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

Advertisements

Trust Me. I’m a Doctor

We have reported before on the improvements being made to screening checks by the NHS and other medical regulators like the General Medical Council (GMC). Many of these improvements cover recruitment of new staff and regular re-registration of existing professionals like midwives.

The big news story today surrounds medical professionals recruited in the 1990’s before these robust processes were introduced.

Zholia Alemi came to the UK with a medical degree from the University of Auckland. Under regulations covering the Commonwealth at that time, she did not have to take an exam here in the UK to join the GMC register in 1995.

Alemi is not a doctor. She dropped out of university after a year. Her false medical qualification was only discovered when she was convicted of fraud and theft in October after taking advantage of a vulnerable patient.

She was working as a consultant psychiatrist for a dementia service in west Cumbria at the time, faked a dementia patient’s will, stole bank cards and obtained signatures from other patients. She has now been jailed for five years.

The GMC has just ordered remedial checks on over 3,000 medical doctors working in the UK under the same entry conditions as Alemi. It says that it doesn’t expect to find anything untoward, but only proper verification checks will reveal the truth.

Our free toolkit – Advice and Guidance on Degree Fraud for Employers advises recruiters to make checks on the qualifications of all applicants with the awarding bodies. This is the only way to ensure the people we recruit are telling the truth about their credentials.

Let’s hope this wicked and abhorrent abuse of trust is an isolated case.

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

Best Practice Makes Perfect

This month we’ve published the findings from our first Degree Fraud – Best Practice Round Table held at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer.

Colleagues and experts from 7 universities came together to discuss the issues facing universities – from fraudulent applications to fake certificates threatening the reputation of UK higher education and the career prospects of our students and graduates.

Tom Pinder from our Hedd team shares the outcomes on our digital HE intelligence platform, Luminate.

We’re planning more events later in the Autumn. If you would like to be involved please get in touch with us at heddteam@prospects.ac.uk

In the meantime you can download a copy of our toolkit of advice and guidance for HE Providers here.

#banessaymills

Following the recent discussions about legislation to deal with essay mills a petition has been created by the excellent Iain Mansfield which would compel the Government to examine the issue if 10,000 signatures are obtained.

I’ve signed on the dotted line. Take a moment to lend your support by following this link.

There’s an excellent article for students over on Push on why you shouldn’t cheat, which goes beyond the obvious morality argument. Food for thought.

Hail to the Cheat

Melissa Howard – a Republican Party candidate for the Florida House of Representatives was incensed when a news outlet claimed that she did not hold the degree she claimed on her candidate biography. Howard’s campaign maintained that the story was nothing more than an attempt to ‘hurt Melissa or her reputation within the community’ orchestrated by her opponent in the primary.

So incensed was Howard that she flew to Ohio to pose with photographs of her degree certificate from Miami University and posted them on Twitter and Facebook.

Unfortunately, along with her friends and supporters, officials from Miami University were also looking at the photographs, and in particular at the diploma, which appeared to have some inaccuracies.

  • The university didn’t run that course at the time she attended.
  • The signatory for the course was wrong on the diploma.
  • She attended, but wasn’t on the course she claimed.
  • She didn’t complete that course either.

Oops.

It appears that having been caught out in a lie about her qualifications*, Howard chose to compound it with a fake certificate, which she flaunted on social media.

Her campaign claims this is ‘Fake News’.

We agree – quite literally.

*Things could get worse for Howard. Under Florida law this is a criminal offence.
Florida statute 817.566 states, “Any person who, with intent to defraud, misrepresents his or her association with, or academic standing or other progress at, any postsecondary educational institution by falsely making, altering, simulating, or forging a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper; or any person who causes or procures such a misrepresentation; or any person who utters and publishes or otherwise represents such a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper as true, knowing it to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”

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.