Spill the Beans

A guest post from Degree Fraud Officer, Edward on the Hedd Team.

Sitting on a sofa in a central London branch of a well-known coffee shop chain, dressed in a smart blue jumper and white shirt, a man is talking with earphones in. He’s talking loud enough to be overheard.

‘We’re all middle men here’,

It seems he’s persuading the person on the other end of the line to join him in something.

(Over the sound of rattling coffee cups and background music)

‘We’ll get a grand each, no stress man. All that’s happening is that you’re chasing the uni for some guy’s transcript. Somehow…the transcript is sent from the uni…they send the wrong thing by mistake… I need to know the year of graduation so the guy was in the UK around that at least, so it doesn’t raise any suspicions. You know you can buy these novelty things online, but obviously they won’t be the same standard…yeah this one has the crest, the logo, everything…the complete transcript’.

The. Complete. Transcript.

The most important question now is, how does he get hold of these documents?

It appears that someone inside the university receives an order from our coffee man, then sends out a transcript ‘by accident’ with the details requested and both parties receive a bit of money on the side.

Luckily, the man was brazenly describing a fraudulent enterprise in a public space. A few tables away this caught the attention of a member of the public, who not only took pictures of the gentleman in question, but also recorded the phone call. He reported it to Hedd and we took it from there, informing the universities involved as well as passing all evidence over to the National Fraud Investigation Bureau, via Action Fraud.

The investigations are on-going, with one of the universities involved launching an internal inquiry.

The transcripts would have been authentic because they were issued by the university and could have fooled employers. The only way to detect this fraud would be to make a proper verification check with the university, whose genuine records would tell a different story.

Our thanks go to the quick thinking of the concerned citizen.


BBC Brilliant

Well that went well.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but yesterday the BBC did more to raise awareness among employers about the prevalence of fake degrees and the people prepared to cheat their way into a job than we could do in a year.

In the build up to the File on Four programme on Radio 4 last night which we contributed to, there was coverage all day.

The BBC online article I read at 6am yesterday morning was followed by segments on every radio news bulletin through the day.

I talked about the importance of employers making proper checks on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2*

The Jeremy Vine Show** picked up the baton at lunchtime with James Reed from Reed Recruitment revealing that when they analysed 10,000 CVs, 24% contained exaggerated degree results.

Twitter boosted the signal and I checked with our techies that the Hedd website would be able to cope.

The newspapers have picked up the story too and we are contributing to pieces in print and online.

The revelation on the programme that 3000 people in the UK bought fake degrees in just a two year period (2013-14) from one large degree mill operator shocked employers across the country. The programme went on to reveal where these people are working – including in the health sector.

MP James Frith from the Commons Education Select Committee (and my local MP) was on the programme too and pledged to take action after being staggered by the scale of the problem.

It was a brilliant platform to get the message out about the importance of making proper verification checks. Thank you BBC.

Our free toolkit for employers can be downloaded here.

*the item starts at 36 minutes if you’re skimming through.

** about 70 minutes in.

File on Four

‘Prospects chief executive, Jayne Rowley, is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s File on 4, the award-winning current affairs documentary series investigating major issues at home and abroad.

‘Degrees of Deception’ airs at 8pm on Tuesday 16 January.

File on 4 exposes a multi-million pound global trade in fake diplomas.

A complex network of online universities sells degrees, doctorates and professional qualifications – for a price. Some of the buyers have gone on to trade on these credentials, including them on their CVs and gaining jobs in public life.

Others, after making an initial purchase, were blackmailed by the sellers, who threatened to expose them unless they paid out huge additional sums of money.

Despite criminal investigations in numerous countries, why is there still a thriving trade in dubious qualifications and are institutions and companies taking the issue seriously enough?’

Yes, that’s me. I was interviewed as part of Prospects’ work to reduce degree fraud through our Hedd verification service. I talked about the legislation that’s in place to deal with fraud of this nature – Fraud, Forgery, Trademark and Copyright. I’ll be explaining the regulatory challenge and what needs to happen to curb the issue.

Which, of course, can be boiled down to one simple thing. Making proper verification checks every time.

Listen live or catch up on BBC iPlayer.



The Weakest Link

If you didn’t catch this week’s Panorama exposé on application fraud click here to see how faked qualifications are enabling bogus students to enrol on degree courses, paid for by taxpayer-funded student loans.

The undercover BBC investigation showed fake references and certificates being used to gain places on degree level courses at a number of universities and colleges. Having gained the places, the students then had access to student loans worth thousands of pounds. The rogue intermediaries and agents took their cut of the loans. But this is just the start of it.

The undercover students were then offered additional services to provide their assignments by using essay mills and cover their attendance requirements while they were at work. Now we’re talking about academic fraud.

With their bought-in assignments and fake certificates the students were able to get a genuine degree or diploma, albeit fraudulently obtained*.

Fraudulently obtained degrees could then be used to enter postgraduate study or the workplace putting the reputations of businesses and universities at risk from unqualified candidates. This also jeopardises the prospects for genuine students and graduates seeking jobs or further study if they lose out to fraudsters.

We must cut this off at the pass and stop bogus students enrolling in the first place and exploiting the system.

Unscrupulous agents will look for weak points in the system and colleges without clearly defined policies will be ripe for exploitation. Colleges and universities need to have robust and clearly visible fraud guidelines as part of their admissions policies and they must be prepared to take action against what is criminal activity.

Hedd HE Toolkit image Aug 2017

Download our free Toolkit with advice and guidance on preventing fraud. In the meantime here are our top tips.

  • Have a published policy on application fraud for your college or university
  • Tell applicants you always check qualifications. This can be a deterrent.
  • Don’t take certificates at face value. Verify the claims directly with the awarding body and trust the data, not the paper.
  • Take action against fraud – zero tolerance.


*Known as FOG documents. Fraudulently Obtained Genuine documents


Imperfect Ten

Our friends at Risk Advisory have just published their annual report on CV Lies for 2017 analysing 5000 CVs from job applicants as part of their professional screening services. Please take a moment to go over to their website and read it.

Last year their report showed that lying on CVs was up 7% on the previous year at 70%.

This year’s figures are up 10% overall on last year which shows that despite our best efforts and high profile cases of fraud from people lying about qualifications, people are still prepared to cheat their way into work. Making proper background checks on your potential employees is vital.

Here are the headlines:

  • 80% of CVs contain discrepancies*
  • 57% of those discrepancies are about academic background
  • 12% of candidates falsify their grades

*Personally I think discrepancies is a little polite. Let’s call them lies.

Risk Advisory have kindly broken that down for us to look specifically at HE qualifications.

  • 44% of the academic background discrepancies were at degree level or above
  • 7% of candidates falsify their grades at degree level and above

To put it in real terms – if you receive 200 CV applications for a job 40 of them will have lies about degree qualifications. 14 of them will have false grades.

The need to make checks has never been greater. 3 simple steps in your recruitment practices can make all the difference:

  1. Tell candidates you will check all qualifications.
  2. Ask to see certificates – don’t rely on CVs or application forms.
  3. Check the certificates with the awarding institutions – beware fakes.

Thankfully more employers are sitting up and taking notice. Checks on Hedd are up 10% on last year so our messages are getting through. You can download our free toolkit for employers here.



Angels of the North

Last year we named and shamed Robert Gordon International University which was quickly shut down and last week Newcastle International University was red flagged by the real Newcastle University as a bogus university.

The website uses real photographs of Newcastle University including one showing students wearing their Newcastle University IDs, but was entirely fabricated.

The university raised the alarm and took action when an applicant tweeted a question about the institution.

The website asks potential students to hand over credit card details on the website to pay for courses. No genuine UK university would do this and students need to question it if they are asked for payments online for courses.

Many universities have international offices and overseas campuses and increasingly offer opportunities for distance learning. This kind of copy-cat website exploits the fact that international students may not be as familiar with UK universities as domestic applicants. They steal text and images from the real institution websites in an effort to extort monies. This is completely illegal and the websites can be shut down if the alarm is raised. Contact the degree fraud team at Hedd if you have any concerns or wish to report a website.

Our top tips for students to spot bogus universities:

If it’s not featured on the official Government list of degree awarding bodies it is not a valid UK university.

If it doesn’t have a .ac.uk web address it is not a valid UK university.

If it asks you to submit credit card or passport details on the website it is not a valid UK university.

If it uses American phrases; prices in US Dollars; poor grammar or spelling it is not a valid UK university

If the contact details don’t look right e.g. premium phone numbers, PO Box mailing addresses or personal email addresses like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo it is not a valid UK university.

If Google Street View for the campus shows you an empty shop front, industrial park or two-bedroomed semi-detached house in Suburbia it is not a valid UK university.


The Price of Cheap Beer

Mohammed Dar claims he was offering fake university IDs for students to help them get into student union bars to buy cheap beer.

Searching his home in Stretford Manchester, police recovered:

  • 152 completed forgeries of Manchester Metropolitan University ID cards
  • 42 fake Brunel University cards
  • 7 fake University of Manchester cards
  • 6 fake University of Liverpool cards
  • 4 fake University of Leeds cards.

It reads like a present list on the 12 Days of Fraudmass, but in sentencing Dar to prison the judge nailed it with his comments:

‘You can open a false bank account with a photo ID and an electricity bill….This country and its institutions operate on the basis of trust – trust in documents. Organisations don’t have the time or the resources to go and check whether every document is genuine.’

Fun fact: Prospects verification service Hedd allows enquirers to verify current university students as well as certificates and transcripts from graduates. As an employer if an applicant uses student ID to prove their identity you can quickly establish the truth online at www.hedd.ac.uk. Already covering over 80% of graduates from UK institutions and expanding all the time Hedd is the UK’s official HE verification service with over 100 universities available on the system.

A few months ago we received an enquiry from colleagues in Denmark who had concerns about a UK student applying to work for them. Here’s the ID she provided to them:

my i d card (1)

Her fake passport wasn’t much better quality, but the employer still needed to be sure.

As well as the student ID cards, Dar was using a specialist printer and editor to sell hundreds of items for as little as £20. His phone was full of evidence of customers buying a variety of documents.

Check job or course applicants every time or it could cost your business a lot more than the price of a cheap pint.