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.

 

 

 

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.

BBC Brilliant

Well that went well.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but yesterday the BBC did more to raise awareness among employers about the prevalence of fake degrees and the people prepared to cheat their way into a job than we could do in a year.

In the build up to the File on Four programme on Radio 4 last night which we contributed to, there was coverage all day.

The BBC online article I read at 6am yesterday morning was followed by segments on every radio news bulletin through the day.

I talked about the importance of employers making proper checks on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2*

The Jeremy Vine Show** picked up the baton at lunchtime with James Reed from Reed Recruitment revealing that when they analysed 10,000 CVs, 24% contained exaggerated degree results.

Twitter boosted the signal and I checked with our techies that the Hedd website would be able to cope.

The newspapers have picked up the story too and we are contributing to pieces in print and online.

The revelation on the programme that 3000 people in the UK bought fake degrees in just a two year period (2013-14) from one large degree mill operator shocked employers across the country. The programme went on to reveal where these people are working – including in the health sector.

MP James Frith from the Commons Education Select Committee (and my local MP) was on the programme too and pledged to take action after being staggered by the scale of the problem.

It was a brilliant platform to get the message out about the importance of making proper verification checks. Thank you BBC.

Our free toolkit for employers can be downloaded here.

*the item starts at 36 minutes if you’re skimming through.

** about 70 minutes in.

File on Four

‘Prospects chief executive, Jayne Rowley, is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s File on 4, the award-winning current affairs documentary series investigating major issues at home and abroad.

‘Degrees of Deception’ airs at 8pm on Tuesday 16 January.

File on 4 exposes a multi-million pound global trade in fake diplomas.

A complex network of online universities sells degrees, doctorates and professional qualifications – for a price. Some of the buyers have gone on to trade on these credentials, including them on their CVs and gaining jobs in public life.

Others, after making an initial purchase, were blackmailed by the sellers, who threatened to expose them unless they paid out huge additional sums of money.

Despite criminal investigations in numerous countries, why is there still a thriving trade in dubious qualifications and are institutions and companies taking the issue seriously enough?’

Yes, that’s me. I was interviewed as part of Prospects’ work to reduce degree fraud through our Hedd verification service. I talked about the legislation that’s in place to deal with fraud of this nature – Fraud, Forgery, Trademark and Copyright. I’ll be explaining the regulatory challenge and what needs to happen to curb the issue.

Which, of course, can be boiled down to one simple thing. Making proper verification checks every time.

Listen live or catch up on BBC iPlayer.