Understanding The Legal Process

How Fudging Your Resume Can Get You Fired (Or Sent To Prison)

by Eli Gregory

Given that 70% of college students admit that they'd lie to get a job, it seems like a lot of people don't see anything wrong with a little bit of "revisionist history" when it comes to what they put down on their resume. Most people think that the worst thing that will happen if they get caught down the line is that they'll lose the job, but sometimes the consequences are far more severe. When can a lie on your resume get you fired and when can it land you in jail instead?

The Resume Game Has Changed

The days of just exaggerating a little on a resume (calling yourself a "supervisor" when what you were actually a "crew leader" with only one other person in the crew) have been replaced by increasingly sophisticated frauds:

  • diploma mills that will sell you a degree and a transcript from an online "university" based on your self-reported "life experiences"
  • companies that will verify your fictitious employment history, pretending that you worked for them in whatever capacity you claimed, and give you an excellent reference
  • hackers that will add your name to legitimate university record systems, along with a record of the classes you supposedly took and the major you supposedly earned

Today's elaborate system of cheats and deceptions is being met by an equally strong response among both employers and lawmakers. What used to be the cause for a quiet dismissal if you were eventually caught can do more than just lose you the job and your reputation. It can have serious legal consequences as well.

Resume Lies Can Destroy Your Life

If you figure that you won't be one to get caught, think again. Studies indicate that over 50% of employers have caught lies on resumes, and they're increasingly aware of the problems with resume mills and frauds.

Employers don't want to expose sensitive material -- the company's or the employee's -- to someone that isn't who they pretend to be. If they hire people who require professional licenses, like nurses or therapists, they have an invested interest in checking backgrounds carefully. If they don't, they could be opening themselves up to lawsuits from patients and clients. A contractor doesn't want to let an electrician who doesn't really have his certification work on a house -- that opens the contractor up to charges of negligence.

To protect themselves, employers are fact checking resumes -- even those of long-term employees. Lawmakers are passing laws that criminalize resume fraud. In New Jersey, for example, if you use a fraudulent degree you can be fined $1,000 for each offense. In Texas, the fine is $2,000 and 6 months in prison. If you sent your resume (or other bogus documents) in by mail or fax, you could be facing charges of mail or wire fraud as well (because attempting to trick somebody into hiring you for a position for which you aren't qualified is an attempt to take their money illegally).

In a spectacular recent case, a commentator for a major news channel, Wayne Simmons, was fired and arrested on federal charges for claiming that he'd worked for the CIA for almost 30 years. He was charged with multiple counts of fraud and making false statements to the U.S. government. The publicity has no doubt encouraged even more employers to check references very carefully.

If you're thinking of padding your resume or adding a few embellishments, don't. And don't even think about using a fake diploma or diploma mill to get a job. If you've already done something like that, talk to a criminal defense attorney like Ewbank & Kramer right away so that you can try to minimize the damage to your life and keep from compounding your problems.