Faking Job References for a Price

At least two companies say they'll sell you references to help you get a job.

August 24, 2009, 3:31 PM

Aug. 26, 2009— -- William Schmidt fabricates job references for a price. And he feels good about it.

"At least I know I was able to help someone get a paycheck and provide for himself and his family," the Ohio man told ABCNews.com.

Schmidt, 46, is the founder of CareerExcuse.com, a Web site that says it can fill in gaps on your resume by pledging to "act as your past employer" and provide job references, complete with working phone numbers and people on the other end of each line ready to answer questions posed by prospective employers.

Schmidt, who started the Web site after being laid off from his job as a human resource manager in February, said he got the idea after perusing posts on the micro-blogging site Twitter. He was surprised, he said, by how many Twitter users were asking strangers for job references.

"I saw tons of them when I searched it," he said. "That's where I saw the need for my service."

Schmidt said that while some may have "moral issues" with his company, he feels good about what he does. He said he, along with a part-time partner who helps him answer phones, have helped at least 20 people successfully secure work.

"Many people have told me right now that looking for a job is like fighting a war," he said. "There is a great feeling when I get people who call me back and send me an e-mail, saying hey, they got hired, they got the job."

While it's hard to verify whether Schmidt's service -- which charges customers $64 per year after a three-day free trial -- has actually benefited anyone, he's not the only one claiming to help people lie to secure work in a tough economy. The Web site Alibi HQ also advertises fake job reference services.

A man identifying himself as Mark Stevens, an Alibi HQ spokesman, told ABCNews.com that the company, which also offers fake landlord references and fake doctor's notes, has been operating for several years. He said customer interest in employment references skyrocketed over the last year, with calls from people seeking Alibi HQ's services quadrupling -- a trend Stevens attributed to the increase in job seekers left unemployed by the recession.

"We have an abundance of incoming phone calls and every month, it's surpassed the month before," he said.

'Fibbing' Within the Bounds of the Law?

As with CareerExcuse.com, it's unclear whether Alibi HQ delivers what it advertises. Several links on the company's Web site are inactive, and Stevens would not specify where the company is based -- he would only say it is headquartered on the East Coast. Divulging the company's exact location, he said, would present a security risk.

Here's how Alibi HQ says its service works: It sets up a working phone number for a "fictitious" company that it passes on to a job applicant. When a prospective employer calls the number, one of more than 20 Alibi HQ staffers answers the phone and "confirms" that the applicant used to work there.

For this service, Alibi HQ charges a $199 fee for the first 90 days and $50 for each additional month.

Stevens conceded that the company's work is based on "fibbing," but said that Alibi HQ is careful to avoid doing anything that runs afoul of the law. For instance, he said, Alibi HQ staffers never claim to represent companies in existence today, like, say AT&T or Exxon, and the company does not provide employment references for mortgage refinance applications.

Alibi HQ also makes a point not to provide references to employees applying to work at financial sector companies -- including bailed-out banks -- government organizations or contractors who do government work.

Many of Alibi HQ's references, Stevens said, are used for applications for blue-collar jobs, such as factory worker positions, as well as white-collar positions in customer service and administrative work. Applicants for "top 100" executive positions in the telecommunications industry have also used Alibi HQ's services, he said, but "we're not talking about putting CEOs in the executive chair of major insurance companies or anything."

Schmidt, of CareerExcuse.com, says that he too sets limits. He said he doesn't provide references to government applicants and also declines to provide references to those applying for jobs in the medical profession.

From Lying to Lawsuits

But whatever rules such companies set, some expert say they -- as well as the clients they serve -- may still ultimately find themselves at the receiving end of lawsuits filed by duped employers. That could happen, for instance, if the applicant-turned-employee ends up performing poorly or committing a crime on the job, said Marc Alifanz, an employment lawyer with the Oregon law firm Stoel Rives.

"They can say we were damaged by this lie because we never would have hired that applicant without that reference," said Alifanz, who recently wrote a blog post about AlibiHQ. In his post, Alifanz provided tips to employers on how to vet a potentially fake reference, including looking up a suspicious company's Web site or using a phone company's reverse phone number services.

Allison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau said companies have always had to be careful with reference checks. After all, even before the advent of Web sites like CareerExcuse.com, job applicants looking to fool prospective employers could always seek out the help of willing friends.

"It's probably a sign of our times that companies are finding they can make money by helping pad someone 's resume for them," she said. "The message here to business owners is that they really need to do their due diligence in research to make sure these references are legitimate."

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