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.

Call my bluff

We recently handled an interesting case on HEDD help.

An enquiry was returned not verified. As is standard procedure under these circumstances, we asked the enquirer to request a copy of the certificate from the candidate so we could double check the records.

The result was interesting because the enquirer got back in touch to tell us that the case would no longer be pursued. The simple act of requesting a certificate from a candidate had prompted the fraudulent candidate to re-think their deception.

A tremendously powerful tool in the fight against degree fraud: Call their bluff!

Temptation?

Last year, a shocking two-thirds of students and graduates said that higher fees would make buying a fake degree more tempting.

One year after the introduction of higher fees we are running the same survey again to see what this year’s graduates think.  Has the hype about higher fees and increased student debt translated into increased temptation to buy fake degree certificates?

If you are a student or graduate, we would appreciate your views. Please contribute using the following link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WFR8RMP

We’ll share the results here on the blog as soon as we have them.

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?