was right to be wary. Three other people told the Financial Times that they had been scammed by Inglemoss Consultants. One of these, Jamie Glover, a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Sussex, said he took on a role with the organization last year and paid for the £275 training package. After a day of training, he was tasked with recruiting more candidates to recruit. But he found little work and was never paid.
“It felt like a pure pyramid scheme, there was no other function,” he said.
On the recruitment website Glassdoor, seven anonymous reviewers said Inglemoss Consultants representatives lied about the nature of a job, didn’t pay the staff, and didn’t answer phone calls or emails. Indeed said it deleted the organization’s account in November 2022 following a fraud investigation and jobseeker complaints.
“Inglemoss Consultants” does not appear in Companies House, messages sent to the email addresses on the website were bounced back, and the company, including one of the scam victim’s managers, did not respond to calls.
Recruitment experts said scammers had been aided by many recruitment processes that went online during the Covid-19 pandemic and their sophisticated schemes were becoming more widely known among job seekers.
“We see a frightening amount of it every day,” said Steve Sully, regional director of recruiter Robert Half in the UK. “We regularly see candidates forwarding WhatsApps they receive from individuals claiming to be advisors to (us).” With so much remote work, it’s “much easier for scammers to take advantage of the vulnerable”.
Work-related fraud is more than just a time-consuming nuisance for job seekers and businesses. Victims can be scammed with money and personal data, while companies can suffer significant reputational damage.
In February, LinkedIn acknowledged an increase in the number and complexity of scams on its platform. The trend is spreading to a range of job boards, recruitment agencies and other companies.
Figures from the US Federal Trade Commission show that more than 92,000 job-related and business scams occurred in 2022, with losses of $367 million, a figure significantly higher than last year’s $209 million.
JobsAware, a UK non-profit organization that Mia Inglemoss Consultants reported to, collects complaints about job scams and unfair employment practices and provides advice to employees. The chairman Keith Rosser said more people were “looking for extra work because of the cost of living crisis”. “This puts a lot of people into the job market and leaves them exposed.”
Ben King, head of customer trust at Okta, the digital identity specialist, said the threat was on the rise. “I expect that (fake job scams) will only increase with access to online generative AI[and]logic learning machine tools, which make fake job postings and emails from criminals more realistic, targeting specific victim demographics.”
Fraud attacks are already on the rise, with scammers often setting up fake websites, conducting interviews via Skype and, in some cases, demonstrating impressive command of the industry they claim to work in.
Jonathan Waterman-Smith, a recruitment consultant at TRG Recruitment, said his experience showed how scammers approached their targets with more sophistication, using industry-specific terminology that demonstrated a high level of research.
He was contacted on LinkedIn by a person posing as a “talent acquisition team leader” at a manufacturing company who wanted help hiring employees.
Waterman-Smith spoke to the scammer over the phone and he explained how he went about it and what the costs were. At first he was convinced that the caller was real.
“He wasn’t a newbie,” Waterman-Smith said. “This guy knew the terminology we use in the recruiting industry. He either had a lot of experience doing this or he knew the recruiting jargon and may have been in the industry in the past.
Recruiters like Waterman-Smith usually identify potential candidates for clients. When this alleged client suggested three potential candidates to interview, he realized something strange was going on.
He called the company in question and was told they had no record of the person being an employee. If the scam had gone as planned, Waterman-Smith expected his company would have paid the applicants — and suspected associates of the scammer — and billed the fraudster, only to have the bill go unpaid.
“I’ve been very lucky,” said Waterman-Smith. “I came out of it relatively unscathed other than wasting half an hour talking to this guy.”
Scammers prey on those they have identified as vulnerable, such as people who have recently lost their jobs or those unfamiliar with employment practices. “I could be considered an easy target,” Mia said. “They could certainly target international (workers) as they are not that familiar with UK employment laws and the standards here.”
In December, Alex Ellis, the British High Commissioner for India, said warned Scammers used his name to trick individuals into handing over information and money to get UK work visas.
For Mohammed Yasar Farath, a technician based in Hyderabad, South India, a link from an Instagram job site led him to an alleged offer from a UK energy company. One downside: he would have to pay £500 for a visa application. After refusing to hand over the money, the “so-called lawyer . . . got very annoyed”. Farath realized that the job offer did not exist and the visa was a scam. He walked away and considers himself “very happy”.
Scammers not only pose a risk to candidates, Sully said, but also to the reputation of recruiters and employers “by using (a) brand as a facade.” Many companies offer advice on how to avoid scams on their websites and social media channels.
Last summer, Amanda Chilcott, global human resources director at Neptune Energy, was warned of a “major increase in scammers” posing as her employer when potential victims called the front desk about fraudulent emails. The company hired a cybersecurity group to block unauthorized domains using its name.
This is more difficult for smaller companies, King said, who “do not have the resources to effectively monitor and contain this threat.”
While evolving AI tools can make the scam more ubiquitous and credible, they will also prove to be “a valuable tool for organizations to monitor and control content at a speed no human review can match,” King added. “There’s a lot of research going on to detect machine-generated content on large datasets, and simply having a post or job posting flagged as ‘suspicious’ could save many from becoming a victim in the first place or prompt them to do a more thorough investigation before they proceed with an application.”
Employers are also vulnerable to dishonest candidates. Satish Kumar, chief executive of Glider AI, a technology platform that provides virtual assessments and video interviews for recruitment that screens for suspicious activity, said the rise in remote hiring has led to an increase in applicant fraud, for example through the responses get from friends.
Once a candidate has gone through the hiring process, it can take at least a month to discover that they are not right for the job. Hiring again is expensive. “The company loses so much time and has to restart the process,” said Kumar.
For individuals, fraud can leave scars. Fatima, who filed a claim against Inglemoss Consultants in an employment tribunal to which the organization did not respond, said: “It caused me a lot of concern. They played on vulnerable people and it was hard to know it was a scam until you were already in it.
*Some names have been changed