Fake References: What Are They and Should I Use Them?


fake references

If you’re interviewing for a job and are finding yourself short of the number of references that you need to provide, you may feel stuck and unsure of what to do. 

Ultimately, that could lead you to look at solutions like fake references to fulfill the requirement of the job that you’re requiring for.

But what exactly are fake references? And is it a good idea for you to use them? This article is going to unpack those questions, along with other related questions about fake references.

What is a Fake Reference?

A fake reference is a person that is listed on your job application that is intended to pose as a relevant third party source of information about your ability to competently do the job to which you’re applying.

Fake references generally take one of three common forms:

  • A friend or family member that is asked to pose as a former colleague or business associate
  • A third party that is paid to pose as someone that can speak to your abilities to do the job
  • A fake person that is listed on a job application with the hopes that a company won’t actually check your references

Fake references are most often provided when somebody does not have enough references to meet the minimum requirements of the job to which they’re applying (typically, three – five). Most often, that occurs with people that are early in their career, or those that burned some bridges at previous places of employment.

Can You Use Fake References?

Using fake references is absolutely not advisable. If caught, you are at the very least unlikely to receive a job offer, and could even face potential criminal charges in the form of professional fraud.

In fact, candidates get rejected about 10 – 20% of the time after a reference check. Most often, the reason for a rejection is that a candidate provided a fake reference that was discovered when they were vetted.

So no, do use a fake reference.

Is Using a Fake Reference Illegal?

fake reference illegal

Fake references are illegal, if you’re caught. Providing a fake reference meets the definition of criminal fraud, and you could also potentially be sued for other issues, like defamation.

Is a company likely to pursue legal action against someone that provided a fake reference? In practice, probably not. And honestly I wouldn’t go to the trouble of filing a criminal complaint as a hiring manager that has vetted references in the past. However, it is certainly possible that a company could pursue a legal path in response to receiving a fake reference.

Can You Buy Fake References?

Yes, you can buy fake references. Believe it or not, there are a variety of companies that provide fake references as a service.

Companies like careerexcuse.com, referenceexcellence.com, and fastreferences.com all provide fake references as a service for a fee.

However, using these services is not advisable for the reasons previously mentioned. Additionally, companies that provide services that are unethical or illegal also present heightened risk of negative-option billing fraud. Basically, you want to be careful about who you provide your credit card to, particularly for a recurring billing set up.

Do Employers Check if References Are Real?

In my experience as both a hiring manager and a hiree, if you’re asked to provide references with a job application, the hiring company will generally call those references to ask them some questions about your background and experience.

And while it can be difficult to verify with complete certainty that the references are valid and legitimate, there are a variety of red flags that can emerge when you actually have a fake reference on the phone. 

Common ones include the following:

  • Lack of stories and detail about the candidate’s experience
  • Forgetting their supposed relationship to the candidate
  • Not knowing key details like the names of other colleagues, employment periods, etc.

The moral of the story is that there are a variety of ways to pick up that a reference is fake by actually getting on the phone with them, which could create risk for the candidate of getting caught.

What Happens If I Give a Fake Reference?

If you give a fake reference, and are caught, you could face one or multiple of the following consequences:

  • You will not receive a job offer
  • If you’re hired, and the company subsequently finds out about the fake reference, you could lose your job
  • You could face legal trouble 

Ultimately, the risk is not worth the reward for using fake references.

How Can I Get a Job Without References?

Ultimately, a key driver for using fake references is a lack of quality references. In many cases, as a result of much professional experience. And many people look to fake references out of desperation as a way to solve that problem.

If you’re wondering how you can get a job without references, this video from Job Search Coach Thea Ho offers some helpful recommendations:

This article from ZipJobs also provides some helpful recommendations for what to do if you don’t have any references.


If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have any references, or you have a lack of quality references, it can be tempting to explore fake references as a solution.

However, using fake references is not only unethical, but it could also cost you a job or create other problems for you.

So do not use fake references, and instead look to build your network of potential references and find other avenues of getting the job to which you’re applying.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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