Mobile Workforce Management Blog

50 Years on from Frank Abagnale and we’re still learning the same lessons

In this article HireRight, who deliver global background checks, employment, and education verification services to organisations worldwide, address the question - why are we still open to fraudulent employee applications?

In 1969, at the tender age of 21, a young man by the name of Frank Abagnale was arrested in Montpellier, France on charges of fraud, forgery and swindling after having assumed no less than eight identities - including a pilot, physician, US federal agent and lawyer. Ring a bell? The inspiration behind the Hollywood film ‘Catch me if you can’ and a broadway musical, Frank has been immortalised as one of the greatest, and most notorious imposters of all time.

Fast-forward 50 years, and you’d like to think that it would be nigh on impossible for someone completely unqualified to be handed the reins of a passenger plane, or be put in charge of a medical procedure. But of course, if we’re having this discussion, we know that this isn’t the case.

In 2011, the discovery of a fake pilot saw the Indian government review over 4,000 pilot licenses, and revoke an additional 14 in a scandal that rocked the nation. In 2018, it was revealed that a conwoman had practised psychiatry for more than 20 years in the UK’s National Health Service, bringing a further 3,000 medics under scrutiny.

The reality is that fraudsters are still slipping through the net at all echelons of the career ladder, fabricating qualifications, licenses and prior employment to land dream jobs and cushy salaries. The latest high-profile case, while not life-threatening, involved the former CEO of Samsonite, who resigned from his position following accusations that he had padded his CV with a doctorate. The question is, why?

Back in the days of Mr. Abagnale, you could have argued that there weren’t the processes or the technology in place to expose him, and that people had a stronger tendency to trust ‘character’.  Yet, according to the latest HireRight APAC Employment Screening Benchmark Report, 42% of respondents still knew of people who hired high-profile positions based on ‘gut instinct’ and 37% admitted that their organisation had different standards of screening for executives. The excuses remain unchanged.

It’s not hard to see how businesses could be therefore exposing themselves to risk. Without consistent, fair and transparent screening (and in many cases, rescreening) frameworks in place for all members of your team, whether they’re executive hires or contingent workers, imposters could well evade detection.  According to the Benchmark Report an incredible 74% of those surveyed said that background screening had uncovered issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by their…ark-report

However, perhaps there’s a greater challenge that needs addressing here. Whether we’re talking Frank, fake pilots, fraudster medics or an overly-decorated CEO, somewhere along the line (maybe, even, multiple times), assumptions were made. That this person has, surely, already jumped through the hoops and checked out. That the boxes have already been ticked. And it’s those assumptions that displace responsibility - whether that’s to the HR department, previous employer or educational facility.

Before we even consider what a good screening programme should entail, we need to reassess lines of responsibility - and realise that a bad hire is not a ‘HR problem’, but a ‘business problem’ that, at its worst, has the potential to completely derail an organisation. For example, Samsonite’s company shares plunged by over 20 percent following the initial accusations against CEO, Tainwala. Meanwhile, India’s Directorate of General Civil Aviation (DGCA) saw several heads roll as it became clear a number of their officials had been complicit in the fake pilot license scam.

In other words, business leaders need to be more involved in the hiring (and subsequent screening) process. That’s not to say they need to become HR - you have dedicated departments for a reason - but given hiring’s importance to maintaining business quality and profitability, neither should the c-suite be completely removed. Mitigating risk requires a concerted team effort and shared accountability - not finger-pointing.

It seems the FBI agrees. While admittedly less concerned with hiring as identity theft, they’ve put their heads together with none other than Frank Abagnale, the legend himself, to unearth imposters and close the net. How’s that for a career shift?

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