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?
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%)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Dear Innocent Graduate,
Thank you for uploading a copy of your degree certificate to your social network , enabling it to appear in search engine images.
We have now successfully taken the image and used it as a template for our ‘novelty’ and ‘replacement’ degree certificate service. We are most grateful for your help in ensuring that we have access to authentic examples.
If you have any other academic or professional certificates please feel free to publish them too, along with your passport and driving licence. We would be happy to use them.
This post is prompted by a real letter I had to write to an innocent graduate who had proudly uploaded their degree certificate to their business website under ‘About Us’. They had removed it very quickly, but unfortunately the damage was done and that image still comes up if you search images for ‘degree certificate’ on search engines.
It has been stolen by several fake certificate sites who sell suitably customised versions to anyone looking for a quick fix degree. It came to our attention at HEDD when the university rejected it during a verification check and then another version of it appeared only weeks later with a different name and degree subject.
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.
Needless to say our innocent victim was shocked and upset to find out their credentials have been stolen and we have pointed them to the Google reporting facility to remove information under European Data Protection law to try to get the image removed. Unfortunately this won’t stop the sites who have already copied it.
My apologies for the online absence. I have brought a note. Anyway – how’ve you been?
It’s been a tremendously busy summer and autumn on HEDD. We have welcomed Surrey and Nottingham Trent Universities into the HEDD family and we’re processing record numbers of checks every week. I’d like to think that our campaigning efforts to encourage checks are having an effect, but sadly our latest research tells a different tale.
A third of employers are still taking CVs at face value and don’t request degree certificates from job applicants.
Of those who request certificates, 76% assume they are legitimate and don’t verify them with the issuing university and 32% accept copies rather than original documents.
Many businesses, particularly when recruiting graduates, invest significantly in sophisticated application tracking, assessment centres, psychometric testing and so on, but it seems only a few verify qualifications as part of that process.
Many of us want to believe that people are telling the truth, so we place our trust in references, applications and interviews. With a low perception of the frequency and risks of qualification fraud it’s easy to become complacent.
This is totally at odds with the views of students and graduates when we asked them. Three quarters said they expect employers to check their qualifications and 82% would like to see verification compulsory. (So would we, if I’m honest).
Graduates are used to rigorous checks by UCAS pre-university and to having their academic work verified by plagiarism detection software to prevent cheating, What a shame the same rigour isn’t in place for job applications and employment.