Novelty Value?

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.

You Couldn’t Make It Up #1

Craig warns about the importance of making checks because fake certificates can be of excellent quality and look very convincing. Indeed there have been cases where we’ve had to look and look again to spot the errors when a university has returned a ‘not verified’ response.

This is not always the case. Sometimes the fake ones are so breathtakingly obvious as to be funny. As we bask in the July sunshine, here’s a story to brighten your day.

The applicant has a real degree from a UK university in Business Administration. They apply for a role as a Claims Manager with an overseas branch of a well-known High Street bank. For some inexplicable reason they decide that Law is a better degree, and cut and paste the word ‘Law’ over the words ‘Business Administration’ on their certificate, then photocopy it to cover up the overlay. Unfortunately, they don’t stick it on straight. The words slope off to the right. On top of that, the edges of the overlay are clearly visible on the copy! This case seems particularly bizarre as the applicant had a perfectly legitimate degree.

This has happened before. Paypal boss Scott Thompson was famously exposed for claiming to hold a degree in Computer Science, when he became the new CEO of Yahoo, despite the fact that he had a perfectly legimitate degree in Accounting, and a proven track record. Needless to say, it cost him his job, and his reputation.

 

New way to spot fake UK degrees

We’ve just updated our series of tips on How to Spot a Fake UK Degree.

Based on a recent case we’ve handled, we’ve added the following tip to the list:

University Name

In a recent case we handled, an enquiry returned “Not Verified”. The client, as per our normal procedure, sent us the candidate’s award certificate.

The certificate was purported to be offered by “Manchester University”.

However, this is not a valid university title. The correct university title is the “University of Manchester”. This was a dead give-away that the certificate was not awarded from the University of Manchester, nor is it a UK degree.

Always check how the university’s name appears on the certificate with what the official university refers to itself as.

There is a big difference between hiring someone from Manchester University (bogus) and someone from The University of Manchester (real)!

How to spot a fake UK degree certificate

We recently discussed some tips on how to spot a fake UK university. The issue of fake degrees is a bigger concern than that of fake universities because fake degrees, typically, purport to be awarded from a legitimate institution and forgeries are often excellent in their quality and attention to detail.

What are the tell-tale signs?

In HEDD’s life we have received numerous examples of fake degree certificates. Although some have purported to be awarded from non-existent universities, such as “Chelsea University” (which has never been a degree-awarding body in the UK), the most worrying is when certificates appear to be awarded by legitimate universities.

Fake degree certificates are often of high quality and with excellent attention to detail. Upon first inspection, they are convincing enough to fool someone who doesn’t know what to look out for.

However, there are certain tell-tale signs which will give you some certainty in determining if a degree is fake.

Verification Returns Negative

The biggest tell-tale sign that a degree certificate might be fake is if you have run an enquiry with the institution on the student and this has turned up negative. Usually this is because the information supplied to the university is not enough to allow them to trace the candidate – but very occasionally the candidate is fraudulent and their certificate is a fake.  Sometimes the certificates are so convincing that agencies or employers involved in the verification process believe that the verification result is wrong rather than the certificate.

If a negative response is provided by HEDD, this is the first red flag concerning the legitimacy of the candidate and their award. Given a certificate, we will investigate all such cases and in some instances certificates have turned out to be fake!

Spelling Mistakes on the Certificate

Carefully check the spelling and grammar of a certificate: Is it all correct?

A UK University would not risk its reputation by allowing grammatical and spelling mistakes on a certificate or official transcript.

However, those who craft fake certificates clearly don’t mind. We have seen many spelling mistakes, for example “certified ture copy” (as opposed to “true copy”) or sutdent (as opposed to student).

Terminology Borrowed from Other Education Systems

You should also consider the terminology used.

In one recent certificate we reviewed, there was reference made to the “Dean’s list”. The Dean’s list is an American university concept, not a UK university concept. You would not find reference to a Dean’s List on a UK degree certificate.  In addition, instead of start date they used “Matriculation Date”. This is not common wording on a UK degree certificate. Similarly, using season names like “Winter” and “Fall” to describe semesters is American, not UK, terminology.

One final example of terminology was the use of “summa cum laude”, which translates as “with highest distinction”.

In the UK, instead of “cum laude”, we would normally use “Honours degree”, or “with Honours”.

Certificate Language

Historically, some UK universities have awarded certificates which are written entirely in Latin.

Contemporary certificates, especially those awarded in the last 10 years, are very unlikely to be written in Latin. The practice of UK universities awarding certificates in Latin is no longer current practice.

Although up until recently, some UK universities have offered Latinised degrees as a memento of study, they are not considered a valid degree without the corresponding English degree certificate. Only the originally-awarded certificate is acceptable.

If you do receive a degree certificate which is entirely in Latin and purports to be from a UK university, consider carefully when the degree was awarded. If it claims to be a recent award (within the last 10 years) then it is likely to be either not authentic or a memento of study.

Who’s the Registrar?

On many occasions, a fake Registrar is provided.

A simple check is to enquire who the Registrar was when the degree was awarded. If the name on the certificate does not match the Registrar at the time, then you can tell you’ve got a fake!

University Name

In a recent case we handled, an enquiry returned “Not Verified”. The client, as per our normal procedure, sent us the candidate’s award certificate.

The certificate was purported to be offered by “Manchester University”.

However, this is not the correct university title. The correct university title is the “University of Manchester”. The university title was incorrect and this was a dead give-away that the certificate was not awarded from the University of Manchester, nor is it a valid UK degree.

Always check that the university’s name appearing on the certificate matches what the official university refers to itself as.

Conclusion

There are a few broad messages here that you should take away:

  1. There are some convincing fake universities and certificates. Always check that the candidate is legitimate!
  2. Always put things in context – Is the wording that which a UK university would use?
  3. Are there any spelling mistakes? These are TELL TALE signs of a fake certificate
  4. Do the names match university officials who were appointed at the time of the award?

Under Pressure

A recent report about a Chinese student jailed for attempting to bribe a professor into awarding him his final degree (which he was about to fail) highlights the notion that international students in the UK may be under more pressure than home students.

Of course this is only one case, but university staff who work with international students often tell us they think international students are under enormous pressure to succeed academically.  The weight of expectations from the entire extended family, many of whom will have invested financially or emotionally in their success, can be a burden.  This may be especially so for Chinese students, where there are fewer young people in the family due to the one-child policy.

It’s not just a problem for students who are here.  Back in China there’s a lot of pressure to have foreign qualifications and there seems to be quite an industry churning them out.  Last month the Huffington Post reported that a number of people were found guilty of producing fake certificates from American universities, real and invented, in a scam amounting to 3.4 million yuan. 

It’s easy to find a website that will offer any type of certificate, for any university.  They’ll even promise to match security features. 

At HEDD, most enquiries come from outside the UK and although fake certificates are rare, they do also tend to come from overseas. 

I’d really like to know how international students themselves feel about this so I’m going to post a poll on our sister site Prospects, which gets a lot of traffic from international students.  I’ll report back here on the results. 

Sinéad McGovern – HEDD Business Manager

What Lies Beneath

Some may consider embellishing details on a CV in order to paint a brighter picture of our education and experience an acceptable and usual practice. Everyone does it, right? But what about changing your 2:2 to a 2:1? Is that just a little white lie?

Fraud as a criminal offence came into existence as a result of the Fraud Act 2006. It replaced the old “deception” offences which were fraught with practical and technical problems and made them unsatisfactory and unworkable.

The new offence of fraud and its ancillary offences are much broader in their application and can cover a wide range of behaviours.

Several offences are of particular relevance to those who might believe that embellishing their CV is not that big of a deal. You may be surprised to realise what kind of behaviour is punishable and what punishments can be exacted.

Fraud by False Representation

The first offence relevant to CV-embellishers is fraud by false representation.

A person is guilty of this offence if they dishonestly make a false representation and they intend by making that representation to make a gain for themselves or another or to cause a loss to another or expose another to a risk of loss.

A representation is “false” if it is untrue or misleading and the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

What does this mean for those looking to embellish their CV?

If you submit a CV to an employer or agency and you claim – for instance – to hold a degree which you do not, then you have commit fraud by false representation.

It does not matter if you have not been offered the job or are yet to receive a salary; the crime is committed the moment the representation is made. That moment could be when it is read by a HR manager, or when it is submitted to an electronic recruitment system.

The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment and a fine. Yes, TEN years!

Possessing, Making or Supplying Articles for Use in Frauds

The second offence relevant to CV-embellishers is making or supplying articles for use in frauds.

A person is guilty of an this offence if they make, adapt, supply, or offer any article which they know is designed or adapted for use in a fraud or that it is intended the article will be used to commit or assist in the commission of a fraud.

A third offence exists: possession of articles for use in frauds.

A person is guilty of this offence if they have in their possession or under their control any article for use in the course of or connection with any fraud.

Article includes any program or data held in electronic format.

What does this mean for those looking to embellish their CV?

It means that if you make a CV on a computer (“data held in an electronic format”) which contains false information with the intention of committing fraud, then you have committed the offence. Possessing a CV created by another which is to be used for fraud also constitutes the offence.

So combining this with what we have learned above about fraud, if you have crafted an embellished CV and you intend to submit it to a HR department or agency tomorrow, then you have committed both offences.

The maximum penalty for the making articles offence is 10 years imprisonment and a fine and for possessing articles is 5 years imprisonment and a fine.

Have there been any prosecutions, or is this just legal theory?

Kerrie Devine was an employee of East Devon Primary Care Trust until it was dissolved in 2003-2006. It was reformed as Devon PCT and, as a result of the dissolution, existing staff had to re-apply for their positions. During the re-application, qualifications were checked and it was found that Kerrie Devine did not hold the qualifications she claimed to.

An investigation, headed by the NHS Counter Fraud Service, resulted in a successful prosecution under s.2 of the Fraud Act 2006 (fraud by false representation).

She was given a six-month suspended sentence, ordered to pay £9,600 in compensation, and was ordered to do 150 hours community service.

What was interesting about this case is that she had been hired under the pretence of holding qualifications that she did not and she held the post for many years before the fraud came to light.

This demonstrates two important points when considering new and existing staff:

  1. The importance of education verification for new staff as a method of mitigating the risk of fraud (primary checks)
  2. The importance of education verification for existing staff as a method of mitigating the continuation of fraud (secondary checks)

The story of Kerrie Devine, a person who managed to land a very senior role within the NHS through fraud, is a story which employers should take note of. If it can happen within the NHS, it can happen to your organisation.

If the East Devon PCT had not dissolved and employees not had to re-apply for roles, the fraud could have continued indefinitely.

Conclusions

There are many behaviours caught under degree fraud. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Claiming to have a degree that you do not
  2. Claiming your classification is higher than it actually is (e.g. 2.1 instead of a 2.2)
  3. Claiming that your study dates are or year of graduation is different from what they are
  4. Claiming that your degree is of a different type than it actually is (e.g. “Law” instead of “History”; “Master of Arts” instead of “Bachelor of Arts”)

Fraud is a highly under-reported crime. If it wasn’t for the NHS’s dedicated fraud team – the NHS Counter Fraud Service – it is unlikely that this case of degree fraud would have reached trial and successfully prosecuted. However, as awareness of the issue becomes more widespread, both reporting and prosecutions will become more common.

From an employer’s perspective, it is prudent to protect yourself from the risk of degree fraud by conducting proper and through checks on new and existing staff. Degree fraud is serious business. If it can happen in the NHS, it can happen to you. Although there appears to be no reported damage in the case above, the NHS is in a better position than small-to-medium sized enterprises to absorb the damage and reputation loss caused by a bad hire – can you honestly say you are in the same position?

From a candidates perspective, although in a competitive market, you may feel that claiming to have a first class rather than a 2.2 might give you an advantage when it comes to applying for jobs, sooner or later the fraud will be exposed and the consequences could be far worse than simply not landing that perfect position. It will most certainly be the end of your professional career with that employer or industry, and may even lead to loss of your liberty.

Little white lies aren’t such a little deal!


For the full text of the Fraud Act 2006, visit:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/35/contents

For the CIPD press release on Kerrie Devine, visit:

http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/01/29/hr-manager-sentenced-for-lying-about-qualifications-2010-01.aspx

Six Degrees of Fabrication

As HEDD becomes the UK’s trusted brand for degree verification we’re getting almost daily reports of bogus institutions.

The latest one to come to our attention is the University of Wolverhamton in Ireland* through a certificate and transcript we were asked to verify. The certificate invites you to verify the candidate through their website www.wolverhamton.com. Hopefully by the time you read this, the site will still be there**. Generally speaking, once ‘outed’, the sites disappear. On the surface, the site looks pretty plausible, but closer examination reveals a rash of spelling mistakes – ‘corses’ is the most obvious example. References to campuses in England also points to a lack of understanding of basic UK geography.

To make it look credible the site owners have copied pages from legitimate UK university websites – clearly breaching copyright. Even the fake certificate we have carries the name and signature of a real UK Registrar from another valid university – we have let them know that their identify has been stolen.

Fraudsters are backing up their fake certificates with convincing transcripts and letters of reference in the hope that employers won’t need to verify with the named awarding body if they have lots of supporting documents. A two minute Google check can reveal that addresses are false, referees don’t exist, and, if the fake qualifications are old, the website has disappeared.

*Did you spot the missing P? We nearly missed it too

** If you’re using Internet Explorer the site has now been reported as ‘unsafe’