You Only Cheat Twice

A report from Tom Williams on our degree fraud team.

We often hear that people have ‘embellished’ their CV or LIED, as we prefer to call it, in order to get a job. The general feeling seems to be that this is normal and if people do a good job there’s no harm done.

That’s a very dangerous assumption indeed.

Yes, a fake fact on a CV might be their only crime and their contribution to your workforce may be exemplary. But it’s a risky business to put your faith and your company’s reputation and finances in the hands of a stranger without a verification check.

Alaska Freeman has an impressive CV which included her accountancy qualifications. Two successive employers failed to check on her claims and as a result she was able to steal around £115,000 from them.

Joining the first company in October 2012 as Assistant Management Accountant and later promoted to the senior position of Management Accountant, Freeman inflated her own pay, made personal purchases on company credit cards, transferred funds into her own bank accounts and stole petty cash.

After being exposed by HMRC in 2015 and sacked after an internal investigation, she was arrested.

Whilst on bail, she applied for a financial controller’s job with a new employer, was hired and immediately set about stealing from them too!

Thankfully Freeman has just been sentenced to 53 months in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of fraud. Let’s hope they follow up under the Proceeds of Crime Act to get that money back.

The financial impact of these crimes was severe and it took three years of hard work by dedicated employees for the first business to recover. Her crimes could so easily have cost jobs.

Both companies could have avoided this by making a proper background check for qualifications, references and even criminal records as a standard part of their recruitment process. The consequences of inadequate checks can be serious, long-term and irreversible.

Making checks is easy. You can download our free toolkit for employers at www.hedd.ac.uk

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Fraud doesn’t pay, but fraudsters do.

Guest Post from Edward on the Hedd Fraud Team

It was January last year when we first reported on Jon Andrewes – a man who lied about his degree qualifications so that he could gain two top jobs in the NHS.

To remind you, Mr Andrewes’ fraud was pretty extensive. Not only did he claim to have a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and an MBA from the University of Bristol, but also a PhD from Heriot-Watt University. Mr Andrewes did not have any of these qualifications, but despite this he became chairman of the Torbay NHS Care Trust and later of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust.

His total earnings from the health bodies between 2005-16 was £1,072,076.

After being exposed he pleaded guilty and in March 2017 was jailed for two years, a sentence that he has now served.

Last week, on the 26th July, he was ordered to pay back £97,737.24 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Despite the fraud leading to Mr Andrewes being overpaid by £643,000 over more than a decade his actual available assets currently only total £97,737.24.

He has been ordered to pay this sum back by the end of October or he will return to jail for another year. To do so he must sell some of his assets, which according to the BBC includes: ‘a half share in a Dutch barge, a share of his profit from the sale of the house in Topsham, an insurance payout for a Seat Leon car, premium bonds, and a pension plan.’

It just goes to show the risk that you run if you fake your qualifications. It also shows the risk that degree fraud poses to institutions of all sizes, from the small start-up to the behemoth that is the NHS.

In his summation, the judge mentioned that “the defendant was narrowly preferred to another candidate when he was appointed to the hospice”. In other words the NHS were just one degree verification check away from recruiting the right person.

As with our previous post the advice here is simple. Check qualifications for everyone you hire – regardless of seniority, fine CVs and track records. Fraudsters come in all guises.

Private Investigation

Guest post from Edward on the Hedd degree fraud team.

As you may be aware, Italy is going through something of a political crisis. Three months after its general election Italy still has no government. Two weeks ago it appeared that the largely unknown lawyer Giuseppe Conte was due to get the top job after he was surprisingly nominated to become Prime Minister.*

However a spanner was thrown in the works when exaggerations on his academic CV came to the attention of the New York Times. Mr Conte claimed that he had ‘refined’ his legal education at New York University – yet there was no record of him studying there.

In the hubbub around the wider story of political instability and a potentially fraudulent resumé something was lost.

Mr Conte’s CV claims that he had attended a number of different institutions across the world, including the University of Cambridge in the UK. However, as the Guardian reported, “Citing confidentiality rules, Cambridge said it could not immediately confirm or deny whether Conte had attended the university.”

The fact that Cambridge didn’t release the details of Mr Conte, where other institutions did is the correct and legal thing to do. Under data protection laws, no individual’s degree details should be released to anyone else without that individual’s express permission. This is how Hedd operates, and how all of our UK partner universities operate.

Graduate/individual data security is of utmost importance to us. We are fully GDPR compliant and have been for some months now.

We often receive calls to our degree fraud reporting line from people who are mistrustful of the credentials of a colleague, a friend or even a family member. They usually wish to check the education details without the person knowing, so as not to raise their suspicions. Even with the best case in the world, we cannot ask universities to release this kind of information.

Think of it the other way round. Would you want your nosy neighbour or potential first date to be able to find out what level of degree you achieved at university? What if a private company was to collect such data and use it to target you with certain products, or to change what sort of content was visible to you on the internet?

Your educational attainment is personal to you and should remain so.

*Mr Conte has since resigned from his nomination due to a separate issue.

Great Scott!

Some men born to the name Scott are great heroes. Think Scott of the Antarctic, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott, even Barry Scott of Cillit Bang fame. Some however, are not so worthy of the name.

Let me introduce to you, David Scott from Stockton-on-Tees

On the face of it he was the perfect candidate for the job of managing director at Mech-Tool, an engineering company in Darlington in the North East of England that specialised in heat and blast protection in the oil and gas sector. He had three degrees from Imperial College London, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities, including a First Class Honours in Petroleum Engineering. He had also penned the snappily titled “Non-parametric Regression For Analysis Of Complex Surveys And Geographic Visualisation”, a renowned academic paper within the sector.

Upon being hired his first task was to manage two multi-million pound contracts in Kazakhstan and in return he would receive a £10,000 company car allowance, bonuses, a resettlement package, all on top of a £120,000 salary.

Fair recompense for a challenging high-level job.

Regular readers of the blog will know what happens next. It turns out that a large proportion of what David Scott had claimed was not true. He had actually started life in the Army, where he was introduced to engineering before leaving to work in geo-structural engineering in Libya.

After returning to the UK, and going through an expensive divorce, he fraudulently applied for the role at Mech-Tool. His Bachelors and two Masters were complete fictions, as was his claim to have held an executive position beforehand. As for the ‘renowned academic paper’, this was actually written by his American namesake, Dr David W Scott!

The result for Mech-Tool was near disastrous. Three months after drawing up a strategy plan that, in the words of the judge at his trial, showed Scott was “quite clearly not up to the job”, his colleagues realised as such and after some investigations, discovered the truth. Luckily, the contracts were saved, although payments were delayed however.

At Scott’s trail the judge added: “This was not just claiming an extra GCSE or A level, this was fraud at the highest end of CV falsehood.” This was high culpability deliberate fraud and he sentenced Scott to 12 months in jail.

A company statement from Mech-Tool stated the following: “The business demands the highest standards from its staff and, as such, we have very strict and robust governance and HR processes.”

Not so robust however, to properly check Scott’s degrees.

For just a few pounds and in just a few minutes on Hedd they could have saved themselves a large deal of stress and negative PR, not to mention the millions of pounds that were at stake. Credential fraud will only end when all employers make proper checks on job applicants.

Luckily Mech-Tool have bounced back and predict that the affair “will have no effect on the business as it looks forward to a strong 2018.”

 

By Edward Prichard

Spill the Beans

A guest post from Degree Fraud Officer, Edward on the Hedd Team.

Sitting on a sofa in a central London branch of a well-known coffee shop chain, dressed in a smart blue jumper and white shirt, a man is talking with earphones in. He’s talking loud enough to be overheard.

‘We’re all middle men here’,

It seems he’s persuading the person on the other end of the line to join him in something.

(Over the sound of rattling coffee cups and background music)

‘We’ll get a grand each, no stress man. All that’s happening is that you’re chasing the uni for some guy’s transcript. Somehow…the transcript is sent from the uni…they send the wrong thing by mistake… I need to know the year of graduation so the guy was in the UK around that at least, so it doesn’t raise any suspicions. You know you can buy these novelty things online, but obviously they won’t be the same standard…yeah this one has the crest, the logo, everything…the complete transcript’.

The. Complete. Transcript.

The most important question now is, how does he get hold of these documents?

It appears that someone inside the university receives an order from our coffee man, then sends out a transcript ‘by accident’ with the details requested and both parties receive a bit of money on the side.

Luckily, the man was brazenly describing a fraudulent enterprise in a public space. A few tables away this caught the attention of a member of the public, who not only took pictures of the gentleman in question, but also recorded the phone call. He reported it to Hedd and we took it from there, informing the universities involved as well as passing all evidence over to the National Fraud Investigation Bureau, via Action Fraud.

The investigations are on-going, with one of the universities involved launching an internal inquiry.

The transcripts would have been authentic because they were issued by the university and could have fooled employers. The only way to detect this fraud would be to make a proper verification check with the university, whose genuine records would tell a different story.

Our thanks go to the quick thinking of the concerned citizen.

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.”   

Forgers Target Cash Strapped Students

We recently attended the Document Verification Workshop run in London and it was a fantastic platform to discuss with Universities, legal firms and screening agencies the experience that they have had with forged or counterfeit documents.

One of the interesting things that came out of the session was the vulnerability of graduation ceremonies to exploitation by companies who create fake documentation.

One of the presenters highlighted the practice whereby fake documentation companies have agents at graduation ceremonies who will pay £200-300 to a student to “borrow” their certificate for 15-minutes. Although the vast majority of graduates are sensible rational people, the allure of a £200-300 cash injection can be a significant reward for being award from your certificate for only 15-minutes, right?

What happens in that 15-minutes is a trip to a photocopier or scanner and copious note taking regarding security features of the document so that fake document companies can even better emulate documentation later.

All the more reason to check student qualifications: Documentation can look very similar to the real thing and the average, untrained reasonable person will be unlikely to tell the difference. However, proper candidate checks to ensure that documentation you receive is legitimate can mitigate the risk of documentation fraud.