These gumshoes don't wear trench coats or dark glasses. They don't even carry weapons.
Yet in cities across India, armed with vast databases of citizens' personal information, these detectives work in hot pursuit of the latest form of fraud threatening India's lucrative IT and outsourcing industries.
The perps? A fast-growing, wide-reaching ring of "CV cheats."
These are job applicants so hungry for India's cushiest jobs that they pad their résumés to boost their chances. With the economy slowing and companies making fewer hires, competition has gotten so tough that about 1 in 4 résumés submitted for an IT job is found to have discrepancies, according to the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), an IT watchdog in India.
"When there are [fewer] jobs on offer and more candidates chasing them, many indulge in embellishing their résumés," says Ashish Dehade, the West Asia managing director of First Advantage, a fraud detection company based in California that serves more than 900 multinationals in India.
In the past several years of India's IT and outsourcing boom – which has created millions of new jobs – CV discrepancies have seen the highest increase in the past 15 months, Mr. Dehade continues.
According to First Advantage, 1 in 5 résumés checked during the second quarter of 2008 had employment-related discrepancies, compared with 1 in 6 résumés in the first quarter. In the outsourcing industry, 1 in 6 résumés contains inaccurate information.
One reason for the rise may be the declining growth rate in the IT sector, which has slipped from 30 percent since the start of the year to about 21 to 24 percent, according to NASSCOM.
Meanwhile, India's economy is growing at a slower-than-expected annual rate of 7.5 percent, its slowest after more than three years at an average of 9 percent annual growth.
Having fewer new spots to fill, many companies are now looking primarily for experienced professionals. With engineering colleges across India continuing to put thousands of fresh graduates on the job market each year, more are hiring "CV detectives" before they recruit, to weed out those with fraudulent credentials.
It's not just fresh graduates, but also experienced professionals who indulge in CV embellishment. Last year, First Advantage discovered that a senior candidate, who was the head of a division in one India's largest IT firms, had submitted bogus degree certificates from IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Mumbai – two top Indian management and engineering institutes. He had held his position for 20 years before the fraud was discovered.
Companies are slowly waking up to this menace. Last year, Wipro asked 25 employees to quit after their credentials were found to be dubious. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), another software behemoth, fired 16 employees for the same reason.
"These candidates were given the opportunity to explain ambiguity in facts," says Ajoy Mukherjee, the head of human resources at TCS. "And reverification happened through another agency."
Stringent background checks are necessary, he says, to ensure the IT industry maintains its high standards. Now, he says, his company initiates background checks as soon as a candidate is given the offer letter. The service costs between $35 and $150 at a top verification company.
Yet many CV cheats continue to reap benefits of their fraud. Since 2004, Nitin, a software engineer who declined to use his last name, has worked at a software multinational that hired him based on his falsified résumé. The company pays him a higher salary than the one he claimed to have earned at his previous job – which was double the actual amount.
Though he had less than one year of experience before starting the job, Nitin's résumé said he had three. In reality, though, he had spent those three years looking for work.
"In this competitive industry, to get a job, you need experience, and to get experience you need a job. So what else could I do?" he asks.
According to NASSCOM, the long-term solution to stop CV cheats like Nitin is the National Skills Registry, which it set up about two years ago. With more than 300,000 professionals listed, the registry is like a bank of IT professionals whose backgrounds have been thoroughly verified by a professional agency. Top companies like Wipro, Satyam, and TCS also see the registry as a boon.
Not all IT professionals feel the impetus to register, as enrolling names is not mandatory yet.
"In the long run, however," says Ameet Nivsarkar, vice president for global trade and development at NASSCOM, "as more and more companies hire from the pool of registered people, we foresee candidates that don't register losing out on jobs.