20th Century Graduates

As we passed the milestone of 20,000 HEDD enquiries we took some time to look at some of the outcomes.

Qualifications are less likely to be checked the further away from graduation day a candidate gets.  Of the 20,000+ enquiries received since HEDD launched two years ago, 76% have been to check qualifications of those who graduated after 2000 and almost half are to verify graduates who left university within the last four years.

Just 16% of enquiries were to undertake checks on those who graduated in the 1990s, and the number was halved (8%) for those leaving university before the ‘90s.

Graduates who are further on in their career have more opportunity to blatantly lie, exaggerate or bend the truth a little more than their more recent counterparts simply because they are not being checked out.

When someone has been working for a while, it’s common to assume that academic checks will have been made by previous employers. From a candidate’s point of view, qualifications can seem less important the further on in our career that we get.

Higher classification degrees are much more common now and those who have been in the workplace a long time can feel under pressure with competition from the new wave of graduates who are regularly achieving a first or 2.1 degree. Perhaps they feel that the third class degree from a former polytechnic isn’t appropriate to the senior position that they are in and are therefore tempted to embellish.

If someone is willing to lie at this level, how can you trust them when they become part of your organisation? It’s incredibly important that employers validate who they are recruiting, and not just rely on good work references to get the full picture of a person.

BBC Education picked up the story today.

 

 

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.

It’s All About You

There are over 3700 registered users on HEDD now and 12 university operators so we’ve been doing some user testing to find out exactly what customers are using HEDD for and how we could improve the services.

The university look up service is popular and well-used – nearly a quarter of the enquirers come to the site to check the validity of universities and to get details of their verification protocols. Nearly all the universities have directly engaged with this and many keep their own details up to date. This service is unique to HEDD and is valued highly by visitors. We are going to extend this service later this year to include the Higher Education Colleges delivering degree programmes validated by other universities.

65% of customers come to HEDD to use the verification service to check qualifications. As it’s the core service we were not surprised and as the number of participating universities grows, we think this number will increase.

We were a little surprised that checking degree classification was the reason for only 29% of enquirers. On further investigation it seems that many enquirers are happy that candidates are confirmed as having a degree and don’t care about the details.

Over a third use HEDD to check attendance dates. This was not in our original brief, but has been introduced due to the high demand. Screening agencies in particular are keen to match the dates – especially as part of a wider background check to look for gaps in timelines on CVs.

And it’s not just about graduates either. 10% of the enquiries are about current students enrolled in our universities. For council tax exemptions, discounted travel cards etc. confirming that students are enrolled  and for which dates is essential.

Nearly half of all our enquirers are overseas and they love HEDD. They are mainly checking international students returning home to employment. The fact that it is a 24/7 online service is proving vital across global time zones. There also seems to be a better developed culture overseas for verification  as evidenced by the National Student Clearinghouse in the States. 3,500 US universities and colleges are in, representing 98% of their students and graduates. This is a great motivator for our HEDD team as we strive to expand the service in the UK.

The US are not alone either, there are central verification services in many other countries. We’ll be looking to link to them from HEDD so enquirers can check qualifications across the globe from our central portal.

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!

Going Round in Circles

As another fraud case made headlines last week – I’m amazed that people are still so blasé about verifying qualifications, when you see the consequences of not checking.

It comes down to a Vicious Circle, which I’ve tried to illustrate below:

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Detected Fraud

Every survey on CV fraud comes up with the same stats – about 1/3 of candidates lie on their CVs – and qualifications are the most common lie. But if this is the case, why aren’t we reading about it every day? Why aren’t these people paraded through the streets in shame?

Answer: because the levels of detected fraud are low – only about 500-600 cases a year according to research.

Low Awareness

So, because we don’t read about it every day, there’s very low awareness that it’s happening and also low awareness of the risks to our organisations. If we hire someone who’s prepared to lie to get the job, what would they be prepared to lie about when they are in the job? What does it say about their integrity?

No Easy Way to Check

Before HEDD, all universities had individual systems and processes for providing verification – email, online, fax, letterhead, consent forms et al, with very variable (and sometimes frustratingly slow) turnaround times. Information on how to make an enquiry is often difficult to find on university websites. Try picking one at random and see if you can find it easily on their site. (The University Look-Up Service on HEDD now has this information for all UK degree-awarding bodies.)

Recruiters Rely on Certificates and CVs

With no easy way to check and low awareness of risk, recruiters trust applicants and, even where they ask to see a degree certificate, nearly all of them just take a copy and file it.

Fraudsters Know This

Forums, polls and online chatter around CV disclosure all confirm that applicants don’t think checks are made. We polled final year students last summer and 2/3 said that they thought the increase in tuition fees and pressure in the job market would make embellishing their qualifications or buying a fake certificate more tempting.

They Get Away With It

Their views are confirmed as time after time, recruiters don’t check with the awarding body, and they don’t get found out. So if they’re getting away with an inflated 2:1, why not add a Doctorate or a teaching certificate?

The fraud goes undetected, and we’re right back where we started, with businesses at risk from unqualified, dishonest staff, and genuine graduates potentially missing out.

Reversing the Circle

Only one thing needs to change to stop this from happening.

Everyone needs to check, every time.

Fraudsters will be exposed.

Levels of detected fraud will go up.

Awareness of fraud and its risks will increase.

More people will make checks.

No-one will away with it.

Fraudsters won’t try it.

Degree fraud stops.

Ta Da!

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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?

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.