If job seekers think they can get away by lying about their background, they could be in for a big surprise. More companies are hiring screening experts to prevent fraud, according to employers and firms specialising in background checks.

One such firm, First Advantage, screened about 10,000 job candidates here in the first three months of this year. It found that 18.8 per cent of them had discrepancies in their job applications. Over the same period last year, 12.09 per cent of the 9,000 screened had issues with their applications.

Another background check specialist, Hireright, screened about 700,000 candidates last year, and found that more than half (57 per cent) had discrepancies in their resumes, a small rise from 2012.

Common lies include inflating salaries and job titles, faking educational qualifications and when they left their previous employer, as well as making up reasons for their resignations.

Experts believe that the fierce job competition is driving people to "enhance" their credentials.

"Candidates try to make themselves stand out in the hope of securing a hotly contested position," said Mr Edward Hickey, Asia-Pacific managing director of Hireright.

High-profile cases of cheating have raised the alarm for many employers, both here and overseas.

Last month, Mr Anoop Shankar, a former National University of Singapore (NUS) don, was found to have faked his credentials. A review of his work by West Virginia University in the United States found that he had only a master's degree from the University of North Carolina and did not graduate from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi as he claimed.

The incident has prompted NUS to relook its recruitment process.

Employers are especially careful about checking the background of senior hires and foreign candidates, said Mr Josh Goh, head of marketing and corporate communications at recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore.

"Senior people who have to deal with financial matters have to clear credit checks... There have also been cases of fake certificates from foreign education institutions," he said.

Employers explained that background checks are needed to ensure the information provided by candidates is authentic.

"Some of the checks include validating the education, employment and character references," said Ms Jacinta Low, head of human resource planning at OCBC Bank.

Specialist firms do their checks by contacting the job seeker's former bosses and human resource heads of their previous firms. Qualifications are also checked with educational institutions.

When allowed under the law, the firms also work with the authorities to check on possible criminal records as well as trawl the Internet for negative references.

While these firms can help businesses to avoid hiring the wrong people, they say companies need to be vigilant from the start of recruitment.

Employers, for instance should not just rely on referees provided by the candidates, said Mr Chin Wei Chong, marketing and communications director of First Advantage.

"A candidate will likely provide referees who have good things to say. It is important to check with others, like the head of human resource," he said.

Mr Hickey added that some candidates get friends to pretend to be direct supervisors and provide their mobile numbers. "It is advisable to go through the company's switchboard," he said.

3 Credential cheats caught by screening firm

  • A Singaporean man was employed as an assistant vice-president in a bank, based on the fact that he had a master's degree. But when he tried to apply for another job in a different firm, checks revealed that he did not even complete his first degree in electrical engineering. He enrolled in a computer science master's programme by using a fake degree certificate.
  • Last year, a candidate applied for a senior role at a Singapore-based mulitnational corporation (MNC). Claiming to have graduated with a economics degree from a top university in Japan in 1988, he claimed to have held senior roles in a few companies. But he never completed his university degree and faked job titles and employment details throughout his 20-year career.
  • A Singapore-based candidate claimed to have graduated from a prestigious university in India. He said he was the manager of database operations for an MNC in Japan and had also worked for an MNC in Singapore, earning $10,000 a month. But checks showed that both his degree and employment dates were false.