It was supposed to be a red-letter day in Nambirajan Selvaraj’s life.
On Monday, the 24-year-old engineering graduate from Coimbatore reached Cognizant’s campus in the city, joining letter in hand.
He was in for a shock, though.
The letter turned out to be fake offer from an email ID that looked identical to that of the official ID used by the IT services provider’s human resources department, something that Selvaraj had failed to double-check.
When he approached the nearby Saravanampatti police station to register a complaint, Selvaraj at least had the consolation of knowing that his was not the only such case.
The station had already registered thirty similar ones over the last few months.
Increased hiring by IT companies and anxious aspirants waiting to hear from recruiters have proved to be a boon for such fly-by-night operators, who charge between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2 lakh promising jobs and providing gullible candidates with joining letters from reputed firms, recruitment and background verification agencies told ET.
The number of job aspirants being duped by racketeers has, in fact, increased this year as offers for freshers have gone up, the recruiters said.
The top five Indian IT firms — TCS, Infosys, HCL Tech, Wipro and Tech Mahindra — have stepped up hiring in the first half of the current fiscal year, an analysis by ET shows.
The five IT services providers hired 64,332 employees in the six months to September, compared to 54,642 people in the same period last year. They have also made campus offers to more than 100,000 people this year.
Cognizant, which has been quick to act on the issue, said it had provided an email address where people could flag such fraudulent job offers.
“We have a dedicated team within our Compliance function to look into and address matters related to hiring, process controls, complaints, and anti-fraud mechanisms across the globe,” said Suresh Bethavandu, vice president and global head of talent acquisition at Cognizant.
“Cognizant denounces the deeply disturbing incidents of unsuspecting young professionals being taken for a ride with fake job offers,” he added.
Racketeers use fake profiles on Microsoft-owned professional networking platform LinkedIn to communicate with aspirants. In some cases, they also organise recruitment drives in three-star hotels in smaller towns to snare unsuspecting job seekers.
“In the previous few years, the number of freshers getting job offers was relatively lower compared to the past one year, as the impact of automation on the IT industry was at its peak. Now, companies are replacing expensive mid-management resources with freshers, and racketeers are using this perceived increase in jobs to their advantage,” said Kamal Karanth, co-founder of Xpheno, a Bengaluru-based staffing agency.
Last month, police in Bengaluru took up an investigation into a complaint by Infosys seeking help in identifying and acting on people behind WhatsApp messages promising jobs at the company.
Some job aspirants told ET that fraudsters also pose as mid-level employees of technology companies and offer to refer them to ‘positions’in the company in exchange for a slice of their income.
The increase in lateral hires following job cuts in middle management due to cost pressures has also given more avenues for fraudsters to take aspirants for a ride, said Ajay Trehan, CEO andfounder of AuthBridge, an employee background verification firm. Such cases are especially prevalent in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, he said.
Email masking is also done to make it appear as if the offer is from a legitimate company ID, but these cases are rare, Trehan said.
Companies, on their part, have put up warnings on their websites against misleading advertisements and fake offers through emails.
“We inform colleges during campus placements and other engagements not to fall prey to the fraudsters and encourage (students) to check the website for authenticity and, if in doubt, to write to our team,” said Harshvendra Soin, chief people officer at Tech Mahindra.
If individuals are unsure about the source of a job offer, they can login to the ‘Careers’ section on the company’s website to validate the letter, a spokesperson for Infosys said, responding to ET’s queries on the issue.
Wipro said it had taken efforts to educate and safeguard the interests of potential job seekers, especially students. “We also work closely with law enforcement authorities to report and prevent fake job scams,” it said.
Companies such as Tech Mahindra and Cognizant are also using QR codes on offer letters for verification. The codes show the applicant’s ID, name and email address. However, these are not foolproof.