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.
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.
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.
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.