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Staying Safe When Job Searching
I was invited to do an industry talk recently on 'Job seeking in the digital age' and I made a point that Identity theft was the world's fastest growing industry and for some reason the UK was the world's largest victim of this epidemic.
Thereafter, the Q&A was solely about identity crime and how to counteract it. This was particularly topical as a recent episode of the BBC programme 'The Real Hustle' showed a conman acting as a recruiter who took a candidate's identity, bank details and well, you've seen the programme, potentially could have stung them for nearly everything.
I went on a bit of a rant about how valuable a document a CV is in the wrong hands, how many jobseekers are naïve when it comes to identity theft and reeled off various anecdotes together with hints and suggestions. Here's a précis of my rant together with some further facts that make quite hideous reading.
1) Be careful about making sensitive data 'open source'
Some of the CV's that we receive contain incredible levels of detailed personalised information which, if it fell into the hands of an identity thief, would make extremely easy prey.
I've been harping on for years about the dangers of detailing information such as National Insurance and Passport numbers on CV's and have just done some very basic research on a single major job board to gather some facts: 776 candidates in the last month have detailed their NI number on their CV, 405 listed their passport number and a staggering 221 listed both their NI and Passport number! This together with a name, address and date of birth is straightaway lethal in the hands of an identity criminal.
An NI Number or passport number is NOT required by any employer or recruiter at an initial screening stage. If you are from a non EU country detail on your CV that you have a valid work permit or British Passport or whatever, just don't detail the numbers and specifics
2) Be careful to whom you send your CV
Most people systematically shred their utility bills and bank statements but most will happily send an extremely personal and sensitive document, their CV, to complete strangers! Remember the information your CV contains - your name, address, normally date of birth and often a whole lot more. That's just one or two bits of information away from a bank account being opened in YOUR NAME and as we'll see later, with a bit of online searching these 'gaps' can normally be easily filled.
Before applying to any adverts check out the website of the advertiser or recruitment agency, are they registered with companies' house, do they have a fixed address and telephone number, and do they have a website? Incidentally, since 1 Jan 2007 it has been law for every commercial website in the UK to detail on the site their company registration number, place of registration and their registered office.
Stringent checks are made by Companies' House when incorporating a business so whilst it's not infallible, it is worth confirming that they are listed here before sending your CV to them - Free Company Check
Be somewhat dubious about recruiters that are not Limited, LLP's or Plc's and check them out thoroughly before sending your CV no matter how attractive the job advert looks.
3) Job Boards and Identity Theft
I'm not saying don't put your CV on a job board - far from it, they have their place in the recruitment market and can often be a useful tool to any job seeker. However, you may need to know how job boards work.
If you put your details onto a job board (or respond to a vacancy through a job board) then your CV is entered onto their database. Your CV then becomes 'open source' to anyone who pays to have access to the job board (and many are relatively inexpensive to access). This information could therefore be accessed at best by your current employer or more worryingly by an identity thief who now has your name, address, normally date of birth, work history and perhaps more.
Luckily most job boards are fully aware of this potential threat and the majority do not allow subscribers to access their databases unless they are a recognised incorporated organisation or recruiter - but beware the smaller ones will give anyone access that is willing to hand over their credit card details.
The following tips will help you to decrease your risk of identity theft when registering with a job board:
Your Name: Don't detail your full name on your CV. A first name and Surname will suffice at an initial selection stage and does anyone really care that your middle name is Gertrude! You can provide the potential employer with your full name at interview. If you really want to be completely secure then use a pseudonym or deliberately misspell your surname and set up Gmail, hotmail, etc. email addresses accordingly. Then when you trust the person that contacts you regarding opportunities you could reveal your true name or correct spelling.
Your Address: When putting your details on a job board put your town of residence rather than your full address.
Your Date of Birth: You do not have to put your Date of Birth on your CV and in fact if we follow the US for reasons of age discrimination it could soon become illegal to put your date of birth on a CV. If you choose to detail your age then your age in years or year of birth will suffice. Alternatively, use an incorrect date of birth and explain later at interview.
Special notice to South Africans!: Most CV's received from candidates that are either South Africans or ex-pats returning to the UK from South Africa seem to contain passport number, NI number and numerous other sensitive data that is unnecessary.
Parent's Names: Don't detail them! We are no longer in Victorian England and gratefully your parentage is now no longer relevant to your job application. Luckily this is now becoming relatively rare to see on CVs and remember the most common account password used by banks is your mother's maiden name!
Children's Names and Ages: Whilst it is perfectly acceptable for parents to detail on their CV that they have 'two children aged 14 and 17' it is unnecessary to detail their names and especially their DoB's
Partner/Spouse's name: Whilst stating 'Marital status: Married' is quite acceptable you don't need to detail your husband's name.
Place of Birth and Primary School: Not needed. Again, often used to confirm your identity when banking over the telephone.
Passwords: Don't use the same password on job boards as you do for your Yahoo, Google, Ebay, Amazon, etc. accounts - whilst the major job boards have strict security policies and most passwords are encrypted to their staff it's better to be safe than sorry. And on the subject how many passwords do you use that are your spouse's name, children's name a combination of the two, etc. - if you detail them on your CV they're now open source and could potentially be easily 'cracked'. Additionally beware of detailing your pets, children's names, children's date of birth, partner's name, etc. on social networking sites. The identity thief has your name, address, DoB from your CV. Now with a bit of hunting on Yoname or other social network search tools, they can quickly find out all of the information required to probably crack your bank account, PayPal account and every other account you don't want broken. To be completely on the safe side use a password generator tool - these are usually an integral part of your antivirus software but the major browsers such as Google, Safari and Bing also offer great options.
4) Social Networking
More and more offers of employment and offers of second interviews are being retracted as employers can informally 'reference' you by searching through your social network 'footprint'. In a recent study of 961 HR Managers it was found that a third searched for information on prospective employees on Facebook, MySpace and the like.
The famous example from a couple of years back was the retraction of a job offer for a high flying city lawyer who boasted on his 'blog' that he did nothing at his employer but shop on the internet, pick up a six figure salary and regularly partake in recreational pharmaceuticals!
With that story in mind before you start your job search you might want to clear the naked/drunk/inappropriate photos from your blogs and profiles together with anything that doesn't show you to be a thoroughly decent upstanding member of the community! This is particularly important if you have an unusual name as with one quick Google or Yoname search they could easily discover amazing detail of your lifestyle, behaviour and beliefs. Remember, companies do not admit to searching out details of potential employees as part of their recruitment procedure - but, as this recent survey shows, be warned, THEY DO!
Google 'check your social footprint' to see how easy it is for a potential employer to gather information on your 'social networking footprint' and activity.
5) Recruitment Scams
Unfortunately, there are people out there who are out to get you and others like you. Under the Conduct of Employment Agencies Act (Unless you're lucky enough to be an actor, footballer, model or a couple of other exceptions) it is illegal to charge a candidate for placing them in a job. However, you can charge a candidate for career coaching, CV Writing services, interview coaching, etc. Particularly if you are in the high earning bracket if you place your CV on job boards you will be contacted by companies offering these services, most of which are legitimate.
However in a recent case a job was advertised at £120K for a Directorship role. All applicants were contacted by the 'recruiter' who told them that in order to apply they had to format and deliver their CV in a particular way. Of course the 'recruiter' offered this 'service' to applicants at a cost of £300 and over 100 poor applicants took them up on the offer. Suffice to say after offering their payment they never heard anything again and some scamster was £30K richer. There are many other anecdotes I could offer along those lines but the moral of the story is that if someone asks you for payment upfront make sure that it is a legitimate service offered by a legitimate company.
Remember again that some adverts will be posted purely for the purpose of identity theft. Do your own due diligence and make sure that the company/agency is a legitimate business before sending your CV.
Identity theft and fraud is estimated to cost £15BN in the UK yet as it is normally viewed as a 'victimless' crime, with banks normally picking up the 'tab', it goes largely unreported.
To try and protect candidates and employers the recruitment industry is trying to be proactive against identity theft and other fraudulent crimes and has recently launched SAFER (Safe Advice for Employment and Recruitment). This is a non profit making body formed in conjunction with the regulatory body, the REC, and the London Metropolitan police. It's fair to say that they will have a tough task ahead of them and as identity theft is so lucrative my fear is that the scamsters will always be two steps ahead.
Unfortunately though I foresee fraudsters using job boards as the basis to choose their 'marks' more and more over the coming years. With the economic downturn the cost of buying access to job boards is reducing, the desire for job boards to acquire new clients and their revenue is increasing and unfortunately some boards may not undertake the due diligence that they once did in limiting who and for what reason, someone buys access to their CV databases. That, compounded by more and more candidates searching for jobs, I can sadly see the issue escalating.
Ultimately it is your responsibility to protect yourself against identity theft and to lessen your exposure to risk as much as you possibly can. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas to protect yourself when searching for jobs online, and in the words of Nick Owen, don't have nightmares!
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