‘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.
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.
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
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 2/3 of graduates from UK institutions and expanding all the time Hedd is the UK’s official HE verification service with over 75 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:
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.
‘Dr’ Jon Andrewes – the ‘Walter Mitty’ character we flagged a couple of weeks ago has now been sentenced and will spend the next two years in prison.
The full extent of the lies about his qualifications has come to light and is staggering in its impudence. As Mad Dog says in The Cannonball Run – ‘If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly!’
- First Class degree from Bristol
- Masters degree from Bristol
- MBA from Edinburgh
- PhD from Heriot-Watt
- PhD from Plymouth
All completely untrue.
He lied about working for the Home Office and HMRC and being a partner in a technology firm, when in fact he started out as a builder.
Using his embellished CV he obtained a senior position in the NHS in 2004 and went on to earn over £1million in a 10 year period in other senior NHS roles before his bosses finally questioned him in 2016.
In court he also admitted to tinkering with his daughter’s degree certificate from the University of London.
It’s never too late to check the people working for you. HEDD’s Toolkit for Employers can be downloaded here.
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.
Let’s see who our new number one fan is…..
Are they filled with remorse? Turning themselves in?
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.
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.
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.