Job opportunities listed on Wisdom Jobs are either fake or copied from other recruitment portals. Image Credit: Javed Nawab/Gulf News

Highlights

  • Indian job portal Wisdom Jobs rakes in millions from global recruitment racket
  • Telesales agents impersonate HR managers of UAE companies to offer non-existent job
  • Thousands worldwide fall for audacious scam daily
  • Victims give shocking testimonies

DUBAI: From afar it appears as a huge success story out of India. Barely nine years into business, Wisdom Jobs, headquartered in Hyderabad, is now regarded as a one-stop shop for job hunters with 30 million registered users by its own admission, and placement listings from all over the world.

The company’s CEO and founder Ajay Kolla is hailed as a role model for young entrepreneurs. He routinely appears on Indian television channels and delivers talks at public events. Sometime back, leading financial daily, Economic Times, ran an article on him describing how the engineering graduate turned a Dh200,000 start-up into a multi-billion empire.

Ajay Kolla, Founder and CEO of Wisdom Jobs Image Credit: Supplied

In 2016, India’s biggest apex trade association, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) put Wisdom Jobs in the country’s top SME 50 Index and gave it a Certificate of Excellence. The same year, a popular tech magazine named it Company of the Year.

Yet when you scratch beneath the surface, the picture that emerges is deeply unsettling.

Wisdom Jobs, which prides itself as the world’s first skill assessment based job-portal, has no real jobs.

Agents impersonating HR heads 

The employment opportunities listed on it are either fake or copied from other recruitment portals.

Worse, the phone interviews arranged by them don’t have prospective employers on the other end of the line but call centre agents operating from their office in Cyber Towers in Hyderabad.

30m

is the number of registered users on Wisdom Jobs

Global racket

In fact, very little about Wisdom Jobs is real — except for the millions of dollars it reaps annually from the well-knit recruitment racket that extends beyond Indian shores, spanning Canada, USA, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and the company’s favourite hunting ground — the Middle East.

The dodgy job portal operates from 7th floor of Cyber Towers in Hyderabad, India Image Credit: Shoukat Hussain

How the scam works 

On the dedicated Gulf portal www.wisdomjobsgulf.com, the company has over 80,000 jobs in Dubai alone.

People applying for these positions are directed to a login-screen where they are required to fill in their personal details, upload their CV and also choose their preferred Emirate from a drop-down menu.

No sooner have they done that, they get an email from a ‘career service adviser’ informing them that their CV has been shortlisted by multiple companies.

82,231

is the number of Dubai-based jobs listed on Wisdom Jobs Gulf

Should that come as a surprise, candidates are assured that they are dealing with a reputed placement firm that fulfils the recruitment needs of 35,000 ‘top-notch companies’.

For good measure, an overview of the ‘guaranteed’ job — complete with salary and perks — is also emailed.

To clinch the offer, candidate are asked to pay a ‘resume forwarding fees’ of Rs7,600 (Dh400). However, in the days ahead, they are tricked into shelling out more money towards a series of bogus fees and charges.

By the time job seekers breaks out of the vicious cycle, they would have often spend up to Dh6,400.

That’s precisely how much Dubai resident S. Sarthi paid in November 2018 after being deluded into believing that he has landed a job with a Dubai Government entity.

The bulk of the ill-gotten money at Wisdom Jobs, though, comes from the ‘resume forwarding’ fees, a former employee told Gulf News.

20,000

new jobseekers register on Wisdom Jobs daily, according to the company

“At Dh400 per client, it may not appear much, but for a portal with 30 million registered users,,, well, that’s a lot a lot of money. Remember, we are talking volumes here,” he said on conditions of anonymity.

To allay clients’ fear of losing the money, candidates are emailed a letter titled ‘Why Should You Pay?’. It tells them that the ‘resume forwarding’ fees is being charged for jobs that are not in public domain but are rather exclusive. “They [potential employers] have already gone through your profile in our database and felt that it serves the requirement, they have given 95% relevancy to your profile and are highly interested to interview you (sic) and select you,” states the letter, which then goes on to list a slew of ‘benefits’ of paying, such as 100 per cent ‘guaranteed placement assistance’ and ‘immediate hiring’.

Thousands worldwide fall for the bait daily.

Dubai-based professor Nikhat Shah said she paid Dh441 to Wisdom Jobs in November 2018 after being told that her CV has been shortlisted by 48 different organisations.

“I thought it was a small price as I was offered a Dh22,000 assistant professor’s job at a university in the UAE with family accommodation, travel allowance and several benefits,” she recalled.

Nikhat said after she remitted the money she got a call from a senior career adviser (recruitment Middle East) asking her to expect an interview call.

Sure enough, she didn’t suspect anything amiss when the career adviser rang up a few days later and arranged a conference call with a woman who identified herself as Ms. Emma Cowan, senior human resource manager at the American University of Sharjah (AUS).

Now, AUS does have Ms Emma Cowan on its rolls as senior HR manager, but neither she nor any one at the university ever contacted Nikhat.

As it turns out, the person who conducted the interview was an impostor. Unknown to Nikhat, the bogus interviewer carried out charade for nearly 45 minutes.

“She covered a variety of topics. I was asked about qualitative research, differential learning, classroom engagement and my familiarity with online assessment tools. It was a sham,” said Nikhat.

At the end of the interview, the impostor asked Nikhat to wire another $450 towards ‘certification fees.’ Nikhat was told it would be refunded once she joined.

AUS is now weighing legal action against Wisdom Jobs.

In an email response to Gulf News, an AUS spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Ms. Emma Cowan, senior HR manager, never interviewed Ms Nikhat. We can also confirm that AUS has no connection with any entity known as ‘Wisdom Jobs’. AUS is considering legal action against this entity.”

AUS said: “People who have received an email about a job offer from a third-party impersonating AUS, and who have contacted them for clarification, have been sent an email explaining that they had no part in the job offer.”

We can confirm that Ms. Emma Cowan, senior HR manager, never interviewed Ms Nikhat. We can also confirm that AUS has no connection with any entity known as ‘Wisdom Jobs’. AUS is considering legal action against this entity.

- Spokesperson, American University of Sharjah

But how did Wisdom Jobs get Cowan’s details in the first place?

A former career adviser at the firm told Gulf News they are given a data bank containing the details of HR representatives of hundreds of organisations across various sectors worldwide. “It comes handy to arrange interviews and gain trust,” he said.

Those who pay never hear back. Phone calls elicit no response while emails remain unanswered.

Text by Mazhar Farooqui Image Credit: Graphics: Ador T. Bustamante

NUGGETS OF WISDOM

With 30 million registered users, Wisdom Jobs is regarded as one stop shop for jobseekers. But when you scratch beneath the surface the picture that emerges is shocking

Screengrab of the website of Wisdom Jobs Gulf which lists thousands of jobs from the Middle East including over 80,000 from Dubai alone Image Credit: Supplied
As part of the scam jobseekers are sent an email containing a Job Preference Image Credit: Supplied
Sanjeev Kumar forked out Rs121,110 (Dh6,400) for a job that never existed. Receipt of one of the payments he made to Wisdom Jobs between April-May 2018. Image Credit: Supplied
Hundreds of victims have taken to Twitter to complain about the racket. Many have recounted their experiences on various online forums Image Credit: Twitter

More damning testimonies 

Sanjeev Kumar from India said he shelled out Rs121,110 (Dh6,400) for a job that never existed. “They conducted an interview and offered me a chief engineer’s position in Park Hyatt, Maldives, but now they have stopped taking my calls.”

Receipts shared by Kumar show details of the payments he made between April 26 and May 21 last year.

S. Sarthi, who was interviewed by a man claiming to be the IT head of a government-owned company in Dubai, said by the time he found out about the scam he had already given $1,750 (Dh6,400) to Wisdom Job in three parts.

Sharjah resident Anis Khan, who was interviewed by a man claiming to be the HR head of a British bank in Dubai, said he lost Dh1,200.

“The bank does have an HR head by the name given to me by the interviewer but he wasn’t the person who spoke to me. Who would have thought that an award-winning company would do something so brazen and get away with it,” he said.

Another Dubai-based victim, Gurtej Singh, said he was offered a project manager’s role with a real estate giant in Dubai after an interview with a man claiming to be its HR manager.

“He spoke to me in a heavy Arabic accent and laced his conversation with words like wallah habibi and marhaba. I thought he was for real,” recalled Singh, who paid aroud Dh2,000 in two parts.

The same modus operandi was used to extort money from Pakistani Qamar Ahmed and Indian Roohi Shaista for nonexistent positions at an Abu Dhabi-based oil company and a financial institution in Dubai.

Flood of complaints

Online forums are flooded with complaints from job-seekers detailing how they were duped.

Of them, 200 complaints are on just one platform and about 140 on another.

200

complaints against Wisdom Jobs on one online platform alone

C. Jacob (Dh4,350), Sumant Wandekar (Dh2,900), Azam Ali (Dh1,250), Prasanth Padhi (Dh1,000), Tabreik Shaik (Dh900), Seshagiri Rao (Dh890), Vikrant Patil (Dh850), Ganesh Pawar (Dh500).

The list is long.

Among the many recent victims is Kuwait-based Harry Smith.

In October 2018, Smith was interviewed by the purported HR manager of an Abu Dhabi-based company for a senior chemist’s position.

“The interviewer appeared impressed with my answers and asked me to join in 10 days. I was still beaming with joy when the career adviser called and asked me to make a security deposit of one per cent of my estimated salary. I was reluctant but when he assured me that the money was refundable and I should not lose this ‘golden opportunity’, I wired Rs52,820 (Dh2,700) to Wisdom Jobs. I haven’t heard back from them since. Efforts to reach out to the company have drawn a blank,” said Smith.

The same fate awaited Asghar Khan (Saudi Arabia) Mike R (USA) Jagan (Germany) S. Nathan (UK) and A. Raj from Indonesia all of whom were interviewed for various positions worldwide.

It’s not immediately known if any one lodged a formal complaint with Hyderabad police although a cursory internet search shows scores of tweets in which victims have tagged the city’s top police officials and sought action.

In some tweets, they have also tagged India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Wisdom Jobs CEO Ajay Kolla is also the founder of a ISO9001:2008 certified information technology firm called Wisdom IT Services which offers some software solutions.

But company insiders say it’s just a front and almost all their revenue comes from their recruitment portal which employs around 200 people. Since its launch in 2011, Wisdom Jobs’ yearly growth rate has been more than 100 per cent. In 2012-2013, its annual turnover was Dh4.19 million.

By 2013-14, it had swelled to Dh11.5 million. Now its annual revenue alone is pegged at Dh13.32 million, according to Owler, an online company that provides company data.

We contacted Hyderabad police, but are yet to receive a response.

Repeated requests by Gulf News for an interview with Wisdom Jobs CEO were met with a stony silence while the company’s response to specific allegations of fraud remained far from convincing.

Asked if they had arranged an interview between the HR head of American University of Sharjah and one of their client, Wisdom Jobs responded saying: “We do not get involved with the interviews that companies conduct with their candidates and therefore have no knowledge about any such interactions. Our services are entirely restricted to providing suitable candidates resumes to companies as per their requirements.”

(Names of some victims have been altered to protect their identity)

VICTIMS RECOUNT THEIR ANGUISH

Abridged version of detailed statements given to Gulf News

“I was interviewed for the position of a senior IT manager in November 2018 and made to pay $1,750 in three parts towards a slew of fees and charges. They said my appointment letter was ready and I just need to collect it.”

S, Sarthi, Dubai

“Wisdom approached me for job change and offered me a chief engineer’s job in Park Hyatt Maldives after phone interview with their HR manager in May 2018. Till date I have paid them Rs121,110 (Dh6,400). Now they don’t pick my calls or answer my emails.”

Saneev Kumar, Kerala, India

Dh7000

is what many job seekers have paid Wisdom Jobs towards various fees and charges for nonexistent positions

“They made me pay Rs8,830 (Dh458) and then another Rs44,000 (Dh2,2283 for a non-existent position at Telford International Ltd in Abu Dhabi in May 2018.”

H. Smith, Kuwait

“I wired Rs20,000 (Dh1,037) to Wisdom Jobs last year after being interviewed and offered a senior manager’s post in Bengaluru.”

S. Roy, Bengaluru, India

“I was promised a job for which I was asked to pay $150. A refund was promised if it didn’t go through (which I have documented on an email). The staff here is a bunch of cheats. I have called and emailed, and called and emailed, but no reply. NEVER did they get back to me with an update on the job I applied for, and NEVER did they come back to me with any offer.”

Varuna Kumar, India

“I paid $150 after being interviewed and told that I have been shortlisted for a job in either Kuwait or the UAE. Now they don’t respond to my calls.”

Ahmad Karsifi, Lebanon

“The interviewer identified himself as the HR manager of a real estate firm in Dubai. He spoke to me in heavy Arabic accent and laced his conversation with words like Wallah Habibi and Marhaba. Later I found out that he was an impostor. I paid $50 first and then another $490.”

Gurtej Singh, Dubai

Sting operation nails Wisdom Jobs 

As a restaurant manager who “develops unpalatable menus” and “hastens the doom of F&B outlets by passing off recycled scrap as healthy nibbles”, I would think no one would want to touch my CV even with a barge pole.

Wrong. Instead, my horrendous CV has turned out to be so immensely likeable that four top hotels in the UAE are vying with each other to hire me.

Armed with a horrendous CV, undercover Gulf News journalist Mazhar Farooqui registered with Wisdom Jobs as a candidate seeking a restaurant manager’s job in the UAE. Soon a senior career adviser contacted him with attractive opportunities. Image Credit: Supplied

As part of a sting operation I registered with Wisdom Jobs Gulf under an assumed name with what could well be the world’s worst CV.

Just as I thought, I soon got a call from Wisdom Jobs’ head office in Hyderabad. The caller identified himself as Wisdom Jobs senior career adviser (Middle East) Anurag D and said that my resume has got the eye balls of several hospitality groups in the country.

Among the four hotels who were keen to utilize my talents, Anurag said my best bet was Radisson Blu, Abu Dhabi where I could get up to Dh 20,000 per month as basic salary. That’s twice more than what I had asked for when I filled my details on the recruitment portal.

Anurag didn’t baulk at my inglorious credentials even once. On the contrary he said: “Yes, your resume is good...you will be hired as restaurant manager at Hotel Radisson Blu. The basic salary they are offering is in the range of Dh10,000-Dh20,000.

You will also get a house rent allowance (HRA) equivalent to 18 per cent of your basic salary, free transport and accommodation and 45 days of paid annual leave,” added Anurag before listing a slew of other attractive benefits such as 20 per cent annual bonus and free return tickets to my hometown.”

Unconvincing response

Wisdom Jobs’ responses to allegations of fraud were unconvincing. When Gulf News asked specifically if they had arranged an interview between the HR head of American University of Sharjah and one of their clients, the portal wrote back stating: “We do not get involved with the interviews that companies conduct with their candidates and therefore have no knowledge about any such interactions. Our services are entirely restricted to providing suitable candidates resumes to companies as per their requirements.”

CEO Ajay Kolla also denied any wrong doing. Claiming their model was similar to job portals like Naukri and Monster, Kolla blamed ‘third party agents’ for misusing their company name.

“We always monitor the call of agents so that they do not make overpromises or misleading statements,” Kolla said in an email to Gulf News. A conversation between an undercover Gulf News journalist and one of their agents, however, proves otherwise. (See the section: Sting operation nails Wisdom Jobs)

(Names of some victims have been altered to protect their identity)