Loadsamoney

Guest post from Adam Francis on the Hedd fraud team

Three people were arrested and tried as part of an investigation into “cash for student visas” scams within the Manchester area, after a regulatory oversight was uncovered by Immigration Enforcement.

By buying failing colleges and converting them into visa mills, this operation managed to slip under the radar. Colleges can sponsor overseas students to study with a Tier 4 licence in the UK, but the scam, led by Muhammad Babar Bashir (pictured with some of the cash above), simply sold acceptance letters for £500 to all students regardless of English comprehension or academic ability. The administrative fee for such a letter through legitimate Home Office channels is just £14.

Through this inflated cost, an eye-watering £2.6 million went through one college alone in the space of two years. The scam was uncovered after Home Office investigators visited the facilities and noticed students knocking on the door trying to get in. Inside, basic educational facilities were completely lacking. So far, two people have been convicted with one result pending.

CPS prosecutors showed the court how the head of the Manchester bogus college operation posed for the cameras with at least £65,000 cash in front of him. He has since been declared a fugitive after failing to appear for his sentencing hearing.

It’s troubling that both the Home Office and Immigration Enforcement didn’t suspend the Tier 4 licenses of the colleges after they were taken over by new management who had few links to the education sector to start off with. When hundreds of visas were being administered to a tiny college, shouldn’t someone have investigated?

Even though Immigration Enforcement stress that this behaviour will not be tolerated, for the student victims, this is a significant sum of money that they will never get back.

It’s vital that prospective students get the right advice and information about how to check legitimate UK providers to prevent this happening in future. UK HE providers can be checked on the look up service on www.hedd.ac.uk

Here We Go Again

A fraudster who lied on his CV in order to land a job within the NHS, then cheated his employers out of almost £350,000 has been jailed for five years.

No, you haven’t accidentally wandered into last week’s post, this is another incidence of degree fraud in the NHS.

This time our criminal is Phillip Hufton, who does have a degree in nursing, but claimed to be a qualified doctor with a PhD. He wasn’t in a clinical role, but nevertheless he lied and cheated his way to stealing £350,000 from our NHS.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) said Hufton’s actions were “reprehensible”.

I agree. I do.

But this does not excuse the fact that CPFT failed to check his credentials when they recruited him. Part of the blame has to lie with them as they had a clear opportunity to prevent this. Earlier this year Judge Andrew Goymer condemned a public sector employer for failing to check someone’s credentials saying that it was ‘a disaster waiting to happen’ and that the recruitment process was ‘thoroughly lax’.

#makethecheck

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

Stop! In the name of the law.

In the UK it’s possible to prosecute individuals with fake qualifications under existing fraud and forgery legislation and we can also target bogus universities and fake certificate websites under trademark, copyright and forgery legislation.

We encourage employers and education providers to take legal action when fraud is uncovered, but criminal prosecutions are few and far between.

South Africa is going one step further to stamp out degree fraud with a specific bill before Parliament, proposed by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), Hedd’s equivalent verification hub and international partner.

The bill contains provisions that compel education institutions and employers to report fraudulent or misrepresented qualifications to Saqa, which works closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to pursue cases of alleged fraud.

This follows news from Belgium * that the Higher Education Commission of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation approved a proposal for a decree aimed at fighting the spread of fake universities across the country, which was subsequently adopted by the Government. Institutions will have to state clearly that they do not offer legally-recognised awards. It also imposes fines on institutions for misuse of protected terms such as ‘university’, ‘higher education institution’ and ‘faculty’.

We would welcome such legislation here in the UK and have shared details with colleagues at the Department for Education and the Office for Students to show what can be done.

*Links to a report in English rather than the original report from ‘7 sur 7’ in French.

Angels of the North

Last year we named and shamed Robert Gordon International University which was quickly shut down and last week Newcastle International University was red flagged by the real Newcastle University as a bogus university.

The website uses real photographs of Newcastle University including one showing students wearing their Newcastle University IDs, but was entirely fabricated.

The university raised the alarm and took action when an applicant tweeted a question about the institution.

The website asks potential students to hand over credit card details on the website to pay for courses. No genuine UK university would do this and students need to question it if they are asked for payments online for courses.

Many universities have international offices and overseas campuses and increasingly offer opportunities for distance learning. This kind of copy-cat website exploits the fact that international students may not be as familiar with UK universities as domestic applicants. They steal text and images from the real institution websites in an effort to extort monies. This is completely illegal and the websites can be shut down if the alarm is raised. Contact the degree fraud team at Hedd if you have any concerns or wish to report a website.

Our top tips for students to spot bogus universities:

If it’s not featured on the official Government list of degree awarding bodies it is not a valid UK university.

If it doesn’t have a .ac.uk web address it is not a valid UK university.

If it asks you to submit credit card or passport details on the website it is not a valid UK university.

If it uses American phrases; prices in US Dollars; poor grammar or spelling it is not a valid UK university

If the contact details don’t look right e.g. premium phone numbers, PO Box mailing addresses or personal email addresses like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo it is not a valid UK university.

If Google Street View for the campus shows you an empty shop front, industrial park or two-bedroomed semi-detached house in Suburbia it is not a valid UK university.

A Little Help from Our Friends

We are delighted to report more success shutting down bogus providers and grateful for the vigilance of our partners in Naric and in universities in spotting these pretenders and notifying us. Both perpetrators were using Ascension Islands .ac domains to mimic our real UK academic .ac.uk domains.

Hashford London University, using pictures of the glorious Coombe Abbey and gardens in Warwickshire as its campus, was reported by one of our UK universities for using text from their website. On closer inspection the website contained references to a number of UK universities despite having no connections with them. They also claimed an association with the Higher Education Academy who have confirmed to us that no such link exists.  The owners are based in Malaysia  and out of reach of UK law. They appear to have links with other defunct learning institutions.

Ridgeshire University of London claimed to be a private elearning institution but listed campus locations in the UK and had addresses and phone numbers for the Faroe islands and Aberdeen. Colleagues in Sweden reported this to us when one of its degree certificates came to them for verification. The certificate gives details of how to verify its authenticity on the university website, which worked when we tested it – another example of a website existing to back up paper credentials.

By the way, the name on the certificate was Happy – I suspect that’s not how the individual feels now they’ve been found out.

The websites are offline and the  details have been added to the bogus provider database on hedd.ac.uk

8 providers were reported to us in January for investigation so please check back here for progress.

A Question of Trust

It’s good to see the NHS taking a strong position on application fraud right up to senior levels and prosecuting offenders.

This month sees two men who lied about their qualifications – including possessing fake degree certificates to obtain senior positions in the NHS, back in court.

Conrad de Souza had already been imprisoned for 27 months in 2011 for faking medical qualifications in order to hold clinical guidance roles and was also ordered to repay the NHS £270,000. After his release he repeatedly lied about his qualifications on applications for a number of senior positions in the NHS and was convicted of 6 counts of fraud in December. This week he has been sent back to prison for 17 months.

Dr. Jon Andrewes is a former NHS trust chairman who lied spectacularly about his qualifications to get two top NHS jobs as chairman of the Torbay NHS Care Trust and later the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust. According to his online biography he is Dr. Jon Andrewes with a PhD from Heriot-Watt University where he specialised in researching leadership, management and success attributes in the commercial sector. His first degree is in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and he also has an MBA with a finance specialism from the University of Bristol. All these claims are false. He pleaded guilty at Exeter Crown Court recently and will be sentenced on the 1st March. At the time of recruiting him into these senior roles the NHS checked his references, but not his degrees.

The advice here is simple. Check qualifications for everyone you hire – regardless of seniority, fine CVs and track records. Fraudsters come in all guises.