Timothy Green, a 59-year-old former private detective, claims to run a company in Forest Lake, Minn., that will lie to anyone about anything.
Its name is Paladin Deception Services, and it advertises its services for $54 per month.
Green says customers run the gamut -- from cheating spouses in need of alibis to people playing hooky from work. But the real demand comes from job seekers, making up more than 60% of what he says are its 250 to 300 monthly clients.
"We can replace a supervisor with a fictitious one, alter your work history, provide you with a positive employment reputation, and give you the glowing reference that you need," Paladin's website states.
Could this be real?
I tested out the company's services myself by asking if someone could get me out of work for a few days. Claiming to be my mother, a Paladin employee called my boss on a Wednesday and said she had planned a surprise visit to New York and that I would be out of the office for the rest of the week. While the call raised some suspicions, especially given how rude and abrupt my "mother" was, my boss ultimately bought it.
I also spoke with a woman who said she hired Paladin to impersonate a former boss when she was applying for a restaurant job (because she and her real boss had a falling out), and that she wouldn't have gotten the job without it. But if that sounds too good to be true, it is. I ended up tracing her phone number back to Green, who admitted he had "pulled a prank" on me by creating a fake customer.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota said it had never heard of Paladin Deception Services and will be "keeping an eye on them going forward." The company isn't registered in the state of Minnesota. Green claims it is registered in China instead and he declined to share any tax forms to prove the company's legitimacy. Meanwhile, Facebook pulled Paladin's ads from its site in May because it deemed the company inappropriate and misleading.
But here's an example of how Green says the company's services works: A man hires Paladin to serve as a fictitious reference for a job at a bakery. He doesn't want the bakery to know that he was fired from his last job, so he lists a fake company as a previous employer on his resume -- along with the fictitious reference that Paladin creates. For legal reasons, Paladin refuses to impersonate a real person or company, so the reference must be made up.
Before the lie is carried out, the customer goes through an initial phone consultation with a professional liar to explain their situation, and fills out a form with details about the job they are applying for and their qualifications, skills and work history. Then a dedicated phone number and e-mail address are created for the fake reference.
When the bakery calls, a member of Paladin's team answers the phone and speaks highly of the applicant. Green employs five full and several part-time liars -- many of whom are actors he recruits from websites like Craigslist. Impersonation skills range from fluent Spanish to southern drawls.
A transcript of the call is then sent to the client. Green said most job seekers are in their 40s and 50s and looking for high-paying management positions, but it varies -- there was even someone who wanted to join a cult and hired a professional liar to tell the cult leaders that he was well-versed in specific rituals.
Controversial deception: Green is adamant that nothing his company does is illegal. And despite the controversial nature of his work, he says it's unfair to judge him.
"When someone asks me how I can live with myself, I say, 'May I ask you a question? Have you told a lie this week? Do you think you may tell a lie next week? Would you never tell a lie? Are your lies more sanctified than my lies?'"
And Paladin isn't alone. CareerExcuse.com also offers fake references for job seekers starting at $65 a pop. William Schmidt, the company's owner, said this service has become increasingly popular for applicants who have only held part-time jobs in recent years. The Reference Store and Fake Your Job advertise fake job references, too.
But the lies these companies pitch could have serious ramifications for a job seeker, said Paul Evans, a partner at law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius' Labor and Employment practice.
Many hiring departments already take additional steps to verify references listed by applicants. And even if a fibber does get hired, it's hard to keep up the act. Coworkers find out the truth or a boss realizes that the employee's skills don't match the qualifications that the fictitious reference raved about. And while it's unlikely the employee would face legal action if they are discovered, they can pretty much count on being fired.
This happens more frequently than you might think. Former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson and RadioShack CEO David Edmondson are among a handful of executives who have resigned or were given the boot over resume fabrications.
"Anyone who does this is going to spend their entire career looking over their shoulder," said Evans.
Plus, there are certain state laws prohibiting the impersonation of others or the interference in an employee-employer contract that could enable an employer -- or anyone who was duped by a company like Paladin -- to bring charges against the company, said Evans.
But Green is convinced that his work is helping people.
"Most people have gaps in their work history or worked for a boss who begrudges [them] for moving ahead or for personal issues," said Green. "For personal or economic reasons, it's always been necessary for individuals to need that fictitious reference, that alibi, or that little white lie."