Have you heard about Adam Wheeler, the 23-year-old Delaware man who faked his way into Harvard? His predicament may seem funny, or even impressive, but these days Wheeler isn’t laughing. His hoax led to his arrest and this week he was arraigned on more than 20 charges, including identity fraud, forgery, larceny and pretending to hold a degree. If convicted, he faces up to 50 years in prison.
Wheeler’s ruse was an elaborate one. He falsified transcripts, forged recommendations and faked perfect SAT scores in order to get into the Ivy League institution, where his lies also won him scholarships and grants. Harvard, for its part, is remaining mum about how it fell for all this. Wheeler spent two years at the university before his hoax was exposed. It was his decision to fraudulently apply for both a Rhodes and a Fullbright scholarship that did him in. He subsequently applied to Yale and, when that proved unfruitful, tried to get a job at The New Republic magazine. (At this point, even Wheeler’s parents were over it; they turned him in when Yale called with some questions about his application.)
His current legal woes got MainStreet wondering: With the current job market making job seekers increasingly desperate, should people who pad their resume fear legal repercussions?
The answer, it seems, is yes and no.
“Criminal charges are possible, but not probable,” Mike Helfand, a Chicago attorney who runs FindGreatLawyers.com says. “It would probably take a scenario similar to the one portrayed in Catch Me If You Can, where there was a threat to public safety, for those types of charges to take place.”
Mason Alexander, an employment lawyer for Fisher and Phillips LLP, concurs. “Generally speaking,” he says, “resume fraud is not a crime, but there might be circumstances in which one could run afoul of a criminal law. “
For example, if a person were to say they possessed a particular license and they didn’t, whether it be to drive or to practice medicine, they could be held criminally liable (especially if a person were injured as a result of their dishonesty). Similarly, someone applying for a governmental position that requires sworn statements or verification under oath could face legal troubles if they chose to fabricate qualifications.