Government Cracks Down on Bogus Providers

Government launches service to combat fake universities

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and graduate careers expert, Prospects have launched a new service to reduce higher education fraud in England.

The service has been commissioned by BIS to proactively address issues concerning bogus institutions and the misuse of the word ‘university’ as well as to tackle the related area of degree fraud. It aims to reduce the burgeoning number of unaccredited institutions by increasing prosecutions through investigation and awareness-raising.

Bogus providers will be targeted by Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), Prospects’ degree verification service. Perpetrators found to be masquerading online as genuine with degree-awarding powers will be added to the database of bogus institutions. HEDD will investigate who owns the websites and where they are hosted, liaise with Trading Standards and other enforcement bodies, including those overseas, to prosecute and force closure. A HEDD fraudline (0845 077 1968) has been set up for advice or to report dubious organisations.

From July a toolkit will be available to support genuine UK HE providers who find themselves victims of copycat websites. An awareness campaign will provide clearer guidance on the surrounding issues.

Jo Johnson, Universities and Science Minister announcing the project at the Going Global 2015 Conference in London said:

“We have appointed Prospects to help us expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance.

Such action is in the interests of all legitimate providers and genuine students because it will help protect the reputation of the UK as a provider of high-quality education.”

 Since HEDD launched four years ago, awareness of the risks of degree fraud is increasing and employers are becoming more vigilant. In March 2014 HEDD processed 2023 enquiries, for the same period this year it handled 2315 checks, marking a 14% increase.

Jayne Rowley, Business Services Director who runs HEDD at Prospects said:

“Degree fraud is a serious problem; in the first quarter of this year alone we added 42 bogus institutions to the database and there are thousands of fake degree certificates in circulation. While HEDD has made it easier to verify whether an institution is genuine, the extent of the service ended there. We now have the structure in place to investigate and report fake university providers to the relevant authorities”.

“It’s easy to see why people would be tricked into thinking they could get a genuine degree from these websites. On the surface they appear credible; they use the word ‘university’ in their title and many imitate legitimate sites with all of the information you’d expect from study guides to lecturers’ words of welcome and student testimonials. Innocent applicants can be duped out of thousands of pounds to end up with a worthless piece of parchment with a fancy seal. From our investigations we’ve also found that what have been described as ‘campuses’ are actually just mailing addresses or virtual offices and ‘course work’ can amount to no more than listing your skills based on life experience or specifying the degree you want, for as little as £30. If you are offered a degree for little effort and a minimal fee, you have to question its legitimacy.”   

Sheikh Down

The International New York Times recently published a story following a long investigation into an alleged network of diploma mills and bogus websites controlled by Pakistani software company Axact.

I’d recommend it as an Diploma Mills 101 course in how to scam the world.

This is degree fraud on a global scale with 370 websites cited by the New York Times as being part of the operation and individuals being duped out of multi-millions of dollars and pounds by unscrupulous and clever operators.

Until now the company has been able to hide and slide away from prosecution using fall guys to take the rap. But at last it seems they have run out of lives.

The BBC has full details here.

Axact’s CEO Shoaib Sheikh and his deputy Waqas Atiq, were taken into custody after a raid at their Karachi office last week. Officials said hundreds of thousands of blank degree forms, student cards and authentication documents were found.

We will follow the story with interest. if you want to know more about the alleged fake universities there’s a list here. Most have American- or British-sounding names and the sites have convincing testimonials and videos from smiling academics, students and alumni. The universities are endorsed by equally fake accreditation bodies and verification services to back up their fake credentials and fool employers.

Jo Johnson, UK Minister for Universities and Science announced this week that we here at Prospects have been commissioned to proactively seek out bogus providers and shut them down. Watch this space to see us going all Liam Neeson over the next few months.

Do Not Pass. Do Not Collect Your Degree Certificate.

go to jail

It’s time for our annual survey of student and graduate attitudes and experiences of degree fraud. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey here. Tell us what you think about fraud and those who cheat their way into employment.

Degree fraud went way beyond cutting and pasting fake certificates this week with the jailing of a University of Birmingham student who hacked in to the university’s student record system and upped his grades on 5 pieces of coursework from a 2:2 to a 1st.

Imran Uddin is starting a four month sentence in prison, but a life sentence as far as his future career and integrity are concerned. What university would accept him after this? What employer?

He cites pressure to get a good degree as his reason for doing it – he is the first person in his family to attend university.

A criminal conviction is surely far worse to live with than a 2:2?

You’re Fired!

You're Fired

We’re not the only ones checking up on job applicants. Samsung recently surveyed 2,000 working British adults on their current roles and their career plans for 2015, and came up with a list of the ten most common lies found on CVs in the UK.

Former Apprentice mentor Nick Hewer, who is an ambassador for Samsung says: “I am not surprised that so many people admit to lying on the CVs – we see the same thing on The Apprentice year in, year out – however it is worth noting that we nearly always find the lies!

I have to say it astounds me that candidates lie in that situation. Surely they must know someone will go digging around? The media surely will, even if the producers don’t. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging words from Nick.

So what makes their top ten? No surprises on the number one slot, although I don’t fancy the chances of Apprentice contestants getting away with number nine.

Top Ten Lies on CVs

1. Exaggerated education grades (31%)

2. Beefing up day-to-day responsibilities (26%)

3. Job title (22%)

4. Personal achievements and rewards (22%)

5. Having a sporty hobby to appear outgoing and ‘rounded’ e.g. sky diving, off road racing (19%)

6. Companies you have worked for (17%)

7. References (using friends who were colleagues and not your manager) (15%)

8. Speaking a language (14%)

9. Covering up being fired from a previous position (10%)

10. Using industry jargon to impress – using industry terms/phrases without fully knowing what they mean (9%)

International Rescue

The biggest frustration with bogus universities is not being able to take any action. If they are based here in the UK, our legislation allows us to shut them down and prosecute if appropriate, working with Trading Standards and  sometimes the police. It’s much harder to deal with websites registered overseas, even when they purport to represent UK universities. This was highlighted by a BBC Radio Kent investigation last Autumn which prompted action from Canterbury MP Julian Brazier. They discovered sites selling fake degree certificates from dozens of UK universities based out in the Far East. Here at HEDD we have also been monitoring this and may have found a solution. The websites sell fake certificates from universities around the world, including from China. Are local laws being broken? Could something be done in-country? HEDD is part of a global network of public bodies verifying degree credentials including China. We welcomed colleagues from the Chinese Ministry of Education here at HEDD in December to strengthen our relationship. We contacted them about the fake certificate sites to ask whether this would be covered by Chinese legislation. I’m delighted to report that this is in fact the case and the information we collected has been passed on by them to the relevant Chinese security department. They take degree fraud very seriously and have successfully shut down bogus universities and sites offering fake certificates in the past. After liaising with colleagues over at BBC Kent we will be passing on their evidence to deal with the site they exposed.  We’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE 19th June 2015.

The Chinese site has been shut down. We’ll wait to see if they prosecute the offenders.

Chinese site selling fake certificates

Next month I’ll be meeting colleagues from the global network for our annual conference. I’ll be proposing to formalise arrangements through them with enforcement agencies around the world to tackle these websites wherever they spring up.

Coming of Age

Coventry became the 21st university to go live on HEDD last week following Aston the week before. There is further evidence that HEDD is now well-established in the sector with the first fake HEDD certificate appearing. It’s an interesting twist. Rather than create a certificate with its complicated watermarks and holograms, just produce a verification check. What could go wrong?

HEDD Page 3

 

First of all, HEDD is a secure, online-only system – we don’t issue certificates. As soon as something is committed to paper it can be tampered with.

It also appears to verify a candidate from a university that doesn’t use HEDD for its verifications yet.

It refers to the HEDD website at www.HEDD.ac – our old friend the Ascension Islands domain, designed to mimic our .ac.uk academic sites and conveniently ‘undergoing maintenance’ if you try to go there.

There’s not even the most rudimentary effort to reproduce the HEDD logo.

More worrying is that the HEDD ‘certificate’ has been certified as genuine by a real Notary Public in London at a cost of around £80.

We see a lot of scanned certificates countersigned by notaries attesting to having checked the original, but how can we be sure that they do it with any degree of rigour? A Google search would have taken them to the real HEDD website and exposed the truth in seconds.

Our HEDDhelp team spoke to the Notary who hung up very quickly when we challenged him about signing a fraudulent certificate.

We’ll be checking up on the owner of the Ascension Islands HEDD domain and reporting the Notary to his professional body.

Isn’t It Ironic? #2

After reporting in November that most employers are still not checking qualifications despite high profile cases and our efforts to highlight the risks, it was good to see another fraudster put behind bars recently. Karen Carberry, Finance Director for Reed – the recruitment specialists follows Wade Jordan to prison.

Karen Carberry lied to get a job as a financial director before siphoning off £300,000 to spend on her love of shopping. She was jailed for four years today after her lies and lack of remorse were criticised by an Old Bailey judge

Reed paid the high cost of not checking her certificates when she joined them in 2001 and she rose up the ranks to Finance Director – syphoning off over £300,000 along the way. Ouch.

Carberry denied but was convicted of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception between July 1, 2001 and July 31, 2001, fraud by abuse of position between 6 August 2009 and 9 July 2012 and two counts of using a false instrument between 13 August and 29 August 2012. The judge sentenced her to 4 years – but it could easily have been 6 if she had not had young children.

That’s a lot of money to lose but how much greater was the reputational and brand damage to Reed? A lot of chatter and comments following the news coverage centred around Reed’s failure to vet their own staff and raised questions about the standards of vetting of candidates they place with clients. Their competitors were very quick to jump on this although, hand on heart, I’d be surprised if they could confidently say they checked every single employee.

The BBC reported on new technology last week to offer secure digital badges for documents and certificates to verify their authenticity with the issuer. We are already looking into offering access to secure documents through HEDD. Meanwhile we are delighted to welcome Coventry and Aston to the growing number of universities in the HEDD service. With more universities due to join later this month this means nearly a quarter of UK graduates can be checked through HEDD. The BBC article talked of the burden of manual work to make checks and we know this is cited by many as a reason to trust CVs and certificates. We’re doing our bit to make it easier. Time for employers to step up.