How to spot a fake UK university

Universities in the United Kingdom have a high reputation of academic excellence. It is no wonder then that ne’er do wells would want to utilise that reputation for their own ends. The UK is home to hundreds of awarding institutions. How do you tell what’s a real UK university and what is not?

In the United Kingdom, the Education Reform Act [1] makes it an offence to claim to offer UK degrees (the title of Bachelor, Master, or Doctor)  without the authority to do so.

When considering UK study or verification a UK qualification, the first port of call is to determine whether that institution is a legitimate degree awarding body. For an institution to award UK degrees, it must either be a recognised body (which has degree awarding powers in its own right) or a listed body (who issues degrees through a recognised body).

Are they on the list?

The first port of call would be to search in the HEDD University Lookup Service for the institution at our home page. Our institution list contains all the recognised bodies in the UK, antecedent institutions, some listed bodies, and some bogus institutions.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills also provides lists of recognised and listed bodies within the UK which could be your second port of call. These lists are complete but do not contain antecedent institutions or bogus institutions [2].

What if the institution you are looking to study at or verify from does not appear on these lists? Does that mean it is not a legitimate institution?

Not necessarily and this is because institutions come and go – it could be an old institution or a relatively new one. Recently for example, the University of South Wales is a newly created university which resulted from a merger between Glamorgan University and Newport University [3]. As a result, Newport and Glamorgan will disappear from the BIS list, but they were still legitimate degree awarding bodies in the UK and degrees awarded by them will always be legitimate.

There are some tell-tale signs that should ring alarm bells. One of them is that they do not appear on official recognised or listed body lists. Here are some of the others:

Using the .ac domain name

The top-level domain for the Ascension Islands is “.ac” and what this means is that when you type the address into your web-browser, the suffix will be .ac (example http://www.fakeuniversity.ac).

Many bogus institutions are registered with a .ac address because the Ascension Islands does not put any restrictions on using the .ac domain name.

The reason this is a problem is that the top-level domain used by legitimate educational institutions in the uk is .ac.uk. The .ac.uk domain is tightly regulated and registration is only open to those who have a legitimate reason to use this. Naturally, being an illegitimate degree awarding body is not a legitimate reason to use the .ac.uk domain.

As such, a good indicator that an institution is legitimate is that they have a .ac.uk domain. Any other domain, especially .ac, but also .com, .net, .org, etc, might indicate that something isn’t quite right.

Using fake names and addresses

Many bogus institutions will use fake names or addresses. This plays on the idea that nobody is actually going to check these details.

Our recommendation is to check their bricks and mortar address on Google Maps and ask yourself “Does this look like a university?”. Our experience with looking at the physical address of these institutions is they are either not real addresses or for private residences more suited to housing a small family rather than an institution with UK university status.

One bogus institution listed their address as Galway, Dublin. Galway and Dublin are two cities which are hundreds of miles apart. It does not make sense.

Where there is a suspicion the certificate is fake, it is worth checking the names on the certificate. This includes the registrar who, we find, either does not exist or was not the registrar at the time when the award was purported to be granted.

Poor English

Aesthetically, many of the sites look like they could be legitimate institutions. However, if you look closely at the spelling and grammar you will notice that it is unlikely the author passed their GCSE English. Spelling and grammar are not high on the priorities for illegitimate institutions.

This may be that the sites are designed to target those whose first language is not English. These kinds of mistakes might be missed by a non-native speaker, but they are a dead giveaway for us.

One particular website spelled “Registry” as “Regestry”. Fake certificates often contain spelling mistakes, such as “postgraduate sutdent” or “certified ture copy”.

Promises of Education without Study

The biggest giveaway is a promise of education without study. In the UK, the scope to receive any honour – Bachelor, Master, or Doctor – without study or supervised research is very limited.

As such, any institution which, as a matter of course, claims to offer awards without study is undoubtedly illegitimate.


1. Education Reform Act 1988: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/40/section/214

2. BIS Recognised Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-recognised-bodies
BIS Listed Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-listed-bodies.

3. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/university-south-wales-launches-today-2582465#.UWbU81nRWSc.twitter

Candidates: “What happens to my data?”

With education verification checks required by many employers across the world, it is a legitimate question to ask: “What happens to my data?” In this post we explore what happens during a verification check and what you can do to make the verification process as painless as possible.

HEDD is the Higher Education Degree Datacheck – we are a central shared service for education verification for, at the time of writing, 11 partner institutions.

Although we are rapidly expanding, we presently verify all awards for:

  1. University of Manchester
  2. University of Salford
  3. University of Wolverhampton
  4. University of Nottingham
  5. University of East London
  6. University of Essex
  7. Sheffield Hallam University
  8. Imperial College London
  9. De Montfort University
  10. University of Sussex
  11. Anglia Ruskin University

If you are a student or graduate of one of these Universities, then our process starts with an employer or agency wishing to verify a your award. The Data Protection Act requires that in order to process or disclose your data, your consent is required and we require this as part of our terms of service.

Q: Are there any times when my consent is not required to disclose or process my data?

There exists one exemption under the Data Protection Act which allows data to be disclosed or processed without consent. This exemption concerns the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, or the assessment of tax.

HEDD does not process any requests without consent. Exempted requests will only be fulfilled at the discretion of your University. Universities take protecting your data very seriously and will only release your data under such an exemption to legitimate authorities, such as the police, and only with a strong qualifying reason to do so.

At some point in the employment process, you should have signed a disclosure agreement. This agreement allows your prospective employer or a third party agency to process your data in order to verify your education and your dates of attendance.

The employer will either create an account with us or log in to an existing account and submit a verification request to a partner institution. In some instances, where the data is a perfect match to records we hold locally, an instant verification can be provided.

In other instances, where a perfect data match cannot be found, it will be sent to your University for a manual verification. The University will respond to the employer or agency through the HEDD system shortly.

Universities can respond in several ways.

They can verify the enquiry, where all the information is correct. They can also partially verify the enquiry and provide amendments where some of the information is incorrect. In the event that your student record cannot be found given the information provided, a result of not verified will be returned.

We are very proactive in ensuring that the correct response is provided. Where there is concern that an enquiry which is returned not verified is in fact a false-negative, we will endeavour to seek additional information in order to provide the correct result.

Your verification result will be available to the enquirer in their secure dashboard. They will be able to access it in future should you apply for a job with an employer who uses the same agency.

How can I help the verification process?

Many screening agencies are international organisations that have to verify awards from all over the world.

In order to assist them in verifying your qualification so starting your job is not delayed, it is useful to provide the following information on your CV:

  1. Your name as it appears on your degree certificate, if your name has changed, please tell them as Universities will not have record of this and it can cause a false-negative result
  1. Your date of birth
  1. Your qualification type, examples include “Bachelor of Science”, “Master of Arts”, “Postgraduate Certificate” or “Doctor of Philosophy”.
  1. Your course name, examples include “Mechanical Engineering”, “Law”, or “Mathematics”. Again, check this against your degree certificate as the university may express it in a different way than you think.
  1. Your classification, i.e. the result you got 2:1, 2;2 etc.
  1. Your year of graduation

If you can provide the prospective employer or agency with a copy of your award certificate, this can help greatly with the verification process.

If you studied at an affiliated institutution – such as at a former UMIST academy or a subsidiary college of a University – then this is also highly relevant in assisting the verification process.

Any further questions?

You’re more than welcome to ask in the comments below and we will answer them if we can.

What Lies Beneath

Some may consider embellishing details on a CV in order to paint a brighter picture of our education and experience an acceptable and usual practice. Everyone does it, right? But what about changing your 2:2 to a 2:1? Is that just a little white lie?

Fraud as a criminal offence came into existence as a result of the Fraud Act 2006. It replaced the old “deception” offences which were fraught with practical and technical problems and made them unsatisfactory and unworkable.

The new offence of fraud and its ancillary offences are much broader in their application and can cover a wide range of behaviours.

Several offences are of particular relevance to those who might believe that embellishing their CV is not that big of a deal. You may be surprised to realise what kind of behaviour is punishable and what punishments can be exacted.

Fraud by False Representation

The first offence relevant to CV-embellishers is fraud by false representation.

A person is guilty of this offence if they dishonestly make a false representation and they intend by making that representation to make a gain for themselves or another or to cause a loss to another or expose another to a risk of loss.

A representation is “false” if it is untrue or misleading and the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

What does this mean for those looking to embellish their CV?

If you submit a CV to an employer or agency and you claim – for instance – to hold a degree which you do not, then you have commit fraud by false representation.

It does not matter if you have not been offered the job or are yet to receive a salary; the crime is committed the moment the representation is made. That moment could be when it is read by a HR manager, or when it is submitted to an electronic recruitment system.

The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment and a fine. Yes, TEN years!

Possessing, Making or Supplying Articles for Use in Frauds

The second offence relevant to CV-embellishers is making or supplying articles for use in frauds.

A person is guilty of an this offence if they make, adapt, supply, or offer any article which they know is designed or adapted for use in a fraud or that it is intended the article will be used to commit or assist in the commission of a fraud.

A third offence exists: possession of articles for use in frauds.

A person is guilty of this offence if they have in their possession or under their control any article for use in the course of or connection with any fraud.

Article includes any program or data held in electronic format.

What does this mean for those looking to embellish their CV?

It means that if you make a CV on a computer (“data held in an electronic format”) which contains false information with the intention of committing fraud, then you have committed the offence. Possessing a CV created by another which is to be used for fraud also constitutes the offence.

So combining this with what we have learned above about fraud, if you have crafted an embellished CV and you intend to submit it to a HR department or agency tomorrow, then you have committed both offences.

The maximum penalty for the making articles offence is 10 years imprisonment and a fine and for possessing articles is 5 years imprisonment and a fine.

Have there been any prosecutions, or is this just legal theory?

Kerrie Devine was an employee of East Devon Primary Care Trust until it was dissolved in 2003-2006. It was reformed as Devon PCT and, as a result of the dissolution, existing staff had to re-apply for their positions. During the re-application, qualifications were checked and it was found that Kerrie Devine did not hold the qualifications she claimed to.

An investigation, headed by the NHS Counter Fraud Service, resulted in a successful prosecution under s.2 of the Fraud Act 2006 (fraud by false representation).

She was given a six-month suspended sentence, ordered to pay £9,600 in compensation, and was ordered to do 150 hours community service.

What was interesting about this case is that she had been hired under the pretence of holding qualifications that she did not and she held the post for many years before the fraud came to light.

This demonstrates two important points when considering new and existing staff:

  1. The importance of education verification for new staff as a method of mitigating the risk of fraud (primary checks)
  2. The importance of education verification for existing staff as a method of mitigating the continuation of fraud (secondary checks)

The story of Kerrie Devine, a person who managed to land a very senior role within the NHS through fraud, is a story which employers should take note of. If it can happen within the NHS, it can happen to your organisation.

If the East Devon PCT had not dissolved and employees not had to re-apply for roles, the fraud could have continued indefinitely.

Conclusions

There are many behaviours caught under degree fraud. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Claiming to have a degree that you do not
  2. Claiming your classification is higher than it actually is (e.g. 2.1 instead of a 2.2)
  3. Claiming that your study dates are or year of graduation is different from what they are
  4. Claiming that your degree is of a different type than it actually is (e.g. “Law” instead of “History”; “Master of Arts” instead of “Bachelor of Arts”)

Fraud is a highly under-reported crime. If it wasn’t for the NHS’s dedicated fraud team – the NHS Counter Fraud Service – it is unlikely that this case of degree fraud would have reached trial and successfully prosecuted. However, as awareness of the issue becomes more widespread, both reporting and prosecutions will become more common.

From an employer’s perspective, it is prudent to protect yourself from the risk of degree fraud by conducting proper and through checks on new and existing staff. Degree fraud is serious business. If it can happen in the NHS, it can happen to you. Although there appears to be no reported damage in the case above, the NHS is in a better position than small-to-medium sized enterprises to absorb the damage and reputation loss caused by a bad hire – can you honestly say you are in the same position?

From a candidates perspective, although in a competitive market, you may feel that claiming to have a first class rather than a 2.2 might give you an advantage when it comes to applying for jobs, sooner or later the fraud will be exposed and the consequences could be far worse than simply not landing that perfect position. It will most certainly be the end of your professional career with that employer or industry, and may even lead to loss of your liberty.

Little white lies aren’t such a little deal!


For the full text of the Fraud Act 2006, visit:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/35/contents

For the CIPD press release on Kerrie Devine, visit:

http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/01/29/hr-manager-sentenced-for-lying-about-qualifications-2010-01.aspx

Six Degrees of Fabrication

As HEDD becomes the UK’s trusted brand for degree verification we’re getting almost daily reports of bogus institutions.

The latest one to come to our attention is the University of Wolverhamton in Ireland* through a certificate and transcript we were asked to verify. The certificate invites you to verify the candidate through their website www.wolverhamton.com. Hopefully by the time you read this, the site will still be there**. Generally speaking, once ‘outed’, the sites disappear. On the surface, the site looks pretty plausible, but closer examination reveals a rash of spelling mistakes – ‘corses’ is the most obvious example. References to campuses in England also points to a lack of understanding of basic UK geography.

To make it look credible the site owners have copied pages from legitimate UK university websites – clearly breaching copyright. Even the fake certificate we have carries the name and signature of a real UK Registrar from another valid university – we have let them know that their identify has been stolen.

Fraudsters are backing up their fake certificates with convincing transcripts and letters of reference in the hope that employers won’t need to verify with the named awarding body if they have lots of supporting documents. A two minute Google check can reveal that addresses are false, referees don’t exist, and, if the fake qualifications are old, the website has disappeared.

*Did you spot the missing P? We nearly missed it too

** If you’re using Internet Explorer the site has now been reported as ‘unsafe’