This page considers fake CVs, contested post-nomials and
It covers -
is complemented by a note on vetting/identity
Concerns regarding certification and 'resume fraud' reflect
the credentialism that is an integral feature of 'anonymist'
information economies, ones where -
potential employees are not personally known by prospective
employers or vouched for by an employer's personal contacts
markets may be highly competitive and where reruitment
applications may be decided on the basis of the applicant's
possession of academic or other qualifications
an individual faces the temptation of polishing a curriculum
vitae by adding a degree that was not obtained, adding
non-existant expertise and professional affiliations
or exaggerating a current salary
are perceptions that everyone is 'massaging' their CVs
paper, rather than the clothes, are what maketh the
The significance of tweaking a CV or inventing an employment
history and qualifications varies. The shape of offences
Some instances simply involve 'enhancement' of a legitimate
curriculum vitae, putting a positive spin on a job description.
Others involve omitting or inventing information for a
job application, presumably with the hope that the qualifications
will not be checked or omissions identified.
Some individuals have comprehensively manufactured qualifications
and employment histories. Some people conveniently forget
about past employers who would make poor referees or occupations
that do not fit perceptions of the prospective employer's
Some applicants want to get past a filter to a job interview
(eg withstand sorting in an online recruitment
site) or get a promotion.
Others, as corporate security services recurrently note,
do not intend to stay. Instead they intend to work in
an organisation just long enough to illicitly access data
or install malware. Ricardo Garotte for example stole
£4 million from two UK banks after using false references
to obtain temporary posts.
It is common to encounter claims that "approximately
75% of all CVs have some form of embellishment and 25%
contain outright lies".
We have thus sighted suggestions that suggestions that
up to 500,000 false tertiary degrees are in 'use' in the
USA (eg were cited for employment purposes), including
10,000 false medical degrees. One perspective is provided
in a 1996 study (PDF)
by Michael Finn & Joe Baker.
Other claims suggest that 30% of employees were hired
with 'massaged' credentials, although most massaging appears
to relate to being economical with the truth rather than
Estimates of the prevalence and seriousness of resume
fraud vary widely, with higher figures (up to 80% incidence)
coming from commercial resume verification services. The
February 2003 issue of Assessment Council News
notes a range from 11% to 67%.
UK verification service Control Risks estimated in 2003
that "about one in four CVs contains lies".
Local pre-employment screening service Australian Background
claimed in 2005 that 21% of 1,000 candidates in the industrial,
banking, public sector and finance industries had engaged
in CV fraud. Of that 21% some 60% had reportedly omitted
to mention criminal convictions such as fraud, drug possession
The UK Chartered Institute of Personnel & Developments
claimed in its 2005 Annual Recruitment, Retention and
Turnover survey that one in four companies rescinded a
job offer during 2004 because of CV fraud, with 23% of
employers sacking staff after discovering discrepancies
in information provided during the selection process.
Demographics are problematical. One verfication service
claims that 64% of people are "willing to invent
information to put on their CVs to try to land a job",
with men being supposedly more likely to lie than women.
It is claimed that office workers "have the highest
propensity to lie", followed by students, manual
workers, skilled trades and retail workers but arguably
that ranking reflects the nature of recruitment in US
The predominant inaccuracy appears to be exaggeration
of the applicant's current salary in a bid to increase
remuneration by the prospective employer. Other popular
exaggerations include qualifications, length of service
in a previous job, level of experience and - for emloyers
who consider such attributes are meaningful predictors
of performance - hobbies and community involvement.
Most incidents of resume tweaking or outright invention
are not reported. Media coverage does, however, give some
sense of the chutzpah, desperation or merely ineptitude
of some public figures. Exposure by colleagues or journalists
has encompassed government officials, business figures,
military and educational administrators and academics.
In the US, UK and Australia misstatements in CVs have
embarrassed the great and ungood.
Veritas CFO Ken Lonchar for example resigned
after falsely claiming that he had a Stanford MBA. Bausch
& Lomb CEO Ronald Zarrella forfeited
a US$1.1 million bonus because his resume featured a non-existent
MBA from New York University. MGM Mirage (with revenue
of US$7.7 billion) lost its Chair and Chief Executive
Terry Lanni in 2008 after claims that
he had not been awarded the University of Soujern California
MBA that features on his CV.
Televangelist Pat Robertson merely claimed
war service in Korea. David Edmondson,
CEO of RadioShack and former Baptist minister, claimed
that he had received degrees in theology and psychology.
Patrick Imbardelli resigned a £300,000
pa job as head of InterContinental Hotels' Asia Pacific
operations days before joining the parent company's board,
after it was revealed that he had falsely claimed a bachelor
of business degree from the University of Victoria and
a BSc and MBA from Cornell University. His demise was
prompted by a whistleblower.
Brian Valery duped major New York law
firm Anderson Kill & Olick. He was hired as a paralegal
in 1996 and in 2004 informed his superiors that he had
passed the bar exam after gaining a law degree through
Fordham University's evening program. Anderson Kill promoted
him to an associate and adding his name to its stationery.
He was arrested in Connecticut in 2007 after applying
to join that state's Bar, with a potential sentence of
five years imprisonment for perjury
and practicing law without being a lawyer.
Former hairdresser Paul Bint posed as
a doctor in UK hospitals for 12 years, subsequently being
convicted of fraud for posing as a barrister, having stolen
a wig and gown.
Robert Madrid, a US expert witness in
several major trials, claimed an undergraduate degree
from the University of Maryland, a master's from Georgetown
University, a medical degree from Harvard and a PhD from
MIT. He also claimed to be millionaire, a conservative
radio talk-show host and a member of Mensa. None of those
claims appear to be true.
Chris Tyler, CEO of Telstra subsidiary
Solution 6, was revealed in 2000 to have had been been
convicted of marijuana possession (more than 22.7 kilograms,
for which he received a 10-year suspended sentence), involved
with a North American company, Lessonware, that had collapsed
and with a series of blunders as head of New Zealand Telecom's
internet operations. Telstra did not know about Lessonware
or the drug conviction. Queried why he had not told the
boards of Solution 6 and Telstra about his past, Tyler
commented that he was "never asked".
Telstra had previously been embarrassed by the revelation
in 1993 that Bruno Sorrentino, head of
its IT arm and research laboratories (and former ANZ Bank
chief information officer), had not attended London's
Imperial College, let alone completed a claimed PhD in
In the UK Alison Ryan, appointed to a
£125,000-a-year job as PR supremo for Manchester
United, claimed to have a first class degree from Cambridge
University and a distinction in her professional examination.
In reality, she had gained a second class and had later
been disbarred by the Bar Council after being charged
with nine counts of professional misconduct.
MIT dean of admissions Marilee Jones
resigned in 2007 after nearly three decades, saying "I
misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied
to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to
correct my résumé when I applied for my
current job or at any time since". On various occasions
she had claimed to have degrees from Albany Medical College,
Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute but
alas had no degrees from those places or anywhere else.
Marvin Hewitt, US high school dropout
successfully lied his way into a succession of academic
posts, notably at the University of New Hampshire in 1954
as "Dr Kenneth D. Yates".
US politician Joe Biden, amid criticism
for egregious plagiarism
(appropriating someone else's life story rather than merely
their words) was attacked over 'degree inflation'. On
the campaign trail he snorted "I think I probably
have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect. I went to
law school on a full academic scholarship." David
Greenberg notes that the claim was false, as were Biden's
assertions that he had graduated in the top half of his
law school class and had earned three undergraduate degrees.
Biden had merely gained one.
The Australian National Safety Council's John Friedrich
(aka Friedrich Hohenberger), is believed to have used
a false passport, invented qualifications and impressive
career achievements. That creativity was presumably useful
in a fraud that saw around $300 million go missing - followed
by Friedrich's disappearance in 1989 and suicide in 1991.
In the UK Neil Taylor was chosen unanimously
for the £115,000-a-year job as head of the Shrewsbury
& Telford Hospitals NHS Trust after claiming to have
a first-class degree from the University of Nottingham.
Alas, he had massaged his CV.
When asked to provide his certificates for a routine salary
review in 2004 he supplied a homemade diploma with "a
crude copy of the Nottingham University logo", claiming
that the paper was for a BA in business administration
and economics. Why stop there? He also claimed to be a
graduate of the non-existent Institute of Personnel Management
at Nottingham and to have a postgraduate diploma in Forensic
Medicine. Taylor had previously worked, apparently quite
effectively, as chief executive at the Royal Orthopaedic
Hospital in Birmingham for four years and another four
as head of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. In sentencing
him to 12 months in custody the judge commented "lies
come back to haunt you".
Notre Dame football coach George O'Leary
was forced to resign five days after being hired in 2001,
admitting he lied about academic credentials that included
a 'masters degree' from New York University. James Gulliver's
multi-billion dollar takeover of Distillers in 1985 was
hobbled after competitors revealed that the high profile
entrepreneur had not gained an MBA from Harvard.
Denis Smith, former chief executive of
the WA city of Joondalup, was found to have lied about
postgraduate qualifications he claimed to have obtained
from UTS and RMIT.
Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), was revealed to have been merely
a student at Central State University rather than "Outstanding
Political Science Professor". Other parts of his
resume were similarly inventive.
Jeffrey Archer, whose defamation action
is highlighted elsewhere on this site, recurrently buffed
his profile. He claimed that he was born in Somerset,
rather than in the more prosaic central London's City
Road area, and painted his father as an upstanding war
hero although dad was a bigamist who fled to New York
in 1914 to avoid arrest for fraud. One Archer CV listed
a year at Sandhurst military college and an army physical
training instruction course, which as the Guardian
sniffed was "a surprise to Sandhurst and the regiment".
2002 John Davy was sentenced to eight
months imprisonment in New Zealand for CV fraud. He had
been controversially appointed as $NZ140,000-a-year inaugural
head of the Maori Television Service. That appointment
reflected supposed strong financial and management skills;
Davy had no television experience, knew little of Maori
culture and was unfamiliar with the language. He had claimed
an MBA from the Ashland School of Business at Denver State
University, an accounting certificate, experience as a
member of the British Columbia Securities Commission and
authorship of two books.
Unfortunately the Commission had not heard of him and
the 'University' was discovered to be an online diploma
mill. Davy claimed that he had been 'undercover', with
his academic and financial history being wiped as part
of a witness protection
program. In reality he had been twice declared bankrupt
and had worked as an accountant in Whistler, rather than
as a regulator.
In the same year Brigadier-General Ernest Zwane,
head of the South African National Defence Force's legal
department, was arrested after claims that his CV was
decorated with an illicit BA degree from the University
of Fort Hare and a B Proc and LLB from Vista University.
Jeffrey Papows, author of Enterprise.com:
Market Leadership in the Information Age (New York:
Perseus 1999), resigned as president of IBM's Lotus unit
in 2000 after being savaged by the Wall Street Journal
in 1999 over what appeared to be some tall tales. IBM
initially dismissed criticism as nothing but "rumors
strung together by commentary".
The Register unkindly commented
he's not an orphan, his parents are alive and well.
He wasn't a Marine Corps captain, he was a lieutenant.
He didn't save a buddy by throwing a live grenade out
of a trench. He didn't burst an eardrum when ejecting
from a Phantom F4, which didn't crash, not killing his
co-pilot. He's not a tae kwon do black belt, and he
doesn't have a PhD from Pepperdine University.
than dashing exploits as an aviator, the US Marine Corps
indicated that Lt Papows was an air traffic control operative.
In NSW Glen Oakley
rose from a mortician's assistant to become Director-General
of the state Department of Business & Regional Development,
partly on the strength of his academic background. Unfortunately
his degrees, including a BSc (Hons) and Grad Dip in Education
from the University of Newcastle, MBA from UNSW and a
PhD, were all fake.
'Linda Astor' persuaded the NZ Medical
Council, Royal College of Psychiatrists and Nelson Marlborough
District Health Board that she had psychiatric qualifications
and extensive experience. That gained her a job as Clinical
Director of Mental Health at Nelson. The US institution
cited on her CV did not exist and it appears that she
invented her referee Dr Zbignew Poddubuick.
Astor fled New Zealand amid claims of negligence, being
arrested in the US during 2001 for shoplifting and deported
to Poland. By 2004, as Dr Linda Hoffman, she was a senior
psychiatrist, with 20 staff and for hundreds of patients.
Her adventures in New Zealand had vanished from her CV.
Less spectacular incidents have involved the Mittyesque
story of the 'airline pilot' whose qualifications related
to bus driving, dental and medical assistants practicing
as dentists and doctors, 'accountants' who at best had
bookkeeping certificates and 'lawyers' whose skills were
derived from watching US television dramas.
In 2006 George Deutsch, who had gained
notoriety for requiring NASA staff to add the word "theory"
at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned amid confirmation
by officials at Texas A&M University that he had not
graduated from that institution, contrary to the claim
on his NASA résumé.
In 208 Sydney psychologist Vitomir Zepinic,
a former deputy minister in Bosnia & Herzegovina who
has denied links to alleged war criminal Radovan Karadzic,
was found guilty of falsely claiming to be a doctor.
Zepinic was found to have breached the Medical Practice
Act 1992 (NSW) by using the initials MBBS in six
medico-legal reports to insurer Allianz. He had never
been registered to practice as a psychiatrist in NSW.
Burwood Local Court magistrate Caroline Barkell ruled
that Zepinic's use of the initials MBBS (bachelor of medicine/bachelor
of surgery) indicated he was entitled to be a registered
doctor. However, he did not possess such qualifications
and was not registered as a medical practitioner in NSW.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Director
General Kamil Idris is alleged to have
repeatedly signed official documents showing his birth
date to be nine years earlier than it is. Intellectual
Property Watch, correctly or otherwise, noted suggestions
that Idris may have moved up the ranks at WIPO based on
In 2007 high profile South Korean curator Shin
Jeong-ah, youngest professor at Seoul's prestigious Dongguk
University, was revealed to have improperly claimed a
doctorate from Yale and a master's degree from Kansas
University. Following gossip about her qualifications
Kansas issued a statement indicating that although Shin
had attended classes between 1992 and 1996 she had not
graduated. Officials at the Gwanju Biennale released a
2005 fax, purportedly from Yale, indicating that Shin
entered Yale's art history department in 1996 and graduated
in 2005 with a doctoral degree in art.
Shin told journalists "I certainly did receive a
degree from Yale, which is proven by the document Dongguk
received from Yale in 2005. I will make a statement and
take legal action as soon as I return to Seoul."
Yale subsequently stated that Shin did not graduate with
a doctorate in 2005 and indeed had never been registered
with the university. Shin's dissertation at Dongguk University
on Apollinaire was revealed as "almost identical"
as a 1981 work by Ekaterini Samaltanou-Tsiakma.
Later in 2007 prominent Buddhist monk the Venerable Jigwang
was revealed to have falsely claimed a Seoul National
University degree. Kim Ock-rang resigned
from her professorship at Dankook University after admitting
she had purchased her degree from a Californian diploma
mill in California. Radio presenter Lee
Ji-young was fired by Korea Broadcasting System after
discovery of fictitious degrees.
In 2007 US and French media were embarrassed by news that
terrorism expert Alexis Debat had faked
his academic credentials and entire interviews with international
figures. Debat was a consultant to ABC television, a senior
fellow on terrorism at the Nixon Centre, a contributor
to the National Interest and Politique International.
He falsely claimed a PhD at the Sorbonne; he had more
brazenly concocted interviews with Kofi Annan, Michael
Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan and Barack Obama.
A few months later UK broadcaster Channel 4 was embarrassed
after revelation that its heavily promoted 'celebrity
nanny', star of the Bringing Up Baby series and
self-styled "Cruella de Vil of the baby world",
did not possess claimed diplomas in child daycare and
pre-school practice, lacked claimed qualifications in
maternity practice and paediatrics ("This person
never enrolled on any of our courses and as such has never
been trained by us") and did not have a degree in
Business Studies from York University. York indicated
that it had no records of her and indeed did not offer
a business studies degree.
Gene Morrison faced legal action in the
UK in 2007 after acting as a professional expert witness
in litigation and offering a "first-class objective
and professional" service to the legal and insurance
professions since 1977. Morrison claimed a BSc and PhD,
alas purchased from 'Rochville University' for US$1,398.
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine, star of
Dinner: Impossible, acknowledged in 2008 that
he had fabricated parts of his resume, including that
he had a knighthood, was a friend of the Prince of Wales,
owned a castle in Scotland, and had cooked for the British
Royal Family and US presidents. Irvine said "I was
wrong to exaggerate in statements related to my experiences
in the White House and the Royal Family". Resume:
NSW Fire Brigade executive Cristian Sanhueza,
accused in 2008 of skimming $1.5 million from inflated
contracts, was revealed to have falsely claimed economics
and accounting degrees from the University of NSW, University
of Sydney and Macquarie University. He appears to have
forged university documents, commenting during an ICAC
inquiry that "It's probably me playing around on
the computer. Maybe I was bored."
Controversial wine vendor Hardy Rodenstock
(aka Meinhard Goerke) added a degree
or two to his CV.
Iranian interior minister Ali Kordan
was sacked after revelation that he faked a law doctorate
from Oxford University (with a testamur that featured
typos and garbled text), and had not been awarded a claimed
bachelor's or a master's degree from Iran's Open University.
Kordan insisted that he received the Oxford degree in
good faith and doubted it only when deputies questioned
its authenticity: "To my utter disbelief, the university
did not confirm [it] when my representative went there".
Timothy McCormack pleaded guilty in Sydney
District Court to faking his qualifications, having posed
as a licensed aircraft engineer for almost nine months,
and then faked the four character references tendered
to the court prior to his sentencing hearing in November
Perceptions of systemic dishonesty have fuelled - and
been fuelled by - what is often referred to as the verification
industry: identity reference services, recruitment agencies
and pre-screening services.
Identity reference services,
discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site, involve
a convergence of traditional human resource management,
consumer credit reporting
and private investigation services. They vary considerably
in price, sophistication and methodology.
Some seek to verify information provided in resumes by
consulting referees, putative employers and entities that
have awarded credentials.
That consultation might be limited to a quick web search
(eg to determine whether an educational institution or
professional body does indeed exist). It might be more
effective, involving contact with an institution to determine
whether an individual both attended a university and gained
the degree referred to on a CV. Intensive checking might
involve contact via switchboards rather than relying on
a nominated direct number that in fact is used by an associate
or family member of an applicant.
Particular industries have emphasised standard searches
of credit reference databases (eg to determine whether
the person has gone bankrupt or has a history of financial
problems) and criminal records, including public offender
Many employers - or their agents - will ask to see the
certification associated with a resume, for example a
formal unit by unit transcript of academic achievement
or the individual's diploma. Such scrutiny may be ineffective,
as few people have a background in forensics
and an applicant may have acquired a forged document.
Others of course simply buy a degree from a diploma
There is no comprehensive publicly accessible official
national register of graduates from Australian tertiary
institutions. (The extent of non-government databases,
compiled by commercial services from lists published by
individual institutions, is unknown.)
It is clear from the incidents noted above that some checking
is ineffective. The past five years has seen a move away
from traditional supplementary mechanisms such as the
(or erratic indicators of honesty such as whether the
applicant blinks, rubs her nose or has big ears) to what
are claimed to be 'smart' services such as software that
supposedly detects "suspicious statements" in
Such vetting software is claimed to identify "text
patterns and numbers that can change when a lie or exaggeration"
is made in a resume. One of the more ambitious software
applications supposedly analyses the language used in
describing past jobs to see whether that accurately reflects
the job description. Given the opacity - or merely brevity
- of many job descriptions our skeptics are dubious about
such tools, particularly if an applicant has adopted the
language of someone else's CV to describe a job that he/she
actually performed or has instead used a commercial resume-writing
What should you do if you are writing, or reading, a CV?
There is little agreement.
One pundit comments that 'editing' is inevitable:
CV needs to flirt, not to reveal all. It should make
you sound so attractive that they want to find out more
characterised a fake academic qualification as
like carrying a ticking timebomb with no idea of when
it could go off. It could happen when you claim the
qualification for the first time, or it might take years
before it explodes in your face - taking your riches
and your reputation with it.
should thus avoid the temptation to buy a real certificate
from a fake university or a fake certificate that pretends
to be from a real university. There is general acceptance
that it is unwise to put anything on a CV that will be
difficult to explain away at an interview or to falsely
claim attributes that can be readily tested (eg foreign
language skills or a year of birth). Expunged
criminal records may or may not need to be referred to,
depending on the nature of the job.
Human resource specialists and identity verification services,
apart from touting their expertise and databases, offer
tips for potential employers such as -
basic facts in resumes and supporting documentation
to ensure information such as qualifications and date
of birth are consistent
academic and professional qualifications with the institutions
that issued that certification, rather than relying
on course transcripts or paper diplomas supplied by
online to determine whether institutions indeed exist
intelligent use of application forms rather than relying
wholly on a CV, for example to facilitate comparison
of different applicants and reduce opportunities for
eliding gaps in employment and training
with referees, bearing in mind that some former employers/colleagues
may be influenced by friendship, fear of defamation
action, embarrassment or merely desperation to unload
an unwanted person
Much of the literature on resume massaging is distinctly
anecdotal or reflects the interests of particular stakeholders
such as commercial 'pre-screening' services. One point
of entry to the professional literature is Deception
in Selection (New York: Wiley 1998) by Liz Walley
& Mike Smith.
The discussion of job
search sites and services elsewhere on this site features
pointers to works such as the 2003 paper
In With the New, Out With the Old: Has the Technological
Revolution Eliminated the Traditional Job Search Process?
by Van Rooy, Alonso & Fairchild, Mark Granovetter's
landmark Getting a job: a study of contacts and careers
(Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1974) and The Strength
of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited (PDF),
and Gurus, Hired Guns, & Warm Bodies: Itinerant
Experts in a Knowledge Economy (Princeton: Princeton
Uni Press 2004) by Stephen Barley & Gideon Kunda.
Coverage of corporate embarrassments often appears as
part of broader studies of corporate failure. One example
is Martin Thomas' The Fraud (Richmond: Pagemasters
1991), about CEO John Friedrich's fabrications in the
lead up to a $244 million fraud. It is complemented by
Codename Iago: the Story of John Friedrich, Former
Chief Executive of the Victorian NSCA (Melbourne:
Heinemann 1991) by Friedrich & Richard Flanagan.
Not For Novelty Purposes Only: Fake Degrees, Phony
Transcripts & Verification Services (PDF)
discusses fake degrees - and fake universities - in the
US and Canada. For Australia see the range of cogent papers
by scholar George Brown
discussing malpractice and remedies. The much-cited 500,000
fake US degrees figure appears in the 1985 Fraudulent
Credentials report by the US House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Health & Long-term Care, updated in
Degree Mills, The Billion Dollar Industry That Has
Sold Over A Million Fake Diplomas (Amherst: Prometheus
2005) by John Bear & Allen Ezell.
Other pointers are provided in the exploration of diploma
mills elsewhere on this site.
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