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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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.

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.

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