What Is a Bait and Switch Interview?
If you’ve never heard of a bait and switch job interview, it may be because the practice was fairly rare in the past. But according to Matt Erhard, the managing partner of recruiting firm Summit Search Group, the unethical practice of having someone stand in for you as a proxy during an interview is becoming more common during the hiring process.
“It’s something that’s become more of an issue as remote and virtual interviews have become more widespread,” Erhard says.
What Is a Bait and Switch Job Interview?
A bait and switch interview – also sometimes called a proxy interview, fake interview or interview fraud – is the practice of a potential employee hiring someone to be their stand-in during the interview process, according to trial attorney Allan M. Siegel, founder of Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata Siegel, P.C.
Siegel notes that while proxy interviewing may seem harmless when you’re still providing all of your correct information, it’s still considered bait and switch interviewing and is dishonest. You should thus be aware that this practice is not an acceptable one in any industry.
“Whether someone believes they’re too awkward or inexperienced to complete a successful interview, having someone pretend to be you during an interview is fraudulent,” Siegel says.
What Jobs Are Targeted by Bait and Switch?
Certain types of jobs are more likely than others to be the target of this kind of scam – and bait and switch scammers have varying motivations for their actions.
“Some are simply trying to cheat the system and make it easier to get a job, but others have more malicious intents to gain access to company systems and cause trouble once they’re there,” Erhard says. “Roles with access to customer or company financial data, or other proprietary and sensitive information, are the most at risk for this second type of scam.”
Erhard says that for all types of scam candidates, remote positions in general have a higher risk than hybrid or in-person jobs because it’s easier to pull off this kind of deception remotely. Brigid Davey, who is the general manager of marketing at the money lending site Nimble, agrees, stressing that it’s “easier than ever” to pull off a bait and switch, with more and more companies conducting job interviews via video chat and hiring remote employees.
“Phone interviews are the easiest to forge,” Davey says. “Applicants would only need to find a stand-in who sounds similar to them. Meanwhile, on-camera interviews can be faked by claiming that the webcam is broken, sticking a tape to partially obscure the view of the camera lens or using digital blurring.”
Other industries and positions commonly targeted by proxy scams include IT positions, nonmanagerial roles and noncreative jobs, resulting in unqualified hires potentially gaining access to critical infrastructure, according to Davey.
How to Identify a Fake Interviewee
How can a hiring manager verify the identity of a potential new hire to identify a fake interviewee? Since phone interviews are the easiest for scammers to get through undetected, Erhard recommends shifting to video.
“Given the ample videoconferencing tools that are now available, it’s very easy to replace phone interviews with a video call,” he says. “This doesn’t eliminate the risk of scammers, but it makes things more difficult for them.”
As part of this process, you can ask the candidate not to use any backgrounds, filters or other camera alterations during their interview, and to use their computer’s speakers rather than a headset.
“This cuts down on the ways they could be fed information from someone off-screen,” Erhard says. To help identify a fake interviewee, another easy preventative measure that he recommends is to have the person send a scan of their photo ID as part of their application materials – then ask them to show that same ID on camera beside their face at the start of a video interview.
“While it’s possible for scammers to forge an ID, it’s an extra step a lot of them won’t want to put the effort into – as a rule, scammers go after low-hanging fruit,” Erhard says.
Other ways to spot phony interviewees include making sure hiring teams are doing their due diligence to verify candidates beyond the application and interview. To that end, Erhard suggests the following strategies:
Always call references for remote candidates. Go beyond just calling the references the interviewee provides by also following up with the companies listed on their resume. Verify they actually worked there in the position and time span they list.
Explore their social media pages, especially LinkedIn. Look at the pictures on these platforms, which can help confirm whether the person on-camera was who they said they were. Siegel too notes the importance of this method. “If the potential employee you’re interviewing is providing information that doesn’t match up with their online profiles, such as LinkedIn, they might be proxy interviewing,” Siegel says.
Look for red flags. “If they worked at a company for multiple years, they should logically have other people from that company among their contacts,” Erhard says. “If they don’t, and they otherwise seem active on the platform, this could be a sign of an issue – either they’re making up their employment or they didn’t make any professional connections during their time there, and either way that’s not a good sign.”
How Should Employers Handle Interview Fraud?
If you miss the signs of a fake interview candidate and do end up hiring a fake interviewee, Erhard explains that the first step of fixing the situation should be immediate termination. “Regardless of their aims with the scam, you cannot trust that individual as an employee, and that means they shouldn’t be employed in your company,” he says.
Once you’ve removed them, the next step is to have someone review the work and activity they did at your company to see if anything problematic resulted from it – especially if they handled sensitive information or systems.
“Do this as soon as possible and document everything, even if it doesn’t seem like anything was amiss,” Erhard says. “Hopefully you won’t need to use that documentation, but having it will be an asset if the employee tries to claim unemployment or wrongful termination – or if they did steal data or commit other criminal acts.”
Are There Any Legal Consequences to Bait and Switch Interviews?
Is it illegal to bait and switch a job? Ben Michael, an attorney at Michael & Associates, pointed out the difficulty of taking legal action against a bait and switch interviewee.
“Legally speaking, it can be hard to pin down interview fraudsters with anything specific – unless money has changed hands or they’ve signed or submitted documents claiming to be someone they’re not,” Michael says. “In the vast majority of cases, these kinds of people are caught as soon as someone else shows up to the first day of work, in which case the best course for the company is to simply fire them and blacklist them.”
Michael added that in cases where an employee falsely represents themselves and then actually does paying work for the company for a while before being caught – for example, while working remotely – companies may have a case for legal action. “Anyone discovered attempting interview fraud wouldn’t be hired, or would be fired if they made it through the interview process, and would likely be blackballed in the industry,” Siegel says.