Be(hold) the front page

Yes. I’m excited to pick up my free world cup giant wall chart….

but more excited that working with the Times over the past week got an important message about degree fraud on today’s front page.

‘Don’t take selfies with your certificates showing’ is the key message, writ large.

The story is here if you can get past the Times paywall.

And here in the Guardian or here in the Daily Mail if you can’t.

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Private Investigation

Guest post from Edward on the Hedd degree fraud team.

As you may be aware, Italy is going through something of a political crisis. Three months after its general election Italy still has no government. Two weeks ago it appeared that the largely unknown lawyer Giuseppe Conte was due to get the top job after he was surprisingly nominated to become Prime Minister.*

However a spanner was thrown in the works when exaggerations on his academic CV came to the attention of the New York Times. Mr Conte claimed that he had ‘refined’ his legal education at New York University – yet there was no record of him studying there.

In the hubbub around the wider story of political instability and a potentially fraudulent resumé something was lost.

Mr Conte’s CV claims that he had attended a number of different institutions across the world, including the University of Cambridge in the UK. However, as the Guardian reported, “Citing confidentiality rules, Cambridge said it could not immediately confirm or deny whether Conte had attended the university.”

The fact that Cambridge didn’t release the details of Mr Conte, where other institutions did is the correct and legal thing to do. Under data protection laws, no individual’s degree details should be released to anyone else without that individual’s express permission. This is how Hedd operates, and how all of our UK partner universities operate.

Graduate/individual data security is of utmost importance to us. We are fully GDPR compliant and have been for some months now.

We often receive calls to our degree fraud reporting line from people who are mistrustful of the credentials of a colleague, a friend or even a family member. They usually wish to check the education details without the person knowing, so as not to raise their suspicions. Even with the best case in the world, we cannot ask universities to release this kind of information.

Think of it the other way round. Would you want your nosy neighbour or potential first date to be able to find out what level of degree you achieved at university? What if a private company was to collect such data and use it to target you with certain products, or to change what sort of content was visible to you on the internet?

Your educational attainment is personal to you and should remain so.

*Mr Conte has since resigned from his nomination due to a separate issue.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

An interesting take by a judge last week when jailing Simon Macartney for fraud and using fake documents. Judge Andrew Goymer also condemned the employer for failing to make proper checks on a job applicant’s qualifications.

Get Surrey reports that Macartney was employed as the Driving Standards Manager for the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) for four years, earning more than £200,000. His job required him to assess whether paramedics were qualified to drive ambulances. He lied about his career as a police traffic officer and then produced fake certificates when challenged about his qualifications. He is now serving a three year sentence in prison.

The judge said SECAmb’s system of checking employees’ qualifications was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’, and the recruitment process used by the Trust ‘left much to be desired’ and ‘was thoroughly lax’.

Managers did not ask for original proof of qualifications when jobs were offered to applicants.

The judge said the offence had called into question public confidence in the ambulance service, which people had a right to believe had employed people qualified to do the work they were paid for.

Comments on the article include demands for Macartney to pay the tax payers’ money back.

Employers are under increasing pressure to make proper checks after a number of cases of CV fraud made headlines and questioned employers’ recruitment processes.

The reputation of your organisation is at risk if you don’t check who you’re employing. It’s easy to verify the claims made by applicants.

  • Tell applicants you make thorough background checks when advertising your jobs.
  • Ask for original certificates, not photocopies or scans.
  • For most UK graduates you can check their degrees through www.hedd.ac.uk.

 

 

 

Great Scott!

Some men born to the name Scott are great heroes. Think Scott of the Antarctic, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott, even Barry Scott of Cillit Bang fame. Some however, are not so worthy of the name.

Let me introduce to you, David Scott from Stockton-on-Tees

On the face of it he was the perfect candidate for the job of managing director at Mech-Tool, an engineering company in Darlington in the North East of England that specialised in heat and blast protection in the oil and gas sector. He had three degrees from Imperial College London, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities, including a First Class Honours in Petroleum Engineering. He had also penned the snappily titled “Non-parametric Regression For Analysis Of Complex Surveys And Geographic Visualisation”, a renowned academic paper within the sector.

Upon being hired his first task was to manage two multi-million pound contracts in Kazakhstan and in return he would receive a £10,000 company car allowance, bonuses, a resettlement package, all on top of a £120,000 salary.

Fair recompense for a challenging high-level job.

Regular readers of the blog will know what happens next. It turns out that a large proportion of what David Scott had claimed was not true. He had actually started life in the Army, where he was introduced to engineering before leaving to work in geo-structural engineering in Libya.

After returning to the UK, and going through an expensive divorce, he fraudulently applied for the role at Mech-Tool. His Bachelors and two Masters were complete fictions, as was his claim to have held an executive position beforehand. As for the ‘renowned academic paper’, this was actually written by his American namesake, Dr David W Scott!

The result for Mech-Tool was near disastrous. Three months after drawing up a strategy plan that, in the words of the judge at his trial, showed Scott was “quite clearly not up to the job”, his colleagues realised as such and after some investigations, discovered the truth. Luckily, the contracts were saved, although payments were delayed however.

At Scott’s trail the judge added: “This was not just claiming an extra GCSE or A level, this was fraud at the highest end of CV falsehood.” This was high culpability deliberate fraud and he sentenced Scott to 12 months in jail.

A company statement from Mech-Tool stated the following: “The business demands the highest standards from its staff and, as such, we have very strict and robust governance and HR processes.”

Not so robust however, to properly check Scott’s degrees.

For just a few pounds and in just a few minutes on Hedd they could have saved themselves a large deal of stress and negative PR, not to mention the millions of pounds that were at stake. Credential fraud will only end when all employers make proper checks on job applicants.

Luckily Mech-Tool have bounced back and predict that the affair “will have no effect on the business as it looks forward to a strong 2018.”

 

By Edward Prichard

File on Four

‘Prospects chief executive, Jayne Rowley, is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s File on 4, the award-winning current affairs documentary series investigating major issues at home and abroad.

‘Degrees of Deception’ airs at 8pm on Tuesday 16 January.

File on 4 exposes a multi-million pound global trade in fake diplomas.

A complex network of online universities sells degrees, doctorates and professional qualifications – for a price. Some of the buyers have gone on to trade on these credentials, including them on their CVs and gaining jobs in public life.

Others, after making an initial purchase, were blackmailed by the sellers, who threatened to expose them unless they paid out huge additional sums of money.

Despite criminal investigations in numerous countries, why is there still a thriving trade in dubious qualifications and are institutions and companies taking the issue seriously enough?’

Yes, that’s me. I was interviewed as part of Prospects’ work to reduce degree fraud through our Hedd verification service. I talked about the legislation that’s in place to deal with fraud of this nature – Fraud, Forgery, Trademark and Copyright. I’ll be explaining the regulatory challenge and what needs to happen to curb the issue.

Which, of course, can be boiled down to one simple thing. Making proper verification checks every time.

Listen live or catch up on BBC iPlayer.

 

The Weakest Link

If you didn’t catch this week’s Panorama exposé on application fraud click here to see how faked qualifications are enabling bogus students to enrol on degree courses, paid for by taxpayer-funded student loans.

The undercover BBC investigation showed fake references and certificates being used to gain places on degree level courses at a number of universities and colleges. Having gained the places, the students then had access to student loans worth thousands of pounds. The rogue intermediaries and agents took their cut of the loans. But this is just the start of it.

The undercover students were then offered additional services to provide their assignments by using essay mills and cover their attendance requirements while they were at work. Now we’re talking about academic fraud.

With their bought-in assignments and fake certificates the students were able to get a genuine degree or diploma, albeit fraudulently obtained*.

Fraudulently obtained degrees could then be used to enter postgraduate study or the workplace putting the reputations of businesses and universities at risk from unqualified candidates. This also jeopardises the prospects for genuine students and graduates seeking jobs or further study if they lose out to fraudsters.

We must cut this off at the pass and stop bogus students enrolling in the first place and exploiting the system.

Unscrupulous agents will look for weak points in the system and colleges without clearly defined policies will be ripe for exploitation. Colleges and universities need to have robust and clearly visible fraud guidelines as part of their admissions policies and they must be prepared to take action against what is criminal activity.

Hedd HE Toolkit image Aug 2017

Download our free Toolkit with advice and guidance on preventing fraud. In the meantime here are our top tips.

  • Have a published policy on application fraud for your college or university
  • Tell applicants you always check qualifications. This can be a deterrent.
  • Don’t take certificates at face value. Verify the claims directly with the awarding body and trust the data, not the paper.
  • Take action against fraud – zero tolerance.

 

*Known as FOG documents. Fraudulently Obtained Genuine documents

The Price of Cheap Beer

Mohammed Dar claims he was offering fake university IDs for students to help them get into student union bars to buy cheap beer.

Searching his home in Stretford Manchester, police recovered:

  • 152 completed forgeries of Manchester Metropolitan University ID cards
  • 42 fake Brunel University cards
  • 7 fake University of Manchester cards
  • 6 fake University of Liverpool cards
  • 4 fake University of Leeds cards.

It reads like a present list on the 12 Days of Fraudmass, but in sentencing Dar to prison the judge nailed it with his comments:

‘You can open a false bank account with a photo ID and an electricity bill….This country and its institutions operate on the basis of trust – trust in documents. Organisations don’t have the time or the resources to go and check whether every document is genuine.’

Fun fact: Prospects verification service Hedd allows enquirers to verify current university students as well as certificates and transcripts from graduates. As an employer if an applicant uses student ID to prove their identity you can quickly establish the truth online at www.hedd.ac.uk. Already covering over 80% of graduates from UK institutions and expanding all the time Hedd is the UK’s official HE verification service with over 100 universities available on the system.

A few months ago we received an enquiry from colleagues in Denmark who had concerns about a UK student applying to work for them. Here’s the ID she provided to them:

my i d card (1)

Her fake passport wasn’t much better quality, but the employer still needed to be sure.

As well as the student ID cards, Dar was using a specialist printer and editor to sell hundreds of items for as little as £20. His phone was full of evidence of customers buying a variety of documents.

Check job or course applicants every time or it could cost your business a lot more than the price of a cheap pint.