Not without checking them. A recent survey into recruitment fraud audited the CVs of 5000 employees. Worryingly, 75% contained discrepancies, 20% had inflated job titles and 12% included false grades and qualifications. Some references were complete fiction.
What should you do?
Don't accept pre-written references. Always obtain references from referees directly and verify all academic and professional qualifications. If possible, only accept written references and avoid taking references by telephone.
Decide what information you need and provide a description of the job, if appropriate. Ask specific, relevant questions. One of the referees should, with the candidate's consent, be their current or most recent employer and , ideally, their line manager.
Make job offers conditional on the provision of satisfactory references and don't let prospective employees start work before you have received and checked their references.
What if the employer refuses?
Employers aren't obliged to give references although it is considered good practice to do so. It may simply be the policy of that business not to give references so this should not be fatal for your prospective employee. However, it may present a level of risk that you can mitigate with a probation period during which you can assess whether they can work to the required standard.
Consider agreeing an appropriately worded reference for those leaving under a settlement agreement or when settling litigation to avoid later problems.
Remember that informal conversations can have a detrimental effect on a former employee's career, even if it has been several years since they worked for you. Those comments may be actionable in negligence, so take care.