Misdirection

Unlike with our friends over at McAllister University or International University Robert Gordon it’s not always straightforward dealing with bogus HE providers.

A bit like the dark web, there is a network of providers operating at the fringes, lurking in the shadows.

There are providers delivering qualifications that may be broadly categorised as ‘higher education’ even though they do not lead to the award of a UK degree.

This may be because the qualification is an award delivered by a UK campus of an institution that is based overseas, or because the qualification is below degree level e.g. a diploma or certificate. These complexities can give rise to confusion among potential students and some unscrupulous providers exploit this by not giving clear information on their websites about their status, nor the status of their courses and the qualifications they offer.

The Department for Education and HEDD receive enquiries from students who believe they are following courses leading to a recognised UK degree due to misinformation from providers. This is particularly common for distance learning or online provision.

If we believe the provider is deliberately misleading students we contact them to ask them to remove information from their website or clarify their status. After 30 days we add their details to the university look up service on HEDD to make it clear they are not recognised degree-awarding bodies.

We have had a number of websites contact us to complain about being so explicit about their status – even threatening us with legal action – but we stand firm.

When a student contacts us because their parents have spent thousands of pounds, remortgaged their house and made huge sacrifices to send them to a UK university, only to find out that it’s not accredited and they have spent their money for nothing, we know we are doing the right thing.

Bob’s Not Your Uncle

News of our work in dealing with bogus providers is spreading far and wide. We received a report from Iran that a UK university was selling fake diplomas for £200 via an office in Iran. At the same time Robert Gordon University reported a copycat website masquerading as them when the certificate above came through HEDD for verification. We joined up the dots.

Under our naming and shaming promise I give you International University Robert Gordon and the certificate for one of their latest ‘graduates’.

On the certificate is the name and student ID number – we have blanked it out. If you visit the website and key in the ID number you get an instant verification of the candidate’s credentials. 

robert gordon verification

Unfortunately for the applicant the employer contacted the real Robert Gordon University to verify it and the deceit was uncovered. Had they gone to the webpage above they could easily have been fooled into employing a fraudster.

Like many bogus websites the copycat uses a lot of information stolen from the real Robert Gordon University website and other pages from a genuine UK university in Yorkshire.

HEDD has acted swiftly, adding International University Robert Gordon to the bogus providers on the university look up service on HEDD and reported the site to Trading Standards, the National Crime Agency and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The website http://www.inturg.com has been suspended and the owners are being investigated.

Fresh Meat?

July is the busiest month of the year on HEDD as employers check up on their newly-graduated soon-to-be employees – or 20% of them do.

As Jack Whitehall’s character demonstrates on the final episode of Channel 4 student comedy ‘Fresh Meat‘, what you see is not always what you get….

‘Get In – I’ve only gone and got a bloody 2:1’

‘No you have not!’

‘Well, no. I got a 3rd. But it will say 2:1 on my CV’

As part of the government degree fraud project we are campaigning to raise awareness and encourage employers to make more checks.

HEDD has launched a free toolkit to help employers protect themselves from fraudulent applicants.

The only way to be sure a candidate is qualified to do a job is to check their claims with the awarding university. Just one incompetent or deceitful person in a business can have fatal consequences.

Smaller businesses are among the most at risk of falling victim to degree fraud. They are less likely to be aware of the threats and how to protect themselves.

Top tips for businesses

  • Notify applicants that you verify qualifications – if they refuse it could be a signal that something is off-kilter
  • Only accept original – not photocopied – certificates
  • Check certificates with the issuing university or via HEDD
  • Don’t be duped by official-looking stamps
  • Remember a notary will only confirm sight of an original document, not whether it’s genuine
  • Check the legitimacy of a university on hedd.ac.uk – if it’s not listed it’s likely to be fake

Download your free copy of the toolkit  here.

Busted!

As the Twitterverse wondered mischievously last week whether Andrea Leadsom would be adding Prime Minister and winning Euro 2016 goalscorer to her stated career achievements, she must be rueing the day the Times took a close look at the City credentials in her CV. The media were vicious in their taunting and once outed, this will haunt her forever.

Whether it’s inflating your grades, your salary, job title or level of responsibility it’s not worth the risk in the long run. Robust credential checking will uncover the truth and could cost you your job as well as your reputation.

Think Before You Tweet

It’s that time of year when mothers wear big hats and graduates don caps and gowns to shake hands with their university Chancellors.

The temptation to pose for photos with that certificate in hand, then share share share on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat is overwhelming and understandable.

Last year we warned against posting certificate selfies as they give fraudsters perfect templates to produce fake degree certificates. Google Images scoops them up and parades them online for eternity. We have issued a press release today to remind people, which media platforms are thankfully picking up.

We’re contacting all university social media teams to ask them to get the message out to their students and also not to re-tweet pictures of their graduates holding certificates.

It’s not just about fake certificates.There’s a serious, personal risk here too. As CIFAS reported today social media platforms are hunting grounds for identity thieves and there has been a 52% increase in identity fraud against under 30’s in the last 12 months alone.

Degree certificates contain personal information – full names, dates of birth (in some cases), places of study, titles, year of graduation. Information like this can be used to piece together someone’s identity for fraud and is as precious and private as a passport, a driving licence or bank details. None of us would put our passports online and we should treat certificates in the same way.

Post smiles, not certificates and stay safe.

Congratulations and appropriate emoticons, by the way.

The Sting

On the face of it The University of Northern New Jersey was a model bogus university. Happy to offer student places, assisting to process student visas and issue certificates and documents with no questions asked, no requirement to attend, no campus and no faculty staff.

94720654_News-University_of_Northern_New_Jersey-large_trans++eo_i_u9APj8RuoebjoAHt0k9u7HhRJvuo-ZLenGRumA

Educational brokers flocked to the site to register students and obtain visas – charging students thousands of dollars which enabled them to stay in the United States, knowing full well it was all a front.

What they didn’t know was that this bogus university was itself a fake. The US Department of Homeland Security set up the fake university website in 2013 to catch criminals engaged in student visa scams. Undercover agents posed as administrators dealing with the brokers and paying them commissions of between $1200 and $2000 to recruit ‘students’ in a 3 year sting operation. 21 individuals have now been arrested and over 1000 foreign nationals mostly from India and China face deportation.

All I can hear in my head is the theme tune to ‘The Sting’ and remembering the brilliance of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the movie. If Redford is available, I’m free.

Open and Shut Case

Manchester Open University is the latest bogus university website to be reported to our fraud hotline. With both the University of Manchester and the Open University Manchester Regional Centre based in the city, this copycat site is attempting to trade on the reputations of these genuine UK HE providers.

Here are some of the clues:

  • It’s not on the list of legitimate providers.
  • No campus on Google Streetview – because it’s non-existent.
  • The web address (www.mou-ac.com)* is designed to mimic our .ac.uk domain.
  • The website is out of date – referring to 2013-14 entry and open days.
  • The spelling and grammar is poor across the site.
  • The text that is correctly spelt is lifted from a genuine UK university’s website breaching their copyright. They have been informed.
  • No Manchester phone number – just a premium rate line (shut down by us now).
  • Claims to be a ‘not-for-profit charity’ but there’s no registration number.
  • No named staff.
  • A verification service where you can enter a student number from a certificate or transcript to get confirmation – typical of bogus providers.
  • No company registration number.

We are working with the enforcement authorities to shut down the website, which we believe is based in France, but in the meantime let’s spread the word.

*If this link is no longer working then you are too late. The site has been shut down. Please don’t be disappointed.