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Are these interview scams becoming more common amid the rise of remote hiring?

Peep these horror stories of the interview bait-and-switch when the person you hired isn't the person who shows up on their first day, or the technical interviewee is being fed answers off screen.

Who's behind the screen? (Pexels/Andri)
We often hear about the benefits offered by remote work — but what about when remote work goes wrong?

What would you do if the person you interviewed remotely doesn’t quite look or sound like the person who shows up to your team meeting on the first day of work? How would you handle the realization that your interviewee is getting fed answers off screen during a technical interview?

Michael Stump, CEO and founder of Baltimore IT consulting firm Holden Information Services, experienced an interview scam first hand.

This was four years ago, before the pandemic and virtual interviews were the norm. During a virtual panel interview, Stump with his colleagues together in the conference room could clearly see the potential hire look off to the side of the screen whenever they asked a technical question, and be prompted with an answer. It took multiple rounds of questions and several minutes of his team being confused by the sight of the interviewee pausing and oddly looking off screen before responding for Stump and his associates to finally catch on that someone else was in the room.

“Someone had all the right answers,” Stump said. “It just wasn’t the person on the screen.”

Mark Constan, head of talent acquisition, consulting and advisory practice at tech recruiting firm MTC Search Group in Greater Philadelphia, had been hearing stories about these sort of things — interview bait-and-switches, or interviewees being fed answers — for years. But during the course of the pandemic and advent of Zoom, they seem to be becoming more common, he said. He finds it’s usually IT contracting companies where this issue is most prevalent.

The most common type is the bait-and-switch, according to Constan. That’s when one person does the technical interview and another person shows up for the job. This can be achieved in a variety of ways: Maybe during the interview there’s an alleged issue with the interviewee’s computer and the video isn’t working, then when the job is offered, another person shows up to work. In some cases, there isn’t even a video issue — it’s just that one person is seen in the interview, and another shows up to work.

There’s been much coverage about fake remote work jobs as a form of phishing to steal job candidates’ personal information. Constan theorized that hackers can also do the same with companies when disguised as potential hires.

“Companies need to be careful because employees can access IP, and possible personal data, too, of customers,” Constan said. “Working in tech, I’ve had to complete training and compliance around handling of data and personal identifiable information, but I have had months to complete the assessments. So is this scam just to place contractors and hope no one notices? Or does it go further to access stuff?”

So, what to do about it? Job advice column Ask a Manager covered this situation recently and suggested that hiring manager ask interviewees to show ID at the start of virtual interviews. And if the person you do end up hiring seems to have none of the skills they claimed to once they start, it’s best to address it outright, whether you suspect foul play or not.

Constan’s advice: “Know who your partners are” if you’re using, say, a staffing company to bring on temporary workers or contractors. “A reputable firm wouldn’t practice this.”

Have you experienced an interview scam yourself, as either a hiring manager or the interviewee? Tell us your story: 

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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