Facepalm

Comments on this blog are most welcome and means someone is reading and engaging with our messages. Thank you commenters all.

Today’s commenter deserves a special prize.

moderation

moderation-blown-up

Let’s see who our new number one fan is…..

custom-diploma

Are they filled with remorse? Turning themselves in?

No.

The folks over at Custom Diploma think this is a site endorsing fake diplomas and want us to advertise their wares!*

Thanks to WordPress we have their IP address and email clearly displayed, so our fraud team will be reporting them immediately.

We just couldn’t resist sharing. Happy Tuesday everyone.

*Other fake certificate websites are available**

**But not for long.

A Question of Trust

It’s good to see the NHS taking a strong position on application fraud right up to senior levels and prosecuting offenders.

This month sees two men who lied about their qualifications – including possessing fake degree certificates to obtain senior positions in the NHS, back in court.

Conrad de Souza had already been imprisoned for 27 months in 2011 for faking medical qualifications in order to hold clinical guidance roles and was also ordered to repay the NHS £270,000. After his release he repeatedly lied about his qualifications on applications for a number of senior positions in the NHS and was convicted of 6 counts of fraud in December. This week he has been sent back to prison for 17 months.

Dr. Jon Andrewes is a former NHS trust chairman who lied spectacularly about his qualifications to get two top NHS jobs as chairman of the Torbay NHS Care Trust and later the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust. According to his online biography he is Dr. Jon Andrewes with a PhD from Heriot-Watt University where he specialised in researching leadership, management and success attributes in the commercial sector. His first degree is in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and he also has an MBA with a finance specialism from the University of Bristol. All these claims are false. He pleaded guilty at Exeter Crown Court recently and will be sentenced on the 1st March. At the time of recruiting him into these senior roles the NHS checked his references, but not his degrees.

The advice here is simple. Check qualifications for everyone you hire – regardless of seniority, fine CVs and track records. Fraudsters come in all guises.

Bob’s Not Your Uncle

News of our work in dealing with bogus providers is spreading far and wide. We received a report from Iran that a UK university was selling fake diplomas for £200 via an office in Iran. At the same time Robert Gordon University reported a copycat website masquerading as them when the certificate above came through HEDD for verification. We joined up the dots.

Under our naming and shaming promise I give you International University Robert Gordon and the certificate for one of their latest ‘graduates’.

On the certificate is the name and student ID number – we have blanked it out. If you visit the website and key in the ID number you get an instant verification of the candidate’s credentials. 

robert gordon verification

Unfortunately for the applicant the employer contacted the real Robert Gordon University to verify it and the deceit was uncovered. Had they gone to the webpage above they could easily have been fooled into employing a fraudster.

Like many bogus websites the copycat uses a lot of information stolen from the real Robert Gordon University website and other pages from a genuine UK university in Yorkshire.

HEDD has acted swiftly, adding International University Robert Gordon to the bogus providers on the university look up service on HEDD and reported the site to Trading Standards, the National Crime Agency and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The website http://www.inturg.com has been suspended and the owners are being investigated.

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.

Naming and Shaming

As you know, we are carrying out work for the Government investigating bogus universities and adding them to the university look-up service on HEDD. It’s critical to be very clear about individual providers claiming to be UK universities.

We CAN say definitively whether institutions are or have ever been recognised degree-awarding bodies in the UK. The only way an individual can hold a recognised UK degree is from one of those bodies – either directly, or from a Listed Body whose degrees are validated by one of the Recognised Bodies. This is unequivocal. The list of current providers can be found on the Gov.uk website here. The university look-up service on HEDD also carries historical information to cover name changes, mergers, old universities and directs you to the current institution where records are kept for you to make an enquiry.

Since the Government announcement last month we have had lots of requests for a bogus universities list. BIS is keen to name and shame the culprits so we are working on it with a view to publishing shortly. We are also liaising with the appropriate enforcement agencies to shut down the websites and prosecute the perpetrators if possible. We will ‘out’ them here on the blog.

It’s important to distinguish between the completely bogus providers and those running private or alternative universities and colleges which are perfectly legitimate places of study, but whose degrees are not recognised UK degrees. If they claim to award UK degrees, we will advise them to remove the misleading information from their websites.  If they don’t remove it, we will highlight them on HEDD as not being degree-awarding bodies.

Today’s dish of the day is Warnswick University. Actually this isn’t new. it’s a reincarnation of our old friend Wolverhamton University – now defunct, thanks to us.

So how do we know it’s the same bad guys?

It has the same stolen information from the genuine University of Wolverhampton website and a service to verify its fake certificates – which, of course is its main purpose. A new header and a few new stock pictures can’t disguise it. Plus they have missed one of the references to Wolverhamton on the site*.

The site is owned by someone called Smart Boy in Uruguay, using a fictitious address and a gmail account. We won’t be able to trace it as it’s outside the UK, but we can at least make his deceit public.

*Now I could say where it is, but then they will amend it. Plus it might entertain you to look for it. There’s a Twix for the first reader to spot 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

 

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

Coming of Age

Coventry became the 21st university to go live on HEDD last week following Aston the week before. There is further evidence that HEDD is now well-established in the sector with the first fake HEDD certificate appearing. It’s an interesting twist. Rather than create a certificate with its complicated watermarks and holograms, just produce a verification check. What could go wrong?

HEDD Page 3

 

First of all, HEDD is a secure, online-only system – we don’t issue certificates. As soon as something is committed to paper it can be tampered with.

It also appears to verify a candidate from a university that doesn’t use HEDD for its verifications yet.

It refers to the HEDD website at www.HEDD.ac – our old friend the Ascension Islands domain, designed to mimic our .ac.uk academic sites and conveniently ‘undergoing maintenance’ if you try to go there.

There’s not even the most rudimentary effort to reproduce the HEDD logo.

More worrying is that the HEDD ‘certificate’ has been certified as genuine by a real Notary Public in London at a cost of around £80.

We see a lot of scanned certificates countersigned by notaries attesting to having checked the original, but how can we be sure that they do it with any degree of rigour? A Google search would have taken them to the real HEDD website and exposed the truth in seconds.

Our HEDDhelp team spoke to the Notary who hung up very quickly when we challenged him about signing a fraudulent certificate.

We’ll be checking up on the owner of the Ascension Islands HEDD domain and reporting the Notary to his professional body.