Indian businesses are grappling with an increase in online recruitment fraud
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Shani Alexander
Shani Alexander, Senior reporter

Minor embellishments on CVs may be commonplace, but with the covid-19 pandemic shifting hiring processes online, and working from home becoming the norm, employers in India are wrestling with a rising tide of recruitment-related fraud.

Recruitment fraud is not unprecedented in India and takes many forms. Scammers often pose as company officials to dupe job seekers into paying fees for roles that don’t exist, while fake job portals and misleading advertisements are also a risk to the unwary. However, recruitment fraud does appear to be growing in scale and sophistication over the past two years.

In November 2019, before the pandemic struck, hundreds of government employees faced disciplinary proceedings for fake marksheets and degrees. A few months later, at the height of the pandemic in May 2020, the Delhi High Court issued orders restraining two popular job advertisement portals from publishing fake job advertisements that allegedly caused harm to multinational conglomerate Reliance Industries.

More recently, in the State of Maharashtra, 42 doctors were charged in August 2021 with submitting forged post-graduation certificates to the Maharashtra Medical Council to obtain specialist practice licences.

“Multiple recruitment agencies have defrauded job seekers, especially in smaller and second-tier cities in India where literacy rates and awareness are low,” says Anshul Prakash, a partner at Khaitan & Co.

“Further, such frauds are commonly seen in job profiles requiring lower professional expertise, fresh recruits, and individuals in desperate need of jobs due to financial and economic reasons.”

That the covid-19 pandemic has forced employers across industries and sectors to downsize or shut down operations, thereby creating panic among job seekers, has only increased the risk of fraud, Prakash argues.

Moonlighting from home

With advances in technology allowing interview and induction processes to be conducted remotely during covid, companies are being left extremely vulnerable to fraud.

“As the entire hiring process has shifted online, we often come across situations where the candidate who is employed turns out to be different from the candidate who was interviewed,” says Vikram Shroff, the Mumbai-based head of HR Law at Nishith Desai Associates.

Even when recruiters use high-end video-conferencing facilities to interview and test candidates, there are still cases where the person being interviewed is not the person who is eventually hired, says Shroff.

“In some cases, even if the candidate is the same, the candidate is tutored by someone sitting opposite him to answer the questions correctly and thereby having a better chance of being selected,” he adds.

As Shroff explains, companies are being duped in more ways than one. “It is not unusual to come across cases where candidates have accepted multiple employment offers and continue to work from home, thereby leading to dual employment,” he says. “Unlike in-office working, it may be difficult to find out if an employee is moonlighting from home.”

According to the Economic Times, job-related fraud has touched an all-time high due to remote-working arrangements. While precise figures are hard to come by, investigators say anecdotal evidence suggests a 50% year-on-year jump in the number of cases.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies’ national skills registry aims to create a robust information repository about all persons working in the IT industry and reduce instances of recruitment fraud.

There are now calls for a centralised, cross-industry employment register allowing employers to confirm the identities and experience of prospective workers.

What can employers do?

To mitigate the risk of fraud, employers are advised to conduct thorough background verification checks, especially when hiring senior-level employees, says Prakash.

Employers may also consider contract clauses stating that employment is subject to the accuracy of the information provided by the employee, with misinformation giving cause for immediate termination, he adds.

Manishi Pathak, a partner at Anhad Law encourages employers to go even further.

“To ensure the recruitment process remains flaw-free, an aggrieved employer must consider approaching the relevant government agencies, such as police, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, as applicable, in punishing the wrongdoers,” he says.

“An employer could file a complaint to the relevant police authorities informing them about a recruitment fraud with a request to take action against the fraudsters. This would not only help in creating awareness among the public, and assist government agencies in punishing the wrongdoers, but also in enforcing the rule of law.”