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.”   

Do Not Pass. Do Not Collect Your Degree Certificate.

go to jail

It’s time for our annual survey of student and graduate attitudes and experiences of degree fraud. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey here. Tell us what you think about fraud and those who cheat their way into employment.

Degree fraud went way beyond cutting and pasting fake certificates this week with the jailing of a University of Birmingham student who hacked in to the university’s student record system and upped his grades on 5 pieces of coursework from a 2:2 to a 1st.

Imran Uddin is starting a four month sentence in prison, but a life sentence as far as his future career and integrity are concerned. What university would accept him after this? What employer?

He cites pressure to get a good degree as his reason for doing it – he is the first person in his family to attend university.

A criminal conviction is surely far worse to live with than a 2:2?

Isn’t It Ironic? #2

After reporting in November that most employers are still not checking qualifications despite high profile cases and our efforts to highlight the risks, it was good to see another fraudster put behind bars recently. Karen Carberry, Finance Director for Reed – the recruitment specialists follows Wade Jordan to prison.

Karen Carberry lied to get a job as a financial director before siphoning off £300,000 to spend on her love of shopping. She was jailed for four years today after her lies and lack of remorse were criticised by an Old Bailey judge

Reed paid the high cost of not checking her certificates when she joined them in 2001 and she rose up the ranks to Finance Director – syphoning off over £300,000 along the way. Ouch.

Carberry denied but was convicted of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception between July 1, 2001 and July 31, 2001, fraud by abuse of position between 6 August 2009 and 9 July 2012 and two counts of using a false instrument between 13 August and 29 August 2012. The judge sentenced her to 4 years – but it could easily have been 6 if she had not had young children.

That’s a lot of money to lose but how much greater was the reputational and brand damage to Reed? A lot of chatter and comments following the news coverage centred around Reed’s failure to vet their own staff and raised questions about the standards of vetting of candidates they place with clients. Their competitors were very quick to jump on this although, hand on heart, I’d be surprised if they could confidently say they checked every single employee.

The BBC reported on new technology last week to offer secure digital badges for documents and certificates to verify their authenticity with the issuer. We are already looking into offering access to secure documents through HEDD. Meanwhile we are delighted to welcome Coventry and Aston to the growing number of universities in the HEDD service. With more universities due to join later this month this means nearly a quarter of UK graduates can be checked through HEDD. The BBC article talked of the burden of manual work to make checks and we know this is cited by many as a reason to trust CVs and certificates. We’re doing our bit to make it easier. Time for employers to step up.

Isn’t It Ironic?

One of my ongoing frustrations is the lack of prosecutions for degree fraud, despite the fact that it is against the law in the UK and carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

A new guide for students ‘Don’t Finish Your Career Before it Starts’ has just been distributed to universities and warns of the criminal consequences of white lies or embellishments. As a follow-up we were asked if we had any case studies of successful prosecutions of graduates. Sadly, we don’t.

The cases we know of are individuals who faked their qualifications, so aren’t valid graduates. The one high profile case we’ve covered here is Dennis O’Riordan, the University of East Anglia graduate who was dismissed from the Bar for degree fraud, but he has not been prosecuted to date.

As we know, most degree fraud goes undetected due to the lack of proper checks being made by employers, although every survey confirms that about 1/3 of applicants admit to lying on their CVs.

The prevailing view seems to be that it’s OK to get a little creative with your CV if you can actually do the job. Why should you be discounted because your skills and qualifications are from the University of Life? But not every instance is an honest candidate, just trying to get ahead.

Recently in Manchester,  Wade Jordan was jailed for three years for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Jordan landed an HR role at biotechnology firm, Qiagen’s, Manchester office by claiming he had an MA in Human Resource Management from Manchester Metropolitan University. He went on to swindle almost £50,000 in fraudulent expense claims between 2010 and 2013. A police investigation, launched after the company unearthed his expenses fiddle, found he had no such qualification – something Qiagen could have checked themselves with Manchester Metropolitan University, when they recruited him. 

The fact that Jordan was recruited into an HR role only adds insult to injury, although it could teach Alanis Morrisette a thing or two about irony.

Fake Britain

If you stuck around after BBC Breakfast today you will have seen the issue of fake certificates and degree fraud covered on the BBC1 consumer programme Fake Britain.

it’s no longer on BBC iPlayer, but you can catch our segment on YouTube, if you missed it.

Jayne explaining a fake certificate
Jayne explaining a fake certificate

It demonstrates the consequences of fraud and looks in more detail at the case of Julia Rawlinson, the Torquay ‘teacher’ we have mentioned before here on the blog. It discusses the effects on the pupils she was preparing for exams at the time when she was arrested and the possible consequences for them of not getting the grades due to their inadequate teacher. We talk to some current students about their views.

We also show some fake certificates and expose the sophistication of the degree mills combining provision of fake documents with verification websites like the fake University of Wolverhamton where you can use the certificate student ID to get a verification online.

It was an excellent example of clear, serious consumer journalism.

Sadly our Rogues Gallery of fake certificates grows bigger by the week. The latest culprit is a mash up of one university’s name and the crest and signatures from another. On the one hand it’s great to catch the culprits, but depressing in the frequency of the occurrences.

 

Take Adecco At This

The jury has been out for some time on the prudence of using the social networks like Facebook as hunting grounds for staff recruitment – whereas LinkedIn has built its reputation as a professional network. 

Adecco, the global recruitment organisation has recently released the results of some research into CV fraud which discovered that one in ten users has lied on CVs listed publicly on LinkedIn. So even in a reputable, professional and public environment, people are still prepared to commit fraud. LinkedIn, of course, cannot control nor police what its users post on their profiles.

In line with other research in this area, the biggest lie, just like our big city lawyer Dennis O’Riordan, is around qualifications.

The research also found other interesting discrepancies:

  • 9% lied about job titles;
  • 9% lied about their age;
  • 7% lied about their university;
  • 7% lied about their school;
  • and 5% about the length of time at a particular job or their experience.

 Alex Fleming, Operations Director at Adecco has the following advice.

 “Your CV is your opportunity to communicate to prospective employers your career history and strengths. It should be as accurate as possible. Although the temptation may be there to smooth out areas of your experience and qualifications that aren’t quite perfect, we would always advise candidates not to outright lie. It’s often said that the truth will always come out in the end and so it’s much safer to concentrate on your real achievements than investing in fictitious ones.”

Wise words.

Great Vengeance and Furious Anger

Earlier this week we discussed Dennis O’Riordan and whether he will be prosecuted. I’m glad to say that the Church appears to take a dimmer view of this crime than the Bar with the successful prosecution of Maximilian Manin last month.

Mr Manin confessed his criminal past to the Bishop of Lincoln, who in the spirit of Christan forgiveness allowed him to keep his job of Chief Executive for the Diocese, but failed to mention that he had lied about having a first class degree from the University of Sheffield and an MBA in order to obtain the position in the first place.

With high profile examples like these hitting the headlines, perhaps we will see a step change in recruitment practices and more checks being made.

You’re Barred!

It’s good to know that the Bar metes out justice to members breaking its code; like Barrister Dennis ‘Tom’ O’Riordan who committed degree fraud in the most spectacular fashion and was found out. The full outcome of his tribunal before the Bar Tribunals and Disciplinary Service is here.

Suspicions were raised because he claimed to be an Eldon Scholar from the same year as one of the partners in the chambers to which he was applying. He was subsequently outed on legal news and gossip site RollonFriday. He’s been suspended for 3 years. Let’s hope that with their inside knowledge of the law, they will also push for criminal proceedings against him under the Fraud Act.

To quote one of my favourite movies, The Cannonball Run “If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly!” For years, O’Riordan had been claiming the following false educational qualifications and attainments:

  • Bachelor of Arts (First Class) Oxford University.
  • Bachelor of Civil Law (First Class) Oxford University,
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Oxford University,
  • LLB (Hons) (First Class) University of East Anglia
  • Master’s degree, Faculty of Law, Harvard University
  • Eldon Scholar, Oxford University
  • Member of the New York Bar
  • Member of the Irish Bar

All completely untrue or embellished. He did study Law at East Anglia – but didn’t get a First.  

The pity of it is that he appears to have been an extremely competent litigator, well-liked and respected with a proven track record. He was a legitimate member of the Bar with his real qualifications. He worked for a top firm with an excellent reputation, who must now be counting the cost to their brand and reputation in large multiples of billable hours.

They have so far declined to comment on their recruitment practices, but I suspect they will be currently under review.

Update 16th October.

I’m bemused by the subsequent reaction in the legal media to the case above. His employers have defended themselves saying that they recruit on reputation, not qualifications, and would not check up on senior hires. They argue that his competency is the most important factor and that he was a genuinely qualified barrister who gave a high quality service to clients.

Here’s an analogy that might make them rethink their views. Essentially we’re talking about counterfeit goods. If I buy a Hermès handbag, I want it to be Hermès, not a George at Asda lookalike*. Yes, the lookalike is a perfectly good quality handbag and fulfils its function, but I thought I was getting Hermès, and that’s what I paid for. In those terms, wouldn’t we all be straight down to Trading Standards to complain?

*George is a fantastic brand in its own right, but a supermarket own-brand nevertheless.