Stop! in the name of the Law #2

Hot on the heels of South Africa and Belgium Ireland’s is the next Government to propose legislation to combat higher education fraud.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cheating your way to a degree is as bad as lying about one.

So we are delighted that the use of contract cheating services aka essay mills looks set to become illegal in Ireland in the Autumn.

A Bill has just been published with amendments to Qualifications and Quality Assurance legislation in Ireland making it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services.

Whilst students are already subject to the rules of their institutions about cheating, it has been impossible to deal with the thousands of essay mills putting pressure on students on campus, by email and even on posters in the London Underground to buy their writing services.

Lord Storey proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Research Act last year to tackle contract cheating in the UK, but it didn’t make it to legislation.

Hedd is part of the new QAA working group on academic integrity which has identified the legislative route as one of the priorities for the group. Last year the QAA published excellent guidance for HE Providers on this subject.

We have had some success using existing legislation to shut down bogus universities and  diploma mills, but it’s inadequate for essay mills in its current form.

Specific laws governing higher education fraud might not lead to many more prosecutions, but should be a more powerful deterrent. We urge the UK Government to follow the Irish example and stop these companies.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.’

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.