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.”

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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.

Fraud doesn’t pay, but fraudsters do.

Guest Post from Edward on the Hedd Fraud Team

It was January last year when we first reported on Jon Andrewes – a man who lied about his degree qualifications so that he could gain two top jobs in the NHS.

To remind you, Mr Andrewes’ fraud was pretty extensive. Not only did he claim to have a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and an MBA from the University of Bristol, but also a PhD from Heriot-Watt University. Mr Andrewes did not have any of these qualifications, but despite this he became chairman of the Torbay NHS Care Trust and later of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust.

His total earnings from the health bodies between 2005-16 was £1,072,076.

After being exposed he pleaded guilty and in March 2017 was jailed for two years, a sentence that he has now served.

Last week, on the 26th July, he was ordered to pay back £97,737.24 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Despite the fraud leading to Mr Andrewes being overpaid by £643,000 over more than a decade his actual available assets currently only total £97,737.24.

He has been ordered to pay this sum back by the end of October or he will return to jail for another year. To do so he must sell some of his assets, which according to the BBC includes: ‘a half share in a Dutch barge, a share of his profit from the sale of the house in Topsham, an insurance payout for a Seat Leon car, premium bonds, and a pension plan.’

It just goes to show the risk that you run if you fake your qualifications. It also shows the risk that degree fraud poses to institutions of all sizes, from the small start-up to the behemoth that is the NHS.

In his summation, the judge mentioned that “the defendant was narrowly preferred to another candidate when he was appointed to the hospice”. In other words the NHS were just one degree verification check away from recruiting the right person.

As with our previous post the advice here is simple. Check qualifications for everyone you hire – regardless of seniority, fine CVs and track records. Fraudsters come in all guises.

Private Investigation

Guest post from Edward on the Hedd degree fraud team.

As you may be aware, Italy is going through something of a political crisis. Three months after its general election Italy still has no government. Two weeks ago it appeared that the largely unknown lawyer Giuseppe Conte was due to get the top job after he was surprisingly nominated to become Prime Minister.*

However a spanner was thrown in the works when exaggerations on his academic CV came to the attention of the New York Times. Mr Conte claimed that he had ‘refined’ his legal education at New York University – yet there was no record of him studying there.

In the hubbub around the wider story of political instability and a potentially fraudulent resumé something was lost.

Mr Conte’s CV claims that he had attended a number of different institutions across the world, including the University of Cambridge in the UK. However, as the Guardian reported, “Citing confidentiality rules, Cambridge said it could not immediately confirm or deny whether Conte had attended the university.”

The fact that Cambridge didn’t release the details of Mr Conte, where other institutions did is the correct and legal thing to do. Under data protection laws, no individual’s degree details should be released to anyone else without that individual’s express permission. This is how Hedd operates, and how all of our UK partner universities operate.

Graduate/individual data security is of utmost importance to us. We are fully GDPR compliant and have been for some months now.

We often receive calls to our degree fraud reporting line from people who are mistrustful of the credentials of a colleague, a friend or even a family member. They usually wish to check the education details without the person knowing, so as not to raise their suspicions. Even with the best case in the world, we cannot ask universities to release this kind of information.

Think of it the other way round. Would you want your nosy neighbour or potential first date to be able to find out what level of degree you achieved at university? What if a private company was to collect such data and use it to target you with certain products, or to change what sort of content was visible to you on the internet?

Your educational attainment is personal to you and should remain so.

*Mr Conte has since resigned from his nomination due to a separate issue.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

An interesting take by a judge last week when jailing Simon Macartney for fraud and using fake documents. Judge Andrew Goymer also condemned the employer for failing to make proper checks on a job applicant’s qualifications.

Get Surrey reports that Macartney was employed as the Driving Standards Manager for the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) for four years, earning more than £200,000. His job required him to assess whether paramedics were qualified to drive ambulances. He lied about his career as a police traffic officer and then produced fake certificates when challenged about his qualifications. He is now serving a three year sentence in prison.

The judge said SECAmb’s system of checking employees’ qualifications was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’, and the recruitment process used by the Trust ‘left much to be desired’ and ‘was thoroughly lax’.

Managers did not ask for original proof of qualifications when jobs were offered to applicants.

The judge said the offence had called into question public confidence in the ambulance service, which people had a right to believe had employed people qualified to do the work they were paid for.

Comments on the article include demands for Macartney to pay the tax payers’ money back.

Employers are under increasing pressure to make proper checks after a number of cases of CV fraud made headlines and questioned employers’ recruitment processes.

The reputation of your organisation is at risk if you don’t check who you’re employing. It’s easy to verify the claims made by applicants.

  • Tell applicants you make thorough background checks when advertising your jobs.
  • Ask for original certificates, not photocopies or scans.
  • For most UK graduates you can check their degrees through www.hedd.ac.uk.

 

 

 

Great Scott!

Some men born to the name Scott are great heroes. Think Scott of the Antarctic, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott, even Barry Scott of Cillit Bang fame. Some however, are not so worthy of the name.

Let me introduce to you, David Scott from Stockton-on-Tees

On the face of it he was the perfect candidate for the job of managing director at Mech-Tool, an engineering company in Darlington in the North East of England that specialised in heat and blast protection in the oil and gas sector. He had three degrees from Imperial College London, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities, including a First Class Honours in Petroleum Engineering. He had also penned the snappily titled “Non-parametric Regression For Analysis Of Complex Surveys And Geographic Visualisation”, a renowned academic paper within the sector.

Upon being hired his first task was to manage two multi-million pound contracts in Kazakhstan and in return he would receive a £10,000 company car allowance, bonuses, a resettlement package, all on top of a £120,000 salary.

Fair recompense for a challenging high-level job.

Regular readers of the blog will know what happens next. It turns out that a large proportion of what David Scott had claimed was not true. He had actually started life in the Army, where he was introduced to engineering before leaving to work in geo-structural engineering in Libya.

After returning to the UK, and going through an expensive divorce, he fraudulently applied for the role at Mech-Tool. His Bachelors and two Masters were complete fictions, as was his claim to have held an executive position beforehand. As for the ‘renowned academic paper’, this was actually written by his American namesake, Dr David W Scott!

The result for Mech-Tool was near disastrous. Three months after drawing up a strategy plan that, in the words of the judge at his trial, showed Scott was “quite clearly not up to the job”, his colleagues realised as such and after some investigations, discovered the truth. Luckily, the contracts were saved, although payments were delayed however.

At Scott’s trail the judge added: “This was not just claiming an extra GCSE or A level, this was fraud at the highest end of CV falsehood.” This was high culpability deliberate fraud and he sentenced Scott to 12 months in jail.

A company statement from Mech-Tool stated the following: “The business demands the highest standards from its staff and, as such, we have very strict and robust governance and HR processes.”

Not so robust however, to properly check Scott’s degrees.

For just a few pounds and in just a few minutes on Hedd they could have saved themselves a large deal of stress and negative PR, not to mention the millions of pounds that were at stake. Credential fraud will only end when all employers make proper checks on job applicants.

Luckily Mech-Tool have bounced back and predict that the affair “will have no effect on the business as it looks forward to a strong 2018.”

 

By Edward Prichard

Spill the Beans

A guest post from Degree Fraud Officer, Edward on the Hedd Team.

Sitting on a sofa in a central London branch of a well-known coffee shop chain, dressed in a smart blue jumper and white shirt, a man is talking with earphones in. He’s talking loud enough to be overheard.

‘We’re all middle men here’,

It seems he’s persuading the person on the other end of the line to join him in something.

(Over the sound of rattling coffee cups and background music)

‘We’ll get a grand each, no stress man. All that’s happening is that you’re chasing the uni for some guy’s transcript. Somehow…the transcript is sent from the uni…they send the wrong thing by mistake… I need to know the year of graduation so the guy was in the UK around that at least, so it doesn’t raise any suspicions. You know you can buy these novelty things online, but obviously they won’t be the same standard…yeah this one has the crest, the logo, everything…the complete transcript’.

The. Complete. Transcript.

The most important question now is, how does he get hold of these documents?

It appears that someone inside the university receives an order from our coffee man, then sends out a transcript ‘by accident’ with the details requested and both parties receive a bit of money on the side.

Luckily, the man was brazenly describing a fraudulent enterprise in a public space. A few tables away this caught the attention of a member of the public, who not only took pictures of the gentleman in question, but also recorded the phone call. He reported it to Hedd and we took it from there, informing the universities involved as well as passing all evidence over to the National Fraud Investigation Bureau, via Action Fraud.

The investigations are on-going, with one of the universities involved launching an internal inquiry.

The transcripts would have been authentic because they were issued by the university and could have fooled employers. The only way to detect this fraud would be to make a proper verification check with the university, whose genuine records would tell a different story.

Our thanks go to the quick thinking of the concerned citizen.