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.

Imperfect Ten

Our friends at Risk Advisory have just published their annual report on CV Lies for 2017 analysing 5000 CVs from job applicants as part of their professional screening services. Please take a moment to go over to their website and read it.

Last year their report showed that lying on CVs was up 7% on the previous year at 70%.

This year’s figures are up 10% overall on last year which shows that despite our best efforts and high profile cases of fraud from people lying about qualifications, people are still prepared to cheat their way into work. Making proper background checks on your potential employees is vital.

Here are the headlines:

  • 80% of CVs contain discrepancies*
  • 57% of those discrepancies are about academic background
  • 12% of candidates falsify their grades

*Personally I think discrepancies is a little polite. Let’s call them lies.

Risk Advisory have kindly broken that down for us to look specifically at HE qualifications.

  • 44% of the academic background discrepancies were at degree level or above
  • 7% of candidates falsify their grades at degree level and above

To put it in real terms – if you receive 200 CV applications for a job 40 of them will have lies about degree qualifications. 14 of them will have false grades.

The need to make checks has never been greater. 3 simple steps in your recruitment practices can make all the difference:

  1. Tell candidates you will check all qualifications.
  2. Ask to see certificates – don’t rely on CVs or application forms.
  3. Check the certificates with the awarding institutions – beware fakes.

Thankfully more employers are sitting up and taking notice. Checks on Hedd are up 10% on last year so our messages are getting through. You can download our free toolkit for employers here.



Fresh Meat?

July is the busiest month of the year on HEDD as employers check up on their newly-graduated soon-to-be employees – or 20% of them do.

As Jack Whitehall’s character demonstrates on the final episode of Channel 4 student comedy ‘Fresh Meat‘, what you see is not always what you get….

‘Get In – I’ve only gone and got a bloody 2:1’

‘No you have not!’

‘Well, no. I got a 3rd. But it will say 2:1 on my CV’

As part of the government degree fraud project we are campaigning to raise awareness and encourage employers to make more checks.

HEDD has launched a free toolkit to help employers protect themselves from fraudulent applicants.

The only way to be sure a candidate is qualified to do a job is to check their claims with the awarding university. Just one incompetent or deceitful person in a business can have fatal consequences.

Smaller businesses are among the most at risk of falling victim to degree fraud. They are less likely to be aware of the threats and how to protect themselves.

Top tips for businesses

  • Notify applicants that you verify qualifications – if they refuse it could be a signal that something is off-kilter
  • Only accept original – not photocopied – certificates
  • Check certificates with the issuing university or via HEDD
  • Don’t be duped by official-looking stamps
  • Remember a notary will only confirm sight of an original document, not whether it’s genuine
  • Check the legitimacy of a university on hedd.ac.uk – if it’s not listed it’s likely to be fake

Download your free copy of the toolkit  here.


A Lie By Any Other Name

A solicitor has been lucky not to be struck off after an employer reported her to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). She had claimed to hold a 2:1 in a job application, when in fact she had a 2:2, Legal Cheek reports.

Anna Goodwin  completed her law degree at the University of the West of England in 2006 and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 2011.

She believed that the 2:2 grade she had achieved was preventing her from getting permanent employment, despite getting high results in her Legal Practice Course and Professional Skills Course. When she applied to the Army Legal Services (ALS) for a position as a legal advisor, she lied about the grade.

Their strict recruitment process meant her deceit was uncovered, even before she was interviewed, when ALS requested her original certificates. At that point she confessed – justifying her lie as a means to obtain an interview, after which she had intended to come clean.

We applaud ALS for not only cancelling her interview, but for reporting the fraud to the SRA. They took action and have suspended Goodwin from practising law for 18 months and fined her £3,000. The long term damage to her career could be far more costly.

Too often employers reject candidates after lying on applications, but don’t take action to report the fraud. One of the key reasons degree fraud thrives is because the perpetrators get away with it. If individuals clearly see that fraud doesn’t pay, the temptation is reduced. Cifas maintains a database of known fraud offenders which it shares with employers, financial services and banks.  They also publish advice for students and graduates about the consequences of degree fraud.

Goodwin defended her action in an email to ALS saying ‘I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for exaggerating my marks on my CV slightly and I can only hope that you will see that my reasons for doing it were genuine’.

‘Exaggerating’? ‘Slightly’? A lie is a lie is a lie.

This might well be a case of naïveté and Goodwin’s assertion that she always intended to explain may be true, but the result is the same. Hopefully the publicity the case has attracted will demonstrate to other students and graduates that the risk is not worth it.


Tales of Hoffman

It is heartening to see the courts toughening up on fraudsters presenting themselves with fake credentials. In two recent cases the judge has handed out jail sentences.

Remember our barrister friend Dennis O’Riordon? His looks like a lucky escape now after passing himself off as an Oxford Scholar and Harvard graduate. Although disqualified from the Bar, he escaped prosecution.

Not so for bogus barrister Monika Juneja (pictured above). She received a 14 month (suspended) sentence and 200 hour community service order at the Old Bailey. Starting with a forged degree certificate in 2000 and forging other letters and credentials, she became a local government lawyer with several councils and rose to be the lead member for planning at Guildford Borough Council. She was only found out when constituents began looking into her background after raising a number of complaints about her work identifying areas of land for development, not by her employers.

Josef Hoffman – (real name Joseph Valadakis) was jailed for four years after tricking people out of hundreds of thousands of pounds after posing as a doctor with a degree from the University of Cambridge and claiming to have led a research team at University College Hospital in London. He also claimed to have treated the Queen, Lord Sugar, Robbie Williams and went as far as to tell one ‘patient’ they had cancer. Even in court he persisted with his lies saying that he couldn’t discuss his treatments as he was bound by the Official Secrets Act. The judge didn’t hesitate to put him behind bars for fraud.

Valadakis aka Hoffman



Government Cracks Down on Bogus Providers

Government launches service to combat fake universities

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and graduate careers expert, Prospects have launched a new service to reduce higher education fraud in England.

The service has been commissioned by BIS to proactively address issues concerning bogus institutions and the misuse of the word ‘university’ as well as to tackle the related area of degree fraud. It aims to reduce the burgeoning number of unaccredited institutions by increasing prosecutions through investigation and awareness-raising.

Bogus providers will be targeted by Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), Prospects’ degree verification service. Perpetrators found to be masquerading online as genuine with degree-awarding powers will be added to the database of bogus institutions. HEDD will investigate who owns the websites and where they are hosted, liaise with Trading Standards and other enforcement bodies, including those overseas, to prosecute and force closure. A HEDD fraudline (0845 077 1968) has been set up for advice or to report dubious organisations.

From July a toolkit will be available to support genuine UK HE providers who find themselves victims of copycat websites. An awareness campaign will provide clearer guidance on the surrounding issues.

Jo Johnson, Universities and Science Minister announcing the project at the Going Global 2015 Conference in London said:

“We have appointed Prospects to help us expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance.

Such action is in the interests of all legitimate providers and genuine students because it will help protect the reputation of the UK as a provider of high-quality education.”

 Since HEDD launched four years ago, awareness of the risks of degree fraud is increasing and employers are becoming more vigilant. In March 2014 HEDD processed 2023 enquiries, for the same period this year it handled 2315 checks, marking a 14% increase.

Jayne Rowley, Business Services Director who runs HEDD at Prospects said:

“Degree fraud is a serious problem; in the first quarter of this year alone we added 42 bogus institutions to the database and there are thousands of fake degree certificates in circulation. While HEDD has made it easier to verify whether an institution is genuine, the extent of the service ended there. We now have the structure in place to investigate and report fake university providers to the relevant authorities”.

“It’s easy to see why people would be tricked into thinking they could get a genuine degree from these websites. On the surface they appear credible; they use the word ‘university’ in their title and many imitate legitimate sites with all of the information you’d expect from study guides to lecturers’ words of welcome and student testimonials. Innocent applicants can be duped out of thousands of pounds to end up with a worthless piece of parchment with a fancy seal. From our investigations we’ve also found that what have been described as ‘campuses’ are actually just mailing addresses or virtual offices and ‘course work’ can amount to no more than listing your skills based on life experience or specifying the degree you want, for as little as £30. If you are offered a degree for little effort and a minimal fee, you have to question its legitimacy.”