New way to spot fake UK degrees

We’ve just updated our series of tips on How to Spot a Fake UK Degree.

Based on a recent case we’ve handled, we’ve added the following tip to the list:

University Name

In a recent case we handled, an enquiry returned “Not Verified”. The client, as per our normal procedure, sent us the candidate’s award certificate.

The certificate was purported to be offered by “Manchester University”.

However, this is not a valid university title. The correct university title is the “University of Manchester”. This was a dead give-away that the certificate was not awarded from the University of Manchester, nor is it a UK degree.

Always check how the university’s name appears on the certificate with what the official university refers to itself as.

There is a big difference between hiring someone from Manchester University (bogus) and someone from The University of Manchester (real)!

Postgraduate Admissions Teams Beware!

Recently we handled a case of a candidate using a fake degree certificate to apply for postgraduate courses at a number of UK universities.

Thankfully, in all the attempts so far, the postgraduate admissions team have had a policy of verifying degree certificates prior to admitting anyone to their courses and the applicant was stopped.

The worrying thing was the persistence of the candidate in using forged documents in order to apply for multiple postgraduate positions. They were obviously hoping to slip through the net at one of the universities.

Even more worrying is that according to UK law, the candidate would not be committing a fraud in applying to postgraduate programmes using false documentation.

This is because fraud in the UK requires ‘a gain or loss in either money or property’. A place on a postgraduate course would be very unlikely to be interpreted as a gain or loss in either money or property.

That being the case, the only offence which a candidate would commit is perhaps a forgery offence (“using a false instrument”).

Although forgery is a serious offence, its relevance to degree fraud has perhaps not yet been considered.

That the law does not offer a broad range of offences to protect postgraduate admissions teams means simply that running the proper checks is even more imperative when taking on anyone claiming to hold a degree.

It’s The Business!

Check out our article on “Beating Degree Deception” in July’s edition of University Business.

We’re doing everything we can to spread the word about fraud. This week, The National Centre for Universities and Business have kindly published our piece on the Vicious Circle of Fraud on their blog. Thanks for that.

If  you have any comments or questions, then please feel free to leave them below.

How to spot a fake UK degree certificate

We recently discussed some tips on how to spot a fake UK university. The issue of fake degrees is a bigger concern than that of fake universities because fake degrees, typically, purport to be awarded from a legitimate institution and forgeries are often excellent in their quality and attention to detail.

What are the tell-tale signs?

In HEDD’s life we have received numerous examples of fake degree certificates. Although some have purported to be awarded from non-existent universities, such as “Chelsea University” (which has never been a degree-awarding body in the UK), the most worrying is when certificates appear to be awarded by legitimate universities.

Fake degree certificates are often of high quality and with excellent attention to detail. Upon first inspection, they are convincing enough to fool someone who doesn’t know what to look out for.

However, there are certain tell-tale signs which will give you some certainty in determining if a degree is fake.

Verification Returns Negative

The biggest tell-tale sign that a degree certificate might be fake is if you have run an enquiry with the institution on the student and this has turned up negative. Usually this is because the information supplied to the university is not enough to allow them to trace the candidate – but very occasionally the candidate is fraudulent and their certificate is a fake.  Sometimes the certificates are so convincing that agencies or employers involved in the verification process believe that the verification result is wrong rather than the certificate.

If a negative response is provided by HEDD, this is the first red flag concerning the legitimacy of the candidate and their award. Given a certificate, we will investigate all such cases and in some instances certificates have turned out to be fake!

Spelling Mistakes on the Certificate

Carefully check the spelling and grammar of a certificate: Is it all correct?

A UK University would not risk its reputation by allowing grammatical and spelling mistakes on a certificate or official transcript.

However, those who craft fake certificates clearly don’t mind. We have seen many spelling mistakes, for example “certified ture copy” (as opposed to “true copy”) or sutdent (as opposed to student).

Terminology Borrowed from Other Education Systems

You should also consider the terminology used.

In one recent certificate we reviewed, there was reference made to the “Dean’s list”. The Dean’s list is an American university concept, not a UK university concept. You would not find reference to a Dean’s List on a UK degree certificate.  In addition, instead of start date they used “Matriculation Date”. This is not common wording on a UK degree certificate. Similarly, using season names like “Winter” and “Fall” to describe semesters is American, not UK, terminology.

One final example of terminology was the use of “summa cum laude”, which translates as “with highest distinction”.

In the UK, instead of “cum laude”, we would normally use “Honours degree”, or “with Honours”.

Certificate Language

Historically, some UK universities have awarded certificates which are written entirely in Latin.

Contemporary certificates, especially those awarded in the last 10 years, are very unlikely to be written in Latin. The practice of UK universities awarding certificates in Latin is no longer current practice.

Although up until recently, some UK universities have offered Latinised degrees as a memento of study, they are not considered a valid degree without the corresponding English degree certificate. Only the originally-awarded certificate is acceptable.

If you do receive a degree certificate which is entirely in Latin and purports to be from a UK university, consider carefully when the degree was awarded. If it claims to be a recent award (within the last 10 years) then it is likely to be either not authentic or a memento of study.

Who’s the Registrar?

On many occasions, a fake Registrar is provided.

A simple check is to enquire who the Registrar was when the degree was awarded. If the name on the certificate does not match the Registrar at the time, then you can tell you’ve got a fake!

University Name

In a recent case we handled, an enquiry returned “Not Verified”. The client, as per our normal procedure, sent us the candidate’s award certificate.

The certificate was purported to be offered by “Manchester University”.

However, this is not the correct university title. The correct university title is the “University of Manchester”. The university title was incorrect and this was a dead give-away that the certificate was not awarded from the University of Manchester, nor is it a valid UK degree.

Always check that the university’s name appearing on the certificate matches what the official university refers to itself as.

Conclusion

There are a few broad messages here that you should take away:

  1. There are some convincing fake universities and certificates. Always check that the candidate is legitimate!
  2. Always put things in context – Is the wording that which a UK university would use?
  3. Are there any spelling mistakes? These are TELL TALE signs of a fake certificate
  4. Do the names match university officials who were appointed at the time of the award?

Our Response to the Red Tape Challenge

We recently responded to the Red Tape Challenge on the topic of relaxing the restrictions on the use of the word “University”. Our response is below.

In brief, we believe the existing protection for the word university should be retained i.e. only institutions granted degree-awarding powers can call themselves a university.

Do you think all regulations relating to names should be repealed?

No – there needs to be some restrictions to protect the public from misleading use of certain sensitive words.

Graduate Prospects runs the HEDD system – Higher Education Degree Datacheck (www.hedd.ac.uk ) – the HE sector’s official verification service, which aims to reduce degree fraud and protect the reputation of UK Higher Education. HEDD flags all legitimate UK degree-awarding bodies, including merged and antecedent universities to help employers identify that applicants to employment have attended bona fide institutions.  HEDD also keeps a database of bogus UK universities – there are currently more than 130 on the site – and well over 300 in the UK and we find new ones all the time. These are flagged on the website to expose degree mills. We are working hard to safeguard student and sector interests – reassuring domestic and international students about the authenticity of a university and protecting the substantial financial and time investment of genuine graduates.

Removal of all restrictions on the use of the word university will make it much harder for people to tell what is a genuine degree-awarding body and what is not, and could do damage to UK Higher Education.

International students are a core market for the degree fraudsters – evident in the many bogus websites that are clearly targeting overseas students; listing fake alumni with predominantly non-British names. The fact that half of HEDD’s enquiries come from outside the UK (particularly China, India, US and New Zealand) suggests global awareness of the problem.

There are already hundreds of companies that are happily breaching regulations daily by taking the ‘university’ name without being a degree-awarding body recognised by the Secretary of State. If we reduce or repeal the red tape surrounding use of the word even further, then this will only exacerbate the problem, leaving the way clear for opportunists to play fast and loose with university naming rights to the detriment of UK higher education.

The Further Education sector has been dismayed by the free abuse of the ‘college’ title, to the extent that government’s plans for the FE sector published in 2011 (New Challenges, New Chances) included the sentence: ‘We are also looking at how we can reinforce the reputation of the sector by protecting FE college titles.’

The sector needs to be confident that only bona fide institutions can legitimately call themselves universities; even more importantly, so do the hundreds of thousands of genuine, hard-working students in the UK and internationally who have invested in a UK degree programme.

Do-It-Yourself Verification?

When candidates apply for roles, they will provide you with a claim as to their academic achievement.

It is in the employer’s interest to ensure that these claims are in fact true, as it is ultimately the employer who will gain peace of mind about the legitimacy of the candidate.

The great thing about HEDD is that we provide the opportunity to verify a candidate’s award without the candidate’s involvement (excepting that you must have candidate consent). You can be sure that a positive result from HEDD means that candidate is a legitimate graduate who holds the award they claim to.

However, one thing that we see very often is employers requesting that candidates verify their own award. But this strikes us as a bit perplexing: If you, as an employer, do not trust a candidate’s claim to hold an academic award, why would you trust their claim to verify that award? Why put a candidate through this unnecessary step?

Putting Self-verification in Context

If you are willing to let a candidate verify their own award, then you might as well accept their claims to hold an award at face value.

If you wish to verify students and obtain total peace of mind, then you must conduct the verification process yourself without the candidate being involved. Anything else is less than the certainty you require and leaves you open to the risk of forged documents followed inevitably by forged verification results.

Under Pressure

A recent report about a Chinese student jailed for attempting to bribe a professor into awarding him his final degree (which he was about to fail) highlights the notion that international students in the UK may be under more pressure than home students.

Of course this is only one case, but university staff who work with international students often tell us they think international students are under enormous pressure to succeed academically.  The weight of expectations from the entire extended family, many of whom will have invested financially or emotionally in their success, can be a burden.  This may be especially so for Chinese students, where there are fewer young people in the family due to the one-child policy.

It’s not just a problem for students who are here.  Back in China there’s a lot of pressure to have foreign qualifications and there seems to be quite an industry churning them out.  Last month the Huffington Post reported that a number of people were found guilty of producing fake certificates from American universities, real and invented, in a scam amounting to 3.4 million yuan. 

It’s easy to find a website that will offer any type of certificate, for any university.  They’ll even promise to match security features. 

At HEDD, most enquiries come from outside the UK and although fake certificates are rare, they do also tend to come from overseas. 

I’d really like to know how international students themselves feel about this so I’m going to post a poll on our sister site Prospects, which gets a lot of traffic from international students.  I’ll report back here on the results. 

Sinéad McGovern – HEDD Business Manager

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