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.

The Clone Wars

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.

Yours faithfully,

Fakedegreecertificates.com

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.

 

 

Check please!

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.

Isn’t It Ironic?

One of my ongoing frustrations is the lack of prosecutions for degree fraud, despite the fact that it is against the law in the UK and carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

A new guide for students ‘Don’t Finish Your Career Before it Starts’ has just been distributed to universities and warns of the criminal consequences of white lies or embellishments. As a follow-up we were asked if we had any case studies of successful prosecutions of graduates. Sadly, we don’t.

The cases we know of are individuals who faked their qualifications, so aren’t valid graduates. The one high profile case we’ve covered here is Dennis O’Riordan, the University of East Anglia graduate who was dismissed from the Bar for degree fraud, but he has not been prosecuted to date.

As we know, most degree fraud goes undetected due to the lack of proper checks being made by employers, although every survey confirms that about 1/3 of applicants admit to lying on their CVs.

The prevailing view seems to be that it’s OK to get a little creative with your CV if you can actually do the job. Why should you be discounted because your skills and qualifications are from the University of Life? But not every instance is an honest candidate, just trying to get ahead.

Recently in Manchester,  Wade Jordan was jailed for three years for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Jordan landed an HR role at biotechnology firm, Qiagen’s, Manchester office by claiming he had an MA in Human Resource Management from Manchester Metropolitan University. He went on to swindle almost £50,000 in fraudulent expense claims between 2010 and 2013. A police investigation, launched after the company unearthed his expenses fiddle, found he had no such qualification – something Qiagen could have checked themselves with Manchester Metropolitan University, when they recruited him. 

The fact that Jordan was recruited into an HR role only adds insult to injury, although it could teach Alanis Morrisette a thing or two about irony.

Boosting the Signal

After his constructive comments a couple of weeks ago on my post about older graduates I have had some interesting exchanges with Neil Patrick from 40PlusCareerGuru.

Neil’s very kindly covered HEDD and what we’re trying to achieve over on his excellent blog. You can read his thoughts here

Thanks for boosting the signal, Neil.

We’ve had some very positive feedback about the Fake Britain piece, and a renewed interest in our blog here. If you’ve just joined us – welcome, and please feel free to comment.

I was also asked to contribute a piece for the graduate employment and careers magazine Graduate Market Trends about the vicious circle of fraud and what we can do to stop it spinning out of control. You can read the online version here.

I’m still digesting what I learned at a great conference I attended in Washington last month. Verification service providers from all over the world were gathered and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak about HEDD. More later.

Fake Britain

If you stuck around after BBC Breakfast today you will have seen the issue of fake certificates and degree fraud covered on the BBC1 consumer programme Fake Britain.

it’s no longer on BBC iPlayer, but you can catch our segment on YouTube, if you missed it.

Jayne explaining a fake certificate

Jayne explaining a fake certificate

It demonstrates the consequences of fraud and looks in more detail at the case of Julia Rawlinson, the Torquay ‘teacher’ we have mentioned before here on the blog. It discusses the effects on the pupils she was preparing for exams at the time when she was arrested and the possible consequences for them of not getting the grades due to their inadequate teacher. We talk to some current students about their views.

We also show some fake certificates and expose the sophistication of the degree mills combining provision of fake documents with verification websites like the fake University of Wolverhamton where you can use the certificate student ID to get a verification online.

It was an excellent example of clear, serious consumer journalism.

Sadly our Rogues Gallery of fake certificates grows bigger by the week. The latest culprit is a mash up of one university’s name and the crest and signatures from another. On the one hand it’s great to catch the culprits, but depressing in the frequency of the occurrences.

 

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