Be(hold) the front page

Yes. I’m excited to pick up my free world cup giant wall chart….

but more excited that working with the Times over the past week got an important message about degree fraud on today’s front page.

‘Don’t take selfies with your certificates showing’ is the key message, writ large.

The story is here if you can get past the Times paywall.

And here in the Guardian or here in the Daily Mail if you can’t.

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No selfies please!

It’s coming up to that time of year when attention turns to caps, gowns, marquees, prosecco and proud families. It’s also time for our annual warning about graduation selfies. Our latest research shows that we can’t say this too often or too loudly.

We’ve put this out today through our press office and it’s being picked up already. Please spread the word. Thank you.

As more than two thirds of students plan to take graduation selfies this year, Prospects Hedd warns that they could be used to produce fake degree certificates

Prospects Hedd, the official system for degree and university authentication in the UK surveyed 1,068 students preparing to graduate this year.

While 69% plan to include their degree certificate on a photo, 24% will video their achievement.

Seventy one per cent of students plan to share their content on social media, with Facebook and Instagram the favoured channels.

Female students were much more likely to want to take a selfie (73%) and share it (74%) than their male equivalents – 58% and 60% respectively.

Sharing images of degree certificates can unwittingly give fraudsters access to the latest logos, crests, signatories, stamps, holograms and wording, fuelling the multi-million pound trade in fake degrees.

The latest designs can be easily copied onto fake certificates and passed off as genuine to unwitting employers.

Seventy four per cent of students were unaware that images of degree certificates can be used to produce fakes and 66% said that this was a concern.

Awareness is twice as high among males; 41% were aware of the risk compared with 20% of women.

‘Don’t give fraudsters the opportunity to copy your degree certificate. You wouldn’t share a picture of your passport or your driving licence. Degree certificates are no different,’ says Jayne Rowley, Chief Executive at Prospects.

‘Degree fraud affects everyone. After investing time and money in a degree, genuine graduates should not be at risk of losing out in the jobs market to a candidate using a fake certificate.’

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.

The Price of Cheap Beer

Mohammed Dar claims he was offering fake university IDs for students to help them get into student union bars to buy cheap beer.

Searching his home in Stretford Manchester, police recovered:

  • 152 completed forgeries of Manchester Metropolitan University ID cards
  • 42 fake Brunel University cards
  • 7 fake University of Manchester cards
  • 6 fake University of Liverpool cards
  • 4 fake University of Leeds cards.

It reads like a present list on the 12 Days of Fraudmass, but in sentencing Dar to prison the judge nailed it with his comments:

‘You can open a false bank account with a photo ID and an electricity bill….This country and its institutions operate on the basis of trust – trust in documents. Organisations don’t have the time or the resources to go and check whether every document is genuine.’

Fun fact: Prospects verification service Hedd allows enquirers to verify current university students as well as certificates and transcripts from graduates. As an employer if an applicant uses student ID to prove their identity you can quickly establish the truth online at www.hedd.ac.uk. Already covering over 80% of graduates from UK institutions and expanding all the time Hedd is the UK’s official HE verification service with over 100 universities available on the system.

A few months ago we received an enquiry from colleagues in Denmark who had concerns about a UK student applying to work for them. Here’s the ID she provided to them:

my i d card (1)

Her fake passport wasn’t much better quality, but the employer still needed to be sure.

As well as the student ID cards, Dar was using a specialist printer and editor to sell hundreds of items for as little as £20. His phone was full of evidence of customers buying a variety of documents.

Check job or course applicants every time or it could cost your business a lot more than the price of a cheap pint.

Misdirection

Unlike with our friends over at McAllister University or International University Robert Gordon it’s not always straightforward dealing with bogus HE providers.

A bit like the dark web, there is a network of providers operating at the fringes, lurking in the shadows.

There are providers delivering qualifications that may be broadly categorised as ‘higher education’ even though they do not lead to the award of a UK degree.

This may be because the qualification is an award delivered by a UK campus of an institution that is based overseas, or because the qualification is below degree level e.g. a diploma or certificate. These complexities can give rise to confusion among potential students and some unscrupulous providers exploit this by not giving clear information on their websites about their status, nor the status of their courses and the qualifications they offer.

The Department for Education and HEDD receive enquiries from students who believe they are following courses leading to a recognised UK degree due to misinformation from providers. This is particularly common for distance learning or online provision.

If we believe the provider is deliberately misleading students we contact them to ask them to remove information from their website or clarify their status. After 30 days we add their details to the university look up service on HEDD to make it clear they are not recognised degree-awarding bodies.

We have had a number of websites contact us to complain about being so explicit about their status – even threatening us with legal action – but we stand firm.

When a student contacts us because their parents have spent thousands of pounds, remortgaged their house and made huge sacrifices to send them to a UK university, only to find out that it’s not accredited and they have spent their money for nothing, we know we are doing the right thing.

Fresh Meat?

July is the busiest month of the year on HEDD as employers check up on their newly-graduated soon-to-be employees – or 20% of them do.

As Jack Whitehall’s character demonstrates on the final episode of Channel 4 student comedy ‘Fresh Meat‘, what you see is not always what you get….

‘Get In – I’ve only gone and got a bloody 2:1’

‘No you have not!’

‘Well, no. I got a 3rd. But it will say 2:1 on my CV’

As part of the government degree fraud project we are campaigning to raise awareness and encourage employers to make more checks.

HEDD has launched a free toolkit to help employers protect themselves from fraudulent applicants.

The only way to be sure a candidate is qualified to do a job is to check their claims with the awarding university. Just one incompetent or deceitful person in a business can have fatal consequences.

Smaller businesses are among the most at risk of falling victim to degree fraud. They are less likely to be aware of the threats and how to protect themselves.

Top tips for businesses

  • Notify applicants that you verify qualifications – if they refuse it could be a signal that something is off-kilter
  • Only accept original – not photocopied – certificates
  • Check certificates with the issuing university or via HEDD
  • Don’t be duped by official-looking stamps
  • Remember a notary will only confirm sight of an original document, not whether it’s genuine
  • Check the legitimacy of a university on hedd.ac.uk – if it’s not listed it’s likely to be fake

Download your free copy of the toolkit  here.

Think Before You Tweet

It’s that time of year when mothers wear big hats and graduates don caps and gowns to shake hands with their university Chancellors.

The temptation to pose for photos with that certificate in hand, then share share share on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat is overwhelming and understandable.

Last year we warned against posting certificate selfies as they give fraudsters perfect templates to produce fake degree certificates. Google Images scoops them up and parades them online for eternity. We have issued a press release today to remind people, which media platforms are thankfully picking up.

We’re contacting all university social media teams to ask them to get the message out to their students and also not to re-tweet pictures of their graduates holding certificates.

It’s not just about fake certificates.There’s a serious, personal risk here too. As CIFAS reported today social media platforms are hunting grounds for identity thieves and there has been a 52% increase in identity fraud against under 30’s in the last 12 months alone.

Degree certificates contain personal information – full names, dates of birth (in some cases), places of study, titles, year of graduation. Information like this can be used to piece together someone’s identity for fraud and is as precious and private as a passport, a driving licence or bank details. None of us would put our passports online and we should treat certificates in the same way.

Post smiles, not certificates and stay safe.

Congratulations and appropriate emoticons, by the way.