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  • The website is out of date – referring to 2013-14 entry and open days.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.

 

7 Up

Employment screening professionals, the Risk Advisory Group published their annual report into CV fraud last week. It’s a sobering read and demonstrates that there is a long way to go to eliminate this, despite the work we have been doing at HEDD for the past 4 years. The report is available to download from their website.

After analysing 5,500 CVs submitted by jobseekers, 70% were found to contain some form of inaccuracy – a rise of 7% on last year.

2/3 of the discrepancies were about academic background – by far the most common lies. 10% of candidates falsify their grades.

The report includes case studies showing candidates who had been expelled from their university, but claimed the degree anyway and MBAs from bogus universities. All too familiar.

To put it in real terms – if you receive 200 CV applications for a job 88 of them will have lies about education qualifications. 20 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.

Risk Advisory report that the message is getting through with more employers introducing verification measures when hiring. The more we can highlight the levels of fraud, the higher that number will be.

McScam

It is common practice for bogus universities to use logos from professional and accreditation bodies on their websites to lend an air of authenticity, which unsuspecting applicants are unlikely to check.

Much of the time the accreditation bodies are as bogus as the universities, but occasionally the fake provider will use images from genuine bodies.

HEDD advises universities to be vigilant in monitoring their brand online to look for breaches of copyright or theft of intellectual property. The same advice goes to professional bodies.

The University of McAllister* has been reported to HEDD for using the logo of Universities UK – the professional body which represents UK universities. The site also claims to hold a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. Universities UK and The Royal Trust have both confirmed that they have no association with this provider.

They are in breach of a number of UK laws, including the use of the word ‘University’ which is a restricted and regulated term.

On closer inspection, their address in Darlington proves to be a quiet industrial estate, not a campus, and the phone and fax numbers are disconnected. The owner of the domain has a Glasgow address.

The McAllister certificate we have obtained says the individual studied for their McAllister degree at a college in Malaysia – which is also associated with Bransfield University – another bogus institution we have exposed through HEDD.

The key to the scam lies here:

The website has a verification service. Key in the student number from the certificate and the individual’s details come up on screen, including a date of birth, passport number, qualification, classification. The unsuspecting employer believes they have followed good practice and made a real check.

mcallister verification

*At the time of writing the website is live but we are working with the enforcement authorities to shut them down. If you can’t follow the link, we have been successful. Go us!

A Lie By Any Other Name

A solicitor has been lucky not to be struck off after an employer reported her to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). She had claimed to hold a 2:1 in a job application, when in fact she had a 2:2, Legal Cheek reports.

Anna Goodwin  completed her law degree at the University of the West of England in 2006 and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 2011.

She believed that the 2:2 grade she had achieved was preventing her from getting permanent employment, despite getting high results in her Legal Practice Course and Professional Skills Course. When she applied to the Army Legal Services (ALS) for a position as a legal advisor, she lied about the grade.

Their strict recruitment process meant her deceit was uncovered, even before she was interviewed, when ALS requested her original certificates. At that point she confessed – justifying her lie as a means to obtain an interview, after which she had intended to come clean.

We applaud ALS for not only cancelling her interview, but for reporting the fraud to the SRA. They took action and have suspended Goodwin from practising law for 18 months and fined her £3,000. The long term damage to her career could be far more costly.

Too often employers reject candidates after lying on applications, but don’t take action to report the fraud. One of the key reasons degree fraud thrives is because the perpetrators get away with it. If individuals clearly see that fraud doesn’t pay, the temptation is reduced. Cifas maintains a database of known fraud offenders which it shares with employers, financial services and banks.  They also publish advice for students and graduates about the consequences of degree fraud.

Goodwin defended her action in an email to ALS saying ‘I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for exaggerating my marks on my CV slightly and I can only hope that you will see that my reasons for doing it were genuine’.

‘Exaggerating’? ‘Slightly’? A lie is a lie is a lie.

This might well be a case of naïveté and Goodwin’s assertion that she always intended to explain may be true, but the result is the same. Hopefully the publicity the case has attracted will demonstrate to other students and graduates that the risk is not worth it.

The A Team

We’ve spoken before about the appalling trade in fake degree certificates on eBay for as little as £6.95.

We decided to do some consumer research, ordering 2 fake degree certificates – a Masters in Astrophysics and Space Technology (just so I can say it’s not rocket science) and a PhD in Quantum Mechanics.

The certificates, complete with holograms would pass muster to the untrained eye.

That’s the problem with degree certificates; genuine ones have excellent security features to prevent fraud, but if an employer doesn’t know this, then a £7 fake may well be accepted, unless the employer checks with the awarding body. Asking the university is the only way to be certain.

The positive feedback scores and recommendations mount up as we try to put pressure on eBay to act. We report sellers through eBay’s reporting function, but with no response from them as yet.  As of today, there are over 25 listings for fake certificates.

The seller of the certificates we bought helpfully included a label with his name and address on the envelope. We have passed everything over to Trading Standards.

Today the University of Cambridge got on the case and have committed to pursuing eBay sellers of fake Cambridge certificates using eBay’s VeRO programme which protects intellectual property rights. We are right behind them and will help in any way we can.

Amazon, on the other hand have already stepped up. They monitor and take immediate action to remove fake certificates from their marketplace. They couldn’t be more helpful and we’re grateful to them for taking this seriously.

We like to think of them as The ‘A’ Team of online retailers.

Selfie

A couple of months ago we were all giggling over reports that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs had issued a guide warning Russians of the dangers of selfies.

Last week we discovered another potential selfie risk after large numbers of photo tweets of graduates appeared posing with their degree certificates at ceremonies around the UK. To celebrate their graduates’ successes, these were frequently and innocently re-tweeted by their universities.

Once published and added to the eternal gallery of Google images these photos give anyone looking to make fake degree certificates the current designs for 2015, which they can then duplicate – logo, crest, signatory, stamps, holograms and forms of words.

We contacted every university’s social media team to advise them not to include certificates in their photo tweets and to advise their students not to do so either.

We’ve warned graduates before about publishing their degree certificates. But it’s worth restating in light of the numbers of sites selling fake certificates for as little as £6.95.

These sites rely on having access to real certificates in order for their fakes to pass muster with recruiters. None of us would upload a copy of our passport or driving licence, nor give out our bank details. We should regard our degree certificates as precious and private information to be guarded.