Too good to be true? The fake recruiters targeting jobseekers

Elaborate scams are on the rise, putting candidates and reputable employers at risk

Mia* became suspicious when she was asked basic questions during a Zoom interview for a job in human resources. Her doubts were confirmed when her would-be employer demanded she pay £275 upfront for recruitment training. Suspecting it was fraudulent, she backed out.

“When you think about scamming, you might think of a pickpocketer or, online, someone sending a faulty link to you. Not something this elaborate and not in the employment market,” she said. “I’m glad I was suspicious from the beginning.”

Mia first came across scammers after moving to London from Australia. She applied 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 a different HR role.

She was right to be wary. Three other people told the Financial Times they had been scammed by Inglemoss Consultants. One, Jamie Glover, a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Sussex, said he took a role with the organisation last year and paid for the £275 training package. After one day’s training, he was tasked with recruiting more candidates. 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 had lied about the nature of a job, did not pay staff and did not answer phone calls or emails. Indeed said it had removed the organisation’s account in November 2022 after a fraud investigation and complaints from jobseekers.

Inglemoss Consultants does not appear in Companies House, messages sent to the email addresses listed on its website bounced back and the business, including one of the scam victims’ managers, did not respond to phone calls.

Recruitment experts said scammers had been helped by many hiring processes moving online during the Covid-19 pandemic and their sophisticated schemes were becoming more familiar to jobseekers.

“We are seeing a scary amount of it on a daily basis,” said Steve Sully, UK regional director of recruiter Robert Half. “We are regularly seeing candidates forwarding WhatsApps they receive from individuals claiming to be consultants for [us].” With so much remote work, it is “far easier for scammers to take advantage of the vulnerable”.

Job-related fraud is more than just a time-consuming nuisance for jobseekers and companies. Victims can be duped out of money and personal data, while businesses can suffer considerable reputational damage. In February, LinkedIn acknowledged an increase in the number and sophistication of scams on its platform. The trend extends to a range of job sites, recruitment companies and other businesses.

Figures from the US Federal Trade Commission show there were more than 92,000 job-related and business scams in 2022, with $367 million (€343 million) reported lost, a sum considerably higher than the previous year’s $209 million.

JobsAware, a UK not-for-profit organisation to which Mia reported Inglemoss Consultants, collates complaints of job scams and unfair working practices and provides advice to workers. Its chairman, Keith Rosser said more people were “looking for additional work because of the cost-of-living crisis”. “This is putting a lot of people into the job market and leaving them exposed.”

Ben King, head of customer trust at Okta, the digital identity specialist, said the threat was intensifying. “I expect [fake job scams] to only increase with access to online generative AI [and] logic learning machine tools, which make fake job ads and emails more realistic from criminals, targeted towards specific victim demographics.”

Already, fraud attacks are becoming more elaborate, with scammers often setting up fake websites, conducting interviews via Skype and, in some cases, showcasing 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 were approaching targets with increased sophistication, using industry-specific terminology that demonstrated a high degree of research.

He was contacted on LinkedIn by a person posing as a “talent acquisition team lead” at a manufacturing company that wanted help hiring workers. Waterman-Smith spoke to the scammer by phone and he explained how he worked and the fees involved. Initially, he was convinced the caller was genuine.

“He wasn’t a novice,” Waterman-Smith said. “This guy knew the terminology we use within the recruitment industry. He either had lots of experience of doing this or he knew about recruitment jargon and potentially had been in the industry in the past.”

Recruiters such as Waterman-Smith usually identify potential candidates for clients. When this supposed client suggested three potential candidates to interview, he realised something odd was happening.

He rang the company in question and was told they had no record of the person having been an employee. Had the scam gone to plan, Waterman-Smith expected his company would have paid the applicants – and presumed associates of the scammer – and invoiced the fraudster, only for the bill to go unpaid.

“I was very fortunate,” Waterman-Smith said. “I got off relatively scot-free, apart from 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,” said Mia. “Definitely, they could target international [workers] because they’re not as privy to UK employment laws and the norms here.”

In December, Alex Ellis, the British high commissioner to India, warned scammers were using his name to persuade individuals to hand over information and money to gain UK work visas.

For Mohammed Yasar Farath, a technician based in Hyderabad, south India, a link via a job posting site on Instagram led him to a supposed offer from an energy company in the UK. One drawback: he would have to pay £500 for a visa application. After refusing to hand the money over, the “so-called lawyer ... got very irritated”. Farath realised the job offer did not exist and the visa was a scam. He walked away and considers himself “very lucky”.

Scammers are not just a risk to candidates, said Sully, but also to recruiters’ and employers’ reputations “using [a] brand as a facade”. Many businesses are including 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 alerted to a “major increase in scammers” pretending to be her employer when potential victims called reception about fraudulent emails. The company hired a cybersecurity group to block unauthorised domains using its name.

This is harder for smaller companies, said King, that “lack the resources to monitor and control this threat effectively”.

While evolving AI tools may make the scams more ubiquitous and believable, they will also prove “a valuable tool for organisations to monitor and control content at a velocity no human review can match,” added King. Significant research is ongoing to detect machine-generated content over large data sets, and simply having a post or job ad flagged as ‘suspicious’ may save many from falling victim in the first place or jog them to investigate more fully before continuing a job application.”

Employers are also vulnerable to dishonest candidates. Satish Kumar, chief executive of Glider AI, a tech platform providing virtual assessments and video interviews for recruitment that screens for suspicious activity, said increased remote hiring had driven a rise in fraudulence by job candidates, for example, being fed the answers by friends.

Once a candidate has passed through the recruitment process, it can take at least a month to discover they are not up to the job. Rehiring is expensive. “The company loses so much time and has to restart the process,” said Kumar.

For individuals, fraud can be scarring. Fatima, who issued a claim against Inglemoss Consultants at an employment tribunal to which the organisation did not reply, said: “It caused me a lot of anxiety. They played on vulnerable people and it was hard to know it was a scam until you were already in it.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023

* Some names have been changed