Employment Reference Verification – just how important is it? (The answer, very!)

These days it is incredibly easy to fake a reference.  For the last few months I have delved, dived and immersed myself in the world of fake references to find out just how prevalent they are and the potential damage that they can, and have, caused.

After all, my business is Employment References.  I think they are an important and necessary part of recruitment.  But let’s not forget the hassle they can cause to employers, the legal minefields they can present and how stressful they can be from the candidate’s point of view. Current processes are out-dated and tiresome.   It is because of this hassle that the fakes circulate, and it is laid-back verification methods that allow them to go unnoticed.

So, how does your organisation verify references?  Do you check that it has come from a professional email account?  Do you ask for a letterhead or compliments slip to accompany the reference? If so, then you are like 42% of the public companies we asked.

In April 2017, PlanetReference.com carried out a UK study via Freedom of Information Act requests.  We asked a total of 475 NHS Trusts, Local Authorities and Police Forces how they verify references and 203 of them stated that checking email address and/or letterhead is their most favoured method.  This, unfortunately is no longer enough to ensure the legitimacy of a reference.  A quick search online can produce a company’s logo or full letterhead in seconds and can be printed on high-quality paper to make it look real, and email addresses can be very cheap to set up. 

During our research we also found several businesses online that are dedicated to providing fake references.  For a relatively small fee they will provide you with a list of up to 200 fake companies, all with email addresses, stationery, a professional looking website and even a fake HR manager that you can call, and have an in-depth discussion with about your candidate.  They take great care in ensuring that the details they have fabricated, match the candidate’s application form.  It’s a worrying thought, isn’t it?  Could someone who works for you have faked their reference?

A staggering 14% of the organisations surveyed told us that they do not carry out verification of any kind on the references they receive.  That equates to over 25,000 staff within 61 services, that may not have had their references vetted.  Failing to reference check not only increases the chances of staff fraud taking place, but could put public workforces, clients, data and finances at serious risk.

From our research, we found that where organisations carry out little or no verification, the likelihood of finding fake references are very low with an average of only 2% – 7% being discovered.   Compare that to the figures where comprehensive verification methods have been undertaken, and the rates of discovering them rises to 26%.

It is clear from the findings that extensive verification of references is an absolute necessity during the recruitment process. At the moment it seems all too easy for applicants to deceive employers.  It is worrying to think about the number of falsified references that may have been missed.  In some roles, this lack of due diligence could cause serious injury or fatalities, it really is that serious.

Even though verification of references can be time-consuming and sometimes complicated, it is more important to undertake every method of investigation at the start of the recruitment process to ensure due diligence has been carried out in order to prevent damaging incidents of staff fraud in the future.  And this is what our Employment Reference Management System hopes to achieve.  It is our mission to reduce the use of fake references and provide a system that helps employers to recruit easier, faster and safer than ever before.

Employment Reference Practices within the UK’s Public Services – Verification of References is available to download for free.

Lisa Cracknell,

Co-Founder of PlanetReference.com

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