We recently attended the Document Verification Workshop run in London and it was a fantastic platform to discuss with Universities, legal firms and screening agencies the experience that they have had with forged or counterfeit documents.
One of the interesting things that came out of the session was the vulnerability of graduation ceremonies to exploitation by companies who create fake documentation.
One of the presenters highlighted the practice whereby fake documentation companies have agents at graduation ceremonies who will pay £200-300 to a student to “borrow” their certificate for 15-minutes. Although the vast majority of graduates are sensible rational people, the allure of a £200-300 cash injection can be a significant reward for being award from your certificate for only 15-minutes, right?
What happens in that 15-minutes is a trip to a photocopier or scanner and copious note taking regarding security features of the document so that fake document companies can even better emulate documentation later.
All the more reason to check student qualifications: Documentation can look very similar to the real thing and the average, untrained reasonable person will be unlikely to tell the difference. However, proper candidate checks to ensure that documentation you receive is legitimate can mitigate the risk of documentation fraud.
The jury has been out for some time on the prudence of using the social networks like Facebook as hunting grounds for staff recruitment - whereas LinkedIn has built its reputation as a professional network.
Adecco, the global recruitment organisation has recently released the results of some research into CV fraud which discovered that one in ten users has lied on CVs listed publicly on LinkedIn. So even in a reputable, professional and public environment, people are still prepared to commit fraud. LinkedIn, of course, cannot control nor police what its users post on their profiles.
In line with other research in this area, the biggest lie, just like our big city lawyer Dennis O’Riordan, is around qualifications.
The research also found other interesting discrepancies:
- 9% lied about job titles;
- 9% lied about their age;
- 7% lied about their university;
- 7% lied about their school;
- and 5% about the length of time at a particular job or their experience.
Alex Fleming, Operations Director at Adecco has the following advice.
“Your CV is your opportunity to communicate to prospective employers your career history and strengths. It should be as accurate as possible. Although the temptation may be there to smooth out areas of your experience and qualifications that aren’t quite perfect, we would always advise candidates not to outright lie. It’s often said that the truth will always come out in the end and so it’s much safer to concentrate on your real achievements than investing in fictitious ones.”
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Dear Mr Paxman,
You could have saved yourself a lot of time last night on your bogus university story if you had just gone to HEDD and looked up the American University of London. In a matter of seconds you would have seen that it is not a valid UK degree-awarding body. Passing on to viewers the valuable information that you can look up all valid UK degree- awarding bodies, past and present on HEDD would have been helpful too – particularly to the individuals on social networking sites proudly citing their AUOL qualifications. According to the BBC coverage today, at least one of them has had a rethink and removed it from his CV.
I wonder how many others have also done so?
Earlier this week we discussed Dennis O’Riordan and whether he will be prosecuted. I’m glad to say that the Church appears to take a dimmer view of this crime than the Bar with the successful prosecution of Maximilian Manin last month.
Mr Manin confessed his criminal past to the Bishop of Lincoln, who in the spirit of Christan forgiveness allowed him to keep his job of Chief Executive for the Diocese, but failed to mention that he had lied about having a first class degree from the University of Sheffield and an MBA in order to obtain the position in the first place.
With high profile examples like these hitting the headlines, perhaps we will see a step change in recruitment practices and more checks being made.
It’s good to know that the Bar metes out justice to members breaking its code; like Barrister Dennis ‘Tom’ O’Riordan who committed degree fraud in the most spectacular fashion and was found out. The full outcome of his tribunal before the Bar Tribunals and Disciplinary Service is here.
Suspicions were raised because he claimed to be an Eldon Scholar from the same year as one of the partners in the chambers to which he was applying. He was subsequently outed on legal news and gossip site RollonFriday. He’s been suspended for 3 years. Let’s hope that with their inside knowledge of the law, they will also push for criminal proceedings against him under the Fraud Act.
To quote one of my favourite movies, The Cannonball Run “If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly!” For years, O’Riordan had been claiming the following false educational qualifications and attainments:
- Bachelor of Arts (First Class) Oxford University.
- Bachelor of Civil Law (First Class) Oxford University,
- Doctor of Philosophy, Oxford University,
- LLB (Hons) (First Class) University of East Anglia
- Master’s degree, Faculty of Law, Harvard University
- Eldon Scholar, Oxford University
- Member of the New York Bar
- Member of the Irish Bar
All completely untrue or embellished. He did study Law at East Anglia – but didn’t get a First.
The pity of it is that he appears to have been an extremely competent litigator, well-liked and respected with a proven track record. He was a legitimate member of the Bar with his real qualifications. He worked for a top firm with an excellent reputation, who must now be counting the cost to their brand and reputation in large multiples of billable hours.
They have so far declined to comment on their recruitment practices, but I suspect they will be currently under review.
Update 16th October.
I’m bemused by the subsequent reaction in the legal media to the case above. His employers have defended themselves saying that they recruit on reputation, not qualifications, and would not check up on senior hires. They argue that his competency is the most important factor and that he was a genuinely qualified barrister who gave a high quality service to clients.
Here’s an analogy that might make them rethink their views. Essentially we’re talking about counterfeit goods. If I buy a Hermès handbag, I want it to be Hermès, not a George at Asda lookalike*. Yes, the lookalike is a perfectly good quality handbag and fulfils its function, but I thought I was getting Hermès, and that’s what I paid for. In those terms, wouldn’t we all be straight down to Trading Standards to complain?
*George is a fantastic brand in its own right, but a supermarket own-brand nevertheless.
There are over 3700 registered users on HEDD now and 12 university operators so we’ve been doing some user testing to find out exactly what customers are using HEDD for and how we could improve the services.
The university look up service is popular and well-used – nearly a quarter of the enquirers come to the site to check the validity of universities and to get details of their verification protocols. Nearly all the universities have directly engaged with this and many keep their own details up to date. This service is unique to HEDD and is valued highly by visitors. We are going to extend this service later this year to include the Higher Education Colleges delivering degree programmes validated by other universities.
65% of customers come to HEDD to use the verification service to check qualifications. As it’s the core service we were not surprised and as the number of participating universities grows, we think this number will increase.
We were a little surprised that checking degree classification was the reason for only 29% of enquirers. On further investigation it seems that many enquirers are happy that candidates are confirmed as having a degree and don’t care about the details.
Over a third use HEDD to check attendance dates. This was not in our original brief, but has been introduced due to the high demand. Screening agencies in particular are keen to match the dates – especially as part of a wider background check to look for gaps in timelines on CVs.
And it’s not just about graduates either. 10% of the enquiries are about current students enrolled in our universities. For council tax exemptions, discounted travel cards etc. confirming that students are enrolled and for which dates is essential.
Nearly half of all our enquirers are overseas and they love HEDD. They are mainly checking international students returning home to employment. The fact that it is a 24/7 online service is proving vital across global time zones. There also seems to be a better developed culture overseas for verification as evidenced by the National Student Clearinghouse in the States. 3,500 US universities and colleges are in, representing 98% of their students and graduates. This is a great motivator for our HEDD team as we strive to expand the service in the UK.
The US are not alone either, there are central verification services in many other countries. We’ll be looking to link to them from HEDD so enquirers can check qualifications across the globe from our central portal.
Over the summer we repeated a survey of students and graduates that we did last year, asking about degree fraud and fake certificates. Here’s the press release we put out this week. The results are even more worrying than they were last year. 2/3 of the respondents know someone who has committed CV fraud. We’ve also got some detail on what they’re lying about, which backs up some of the fraud we’ve seen on HEDD.
The story has been picked up well in the media, which should make recruiters sit up and take notice. Here’s the piece from the Times Higher. I hope this doesn’t make too depressing a read. The vast majority of graduates are genuine, hardworking individuals who have invested heavily in their degrees. Our main concern is to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in what is already an incredibly tough jobs market.
Graduates report increasing numbers lying on CVs, reports Graduate Prospects
Almost two-thirds (61%) of students and graduates have reported that the increase in tuition fees is putting people off university and making them more likely to lie about their qualifications on their CV to get work, which is an 18% increase since last year, reports Graduate Prospects.
As part of the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) initiative – a government-backed online degree verification system launched to tackle degree fraud – Graduate Prospects surveyed 559 UK students and graduates about their views on fraud in light of the £9,000 tuition fees introduced last year.
Two thirds of respondents said they know someone who has lied or exaggerated about their qualifications. The most commonly reported CV lies are:
• Grade – give a higher class than they actually achieved (46%)
• Course completion – say they completed a course when only part was finished (28%)
• Qualification – say they have a degree when they don’t (15%)
• Subject – give a different course subject to suit a job’s requirements (11%)
Students and graduates were also asked for their opinions on fake degree certificates. Two-thirds reported that the increase in tuition fees is making buying fake degree certificates more tempting and 14% confirmed they knew someone who had bought one or were considering it. Thirty eight per cent stated that it is very likely or likely that someone would buy a fake degree certificate over going through university.
Jayne Rowley leads HEDD at Graduate Prospects. She said: “A tough jobs market coupled with high tuition fees may be making it more tempting for people to make false claims on their CVs, but organisations need to routinely verify qualifications as part of their recruitment process; if candidates knew that they would be checked it would make lies less likely.
“One of the biggest problems we face at detriment to the hundreds of thousands of genuine, hard-working students who have invested in a UK degree programme is the number of bogus universities – of which the UK remains their favourite domicile in Europe. We alone have identified more than 130 degree mills since we launched HEDD, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”