At an industrial conference last week, the talk was of a new and unwanted guest at the tech party: scam artists. In two separate conversations with people who have been caught off guard, the headline is this: there is a talented gang of bad guys out there. And they make it their full-time job to get hired as high-priced sales talent--then under-perform for months, until the frustrated manager fires them.

Only after months of no-show performance and travel expense. And it's all a very well organized scam.

When Talent is Short, Fraud is Tall

We all know about the  talent shortage in tech hotspots like Silicon Valley. Well, that shortage has now gone nationwide, and not just in engineering related areas, but in business functions too. And one of the areas most in demand is sales. Folks who understand a tech product, who can qualify a lead and perform contract negotiations, leading to a closed deal? Forget about it. That animal has proven to be particularly rare.  And bad guys have stepped up to fill the gaps.

Why are sales reps, as opposed to coding geeks, the perfect cover for a dirty sack of suds? Think about it. What are the two characteristics of successful sales reps in tech?

  • They work from home
  • Their career has had them move around a lot.

This means that LinkedIn profiles are easy to fabricate. That's the first step in setting up the mark.

The Setup

Here's how it works. A random guy applies for a regional sales job from a job posting. The cover letter hits all your key words and the resumé shows increasing responsibility in a number of companies, some of which are out of the country, out of business or otherwise unavailable.

But the candidate has references, usually people who are not in the industry now but were heavy hitters back in the day. (One fellow told me of a reference who agreed to be interviewed over lunch near his "old office" in Silicon Valley.) With a feeling of relief, you hire the rep, who comes to your office for a week of intensive training.

The Sting

Then he takes about 90 days to slowly--ahem--build up a number of leads in the industry.  Some of these are with reasonably-known companies--but you've never heard of the contact. Others are exciting, up-and-coming operations that your new sales rep has found for you and only you.

Then--nothing seems to close.

This is when the talent of the dirtbag comes through. Not for selling--for keeping you, the fish, on the hook. After a time you call your new rep and one of two scenarios plays out:

  1. You say: "I notice you are not closing. Want some help?" And the rep says, "Sorry, I have been distracted. I'll send you the contract I've been working on. It's just that my dad hasn't been well." You think, that's understandable. But some time later, as you notice that you haven't in fact received the contract, the rep sends an email: "I will be out of the office. My father is in the hospital overseas." Unfortunately, the father does not recover from an extended illness, and the rep, it has been established, is out of the country. 
  2. Or he says, "What are you worried about? I just got an email from my client saying his father is sick." He forwards an email to you saying that we should sign in ten days. So you look at the email, and you see the "client's" email came from a Gmail account.

The game is now on. 

Hard truth

The truth is that there's a cabal of guys who act in various roles in the drama. Each member can be a "referral source," a "job candidate" or bogus "client" for a number of scams that are running concurrently.

By introducing these fake personalities into the mix, the scam proceeds in ways that normal law-abiding companies find it hard to fathom.

And when they do find out, they feel embarrassed, and stay quiet. Even though, by the way, the bad guys taking the role of the candidate are using their real names. They could be prosecuted for fraud and racketeering.

What we need is someone to step up and name the fraudsters.