Résumé Fraud

Fraud, often called misrepresentation, is a very broad legal concept that incorporates a variety of types of fraud and misrepresentation, both civil and criminal. There are considerable variations across the states as to the specific categorization of types of fraud as either civil or criminal law violations, or both. The federal government criminalizes a variety of types of fraud including mail and wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and securities fraud. These federal laws apply to everyone in the United States, regardless of the state in which the fraud occurs. Although there is variation as to which explicit types of fraud are criminalized within each state, in all states, some types of fraud unquestionably carry both civil and criminal penalties.

Résumé fraud is a specific type of fraud that may result in civil or criminal penalties, or both, depending on which state the fraud occurs in. In its most primal form, résumé fraud is a type of common law, civil fraud wherein the intentional misrepresentations of material facts are made in a résumé, and justifiably relied upon in the hiring of an individual for employment. In the absence of any statutory provision specifically addressing résumé fraud in a given state, the common law provides the remedy for résumé fraud typically in the form of damages (monetary compensation). However, many states have statutorily imposed sanctions specifically for committing résumé fraud. For example, in New Jersey, both persons and legal entities are prohibited from intending to deceive by falsely representing the receipt of a degree, credential, or certification, which one has not actually acquired "in connection with any business, trade, profession or occupation" (N.J.S.A. 18A:3-15.2). A violation of this provision is treated as a civil law violation, and each instance of résumé fraud carries with it a $1000.00 civil fine (N.J.S.A. 18A:3-15.5). On the other hand, in the state of Kentucky, "fraudulent use of an educational record" is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and fines (KY Rev. Stat. Ann. 434.442). The Kentucky statute explicitly includes making false written representations for certain educational achievements, such as a degree, in employment applications. The states do differ as to how they treat résumé fraud, but whether it is treated as a civil violation or as a criminal violation, résumé fraud is a dishonest practice that should be avoided.

At-will employees should be particularly aware that résumé fraud provides a justifiable basis for termination that may undermine otherwise legitimate arguments for wrongful discharge (or other exceptions to the employment at will doctrine). For contract employees, résumé fraud is often considered "just cause" for termination of an employee who would otherwise be protected from termination by contractual "just cause" provisions. Finally, in addition to the legal consequences of résumé fraud, the reputational damage of lying on a résumé could undermine one’s career prospects as it did for former Yahoo CEO, Scott Thompson, whose résumé represented that he had a double major, including a degree in computer science, from Stonehill College, a degree that was not awarded from until several years after he graduated. After being exposed by a Yahoo shareholder, Thompson stepped down from his position in disgrace (Mackay, 2012).


Mackey, M. (2012, May 15). Ex-Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson and seven other cases of resume fraud. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/yahoo-ceo-scott-thompsons-resume-fraud_n_1516061.html