In an increasingly competitive job market, it is not uncommon for aspiring employees to dress up and embellish their CVs. Some, however, stand out from the crowd and develop a true appetite for forgery and falsification. Impostors, fraudsters, con artists – criminals we love to hate, draped in a veil of mystery and illusion that could easily be lifted through the cautious and timely use of background checking.
Frank Abagnale is one of the most notorious con men of the late 20th and early 21st century; he was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 blockbuster Catch Me If You Can, and his incredible story has also been the subject of a book, a musical and an inspiration for the TV series White Collar. Between the ages of 16 and 21, Mr. Abagnale successfully posed as a lawyer, a doctor, a college professor and an airline pilot, simultaneously managing to cash $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in every US state and 26 foreign countries.
To orchestrate these deceptions, Abagnale forged a multitude of documents including a Pan American World Airways Employee ID and a Harvard Law School transcript; he bounced between fictitious careers, often having to hastily abandon particular occupations after realising that his tricks were putting hundreds of lives at danger. Interviewed at a later date, he recounted one occasion on which he had been invited to fly a plane at 30,000 ft, stating he was “very much aware that I had been handed custody of 140 lives, my own included… because I couldn’t fly a kite.”
Fraud schemes of such massive proportions may seem like a thing of the past – it is easy to assume that the arrival of the digital age would bring similar employment cons to a screeching halt. Would Frank Abagnale have been able to pull all of this off in 2014, when his true identity and professional background would have been no more than a few clicks away?
It appears that he would have – only last year, high-flying City lawyer Dennis O’Riordan (also known as Tom O’Riordan) was suspended from his special consulting role at Paul Hastings LLP after his outstanding academic qualifications were revealed to have been a fabrication. Prior to this discovery, he had been a partner at Paul Hastings and a senior in-house lawyer for a number of overseas banks. O’Riordan’s professional success was founded on a series of fictitious titles and accolades – in the Bar Directory, he was listed as “Dr Dennis Thomas Delcaron O’Riordan LLB, Hons, BCL D Phil, Oxon, MA”, despite having never been awarded a BA, BCL or D Phil from Oxford, or a degree from Harvard. His claim to membership of both the New York and Irish Bars was also repudiated by the Bar Standards Board over the course of their investigation.
This begs the question – how was a falsified CV allowed to slip through into the highest ranks of the legal profession? One reader of the online edition of The Lawyer commented: “Most firms, especially US firms, have [background checking] down pat for grads and associate hires, but seemingly, once on the gilded throne of partnership, all one has to do is say what you want and that will be fine, old sport.”
CV embellishments, alterations and even fabrications are decidedly not a thing of the past; and, as stories such as Frank Abagnale’s have shown, even the best con artists are not necessarily equipped to be good doctors, lawyers or pilots, despite the astonishing array of skills they may claim to possess. As such, knowing your employee appears to be just as vital to a company’s wellbeing as knowing your customer. Background checking should not be an afterthought, set into motion when things start to go wrong – it should be an essential first step to any working relationship, a paramount building block of confidence and security.
A quick and effective check is a means for any employer to ensure that they are making the right hire, based solely on the skill and merit of the applicant at hand. Once this initial hurdle has been overcome, companies are free to forge long-lasting employer/employee relationships of trust; to foster true talent without ever having to look back. Here at Onfido Background Checks, we aim to facilitate this process and work with companies toward an ever brighter and more transparent employment future.