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.

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The A Team

We’ve spoken before about the appalling trade in fake degree certificates on eBay for as little as £6.95.

We decided to do some consumer research, ordering 2 fake degree certificates – a Masters in Astrophysics and Space Technology (just so I can say it’s not rocket science) and a PhD in Quantum Mechanics.

The certificates, complete with holograms would pass muster to the untrained eye.

That’s the problem with degree certificates; genuine ones have excellent security features to prevent fraud, but if an employer doesn’t know this, then a £7 fake may well be accepted, unless the employer checks with the awarding body. Asking the university is the only way to be certain.

The positive feedback scores and recommendations mount up as we try to put pressure on eBay to act. We report sellers through eBay’s reporting function, but with no response from them as yet.  As of today, there are over 25 listings for fake certificates.

The seller of the certificates we bought helpfully included a label with his name and address on the envelope. We have passed everything over to Trading Standards.

Today the University of Cambridge got on the case and have committed to pursuing eBay sellers of fake Cambridge certificates using eBay’s VeRO programme which protects intellectual property rights. We are right behind them and will help in any way we can.

Amazon, on the other hand have already stepped up. They monitor and take immediate action to remove fake certificates from their marketplace. They couldn’t be more helpful and we’re grateful to them for taking this seriously.

We like to think of them as The ‘A’ Team of online retailers.

Selfie

A couple of months ago we were all giggling over reports that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs had issued a guide warning Russians of the dangers of selfies.

Last week we discovered another potential selfie risk after large numbers of photo tweets of graduates appeared posing with their degree certificates at ceremonies around the UK. To celebrate their graduates’ successes, these were frequently and innocently re-tweeted by their universities.

Once published and added to the eternal gallery of Google images these photos give anyone looking to make fake degree certificates the current designs for 2015, which they can then duplicate – logo, crest, signatory, stamps, holograms and forms of words.

We contacted every university’s social media team to advise them not to include certificates in their photo tweets and to advise their students not to do so either.

We’ve warned graduates before about publishing their degree certificates. But it’s worth restating in light of the numbers of sites selling fake certificates for as little as £6.95.

These sites rely on having access to real certificates in order for their fakes to pass muster with recruiters. None of us would upload a copy of our passport or driving licence, nor give out our bank details. We should regard our degree certificates as precious and private information to be guarded.

Sold!

We’ve talked before about fake certificate sites selling fake degrees for as little as £30, but we’ve discovered an even cheaper way on eBay.

Sellers are offering certificates for just £6.95 including free postage. You can even get Nectar points.

The sellers have hundreds of transactions recorded and 5* feedback ratings praising the quality of the product, speed of service and so on. They think they can get away with it by stating that these are novelty items and not for fraudulent use.

Some are pretty obvious with scrolls, gothic lettering and highly decorated borders, but others stay very close to the style of genuine certificates, as you can see from the image above.

However by using the names of genuine education providers like Cambridge University and City and Guilds, sellers are breaching the providers’ copyright and trademarks and can be prosecuted.

For a few extra pounds you can order a hologram to add that extra touch of authenticity.

Personally I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Proffeser of Diplomas (sic). I’d be worried that my Bachelor of Arts might just turn out to be Batchelors.

batchelors

The Clone Wars

Dear Innocent Graduate,

Thank you for uploading a copy of your degree certificate to your social network , enabling it to appear in search engine images.

We have now successfully taken the image and used it as a template for our ‘novelty’ and ‘replacement’ degree certificate service. We are most grateful for your help in ensuring that we have access to authentic examples.

If you have any other academic or professional certificates please feel free to publish them too, along with your passport and driving licence. We would be happy to use them.

Yours faithfully,

Fakedegreecertificates.com

This post is prompted by a real letter I had to write to an innocent graduate who had proudly uploaded their degree certificate to their business website under ‘About Us’. They had removed it very quickly, but unfortunately the damage was done and that image still comes up if you search images for ‘degree certificate’ on search engines.

It has been stolen by several fake certificate sites who sell suitably customised versions to anyone looking for a quick fix degree. It came to our attention at HEDD when the university rejected it during a verification check and then another version of it appeared only weeks later with a different name and degree subject.

These sites rely on having access to real certificates in order for their fakes to pass muster with recruiters. None of us would upload a copy of our passport or driving licence, nor give out our bank details. We should regard our degree certificates as precious and private information to be guarded.

Needless to say our innocent victim was shocked and upset to find out their credentials have been stolen and we have pointed them to the Google reporting facility to remove information under European Data Protection law to try to get the image removed. Unfortunately this won’t stop the sites who have already copied it.

 

 

Check please!

My apologies for the online absence. I have brought a note. Anyway – how’ve you been?

It’s been a tremendously busy summer and autumn on HEDD. We have welcomed Surrey and Nottingham Trent Universities into the HEDD family and we’re processing record numbers of checks every week. I’d like to think that our campaigning efforts to encourage checks are having an effect, but sadly our latest research tells a different tale.

A third of employers are still taking CVs at face value and don’t request degree certificates from job applicants.

Of those who request certificates, 76% assume they are legitimate and don’t verify them with the issuing university and 32% accept copies rather than original documents.

Many businesses, particularly when recruiting graduates, invest significantly in sophisticated application tracking, assessment centres, psychometric testing and so on, but it seems only a few verify qualifications as part of that process.

Many of us want to believe that people are telling the truth, so we place our trust in references, applications and interviews. With a low perception of the frequency and risks of qualification fraud it’s easy to become complacent.

This is totally at odds with the views of students and graduates when we asked them. Three quarters said they expect employers to check their qualifications and 82% would like to see verification compulsory. (So would we, if I’m honest).

Graduates are used to rigorous checks by UCAS pre-university and to having their academic work verified by plagiarism detection software to prevent cheating, What a shame the same rigour isn’t in place for job applications and employment.

Novelty Value?

Companies and websites selling novelty awards and certificates have been around a long time. For around £30 you can pimp your collection of awards as an ego boost or a prank.

But if they’re offering more than a ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ certificate, and claim to be providing ‘replacement’ or ‘novelty’ degree certificates, it’s a different matter. 

Disclaimers on the websites advising that these are novelty items only and should not be used to misrepresent the bearer are not enough to legitimise their business and they run the risk of prosecution and even jail for a variety of offences e.g.

  • producing counterfeit qualification certificates which bear registered trade marks without the consent of the trade mark proprietors contrary to the Trade Marks Act 1994,
  • infringing copies of a copyright work contrary to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988,
  • and other offences contrary to the Fraud Act 2006.

We are particulary appalled by one site offering replacement certificates for over 50 UK universities. It also has an eBay store and a Facebook page. The eBay store shows feedback from satisfied customers, with their eBay identity. (I hope they weren’t planning on using the certificates for nefarious purposes now their cover has been blown.)

I’m not mentioning names, as we are working with Trading Standards to shut them down and prosecute the proprietor. We’ll reveal all once action has been taken. We have notifed the universities.

Interestingly enough the proprietor was jailed four years ago for exactly the same offences.

Clearly a period of reflection at Her Majesty’s Pleasure hasn’t taught them anything.