Here We Go Again

A fraudster who lied on his CV in order to land a job within the NHS, then cheated his employers out of almost £350,000 has been jailed for five years.

No, you haven’t accidentally wandered into last week’s post, this is another incidence of degree fraud in the NHS.

This time our criminal is Phillip Hufton, who does have a degree in nursing, but claimed to be a qualified doctor with a PhD. He wasn’t in a clinical role, but nevertheless he lied and cheated his way to stealing £350,000 from our NHS.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) said Hufton’s actions were “reprehensible”.

I agree. I do.

But this does not excuse the fact that CPFT failed to check his credentials when they recruited him. Part of the blame has to lie with them as they had a clear opportunity to prevent this. Earlier this year Judge Andrew Goymer condemned a public sector employer for failing to check someone’s credentials saying that it was ‘a disaster waiting to happen’ and that the recruitment process was ‘thoroughly lax’.

#makethecheck

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Trust Me. I’m a Doctor

We have reported before on the improvements being made to screening checks by the NHS and other medical regulators like the General Medical Council (GMC). Many of these improvements cover recruitment of new staff and regular re-registration of existing professionals like midwives.

The big news story today surrounds medical professionals recruited in the 1990’s before these robust processes were introduced.

Zholia Alemi came to the UK with a medical degree from the University of Auckland. Under regulations covering the Commonwealth at that time, she did not have to take an exam here in the UK to join the GMC register in 1995.

Alemi is not a doctor. She dropped out of university after a year. Her false medical qualification was only discovered when she was convicted of fraud and theft in October after taking advantage of a vulnerable patient.

She was working as a consultant psychiatrist for a dementia service in west Cumbria at the time, faked a dementia patient’s will, stole bank cards and obtained signatures from other patients. She has now been jailed for five years.

The GMC has just ordered remedial checks on over 3,000 medical doctors working in the UK under the same entry conditions as Alemi. It says that it doesn’t expect to find anything untoward, but only proper verification checks will reveal the truth.

Our free toolkit – Advice and Guidance on Degree Fraud for Employers advises recruiters to make checks on the qualifications of all applicants with the awarding bodies. This is the only way to ensure the people we recruit are telling the truth about their credentials.

Let’s hope this wicked and abhorrent abuse of trust is an isolated case.

You Only Cheat Twice

A report from Tom Williams on our degree fraud team.

We often hear that people have ‘embellished’ their CV or LIED, as we prefer to call it, in order to get a job. The general feeling seems to be that this is normal and if people do a good job there’s no harm done.

That’s a very dangerous assumption indeed.

Yes, a fake fact on a CV might be their only crime and their contribution to your workforce may be exemplary. But it’s a risky business to put your faith and your company’s reputation and finances in the hands of a stranger without a verification check.

Alaska Freeman has an impressive CV which included her accountancy qualifications. Two successive employers failed to check on her claims and as a result she was able to steal around £115,000 from them.

Joining the first company in October 2012 as Assistant Management Accountant and later promoted to the senior position of Management Accountant, Freeman inflated her own pay, made personal purchases on company credit cards, transferred funds into her own bank accounts and stole petty cash.

After being exposed by HMRC in 2015 and sacked after an internal investigation, she was arrested.

Whilst on bail, she applied for a financial controller’s job with a new employer, was hired and immediately set about stealing from them too!

Thankfully Freeman has just been sentenced to 53 months in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of fraud. Let’s hope they follow up under the Proceeds of Crime Act to get that money back.

The financial impact of these crimes was severe and it took three years of hard work by dedicated employees for the first business to recover. Her crimes could so easily have cost jobs.

Both companies could have avoided this by making a proper background check for qualifications, references and even criminal records as a standard part of their recruitment process. The consequences of inadequate checks can be serious, long-term and irreversible.

Making checks is easy. You can download our free toolkit for employers at www.hedd.ac.uk

Hail to the Cheat

Melissa Howard – a Republican Party candidate for the Florida House of Representatives was incensed when a news outlet claimed that she did not hold the degree she claimed on her candidate biography. Howard’s campaign maintained that the story was nothing more than an attempt to ‘hurt Melissa or her reputation within the community’ orchestrated by her opponent in the primary.

So incensed was Howard that she flew to Ohio to pose with photographs of her degree certificate from Miami University and posted them on Twitter and Facebook.

Unfortunately, along with her friends and supporters, officials from Miami University were also looking at the photographs, and in particular at the diploma, which appeared to have some inaccuracies.

  • The university didn’t run that course at the time she attended.
  • The signatory for the course was wrong on the diploma.
  • She attended, but wasn’t on the course she claimed.
  • She didn’t complete that course either.

Oops.

It appears that having been caught out in a lie about her qualifications*, Howard chose to compound it with a fake certificate, which she flaunted on social media.

Her campaign claims this is ‘Fake News’.

We agree – quite literally.

*Things could get worse for Howard. Under Florida law this is a criminal offence.
Florida statute 817.566 states, “Any person who, with intent to defraud, misrepresents his or her association with, or academic standing or other progress at, any postsecondary educational institution by falsely making, altering, simulating, or forging a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper; or any person who causes or procures such a misrepresentation; or any person who utters and publishes or otherwise represents such a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper as true, knowing it to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”

Fraud doesn’t pay, but fraudsters do.

Guest Post from Edward on the Hedd Fraud Team

It was January last year when we first reported on Jon Andrewes – a man who lied about his degree qualifications so that he could gain two top jobs in the NHS.

To remind you, Mr Andrewes’ fraud was pretty extensive. Not only did he claim to have a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and an MBA from the University of Bristol, but also a PhD from Heriot-Watt University. Mr Andrewes did not have any of these qualifications, but despite this he became chairman of the Torbay NHS Care Trust and later of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust.

His total earnings from the health bodies between 2005-16 was £1,072,076.

After being exposed he pleaded guilty and in March 2017 was jailed for two years, a sentence that he has now served.

Last week, on the 26th July, he was ordered to pay back £97,737.24 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Despite the fraud leading to Mr Andrewes being overpaid by £643,000 over more than a decade his actual available assets currently only total £97,737.24.

He has been ordered to pay this sum back by the end of October or he will return to jail for another year. To do so he must sell some of his assets, which according to the BBC includes: ‘a half share in a Dutch barge, a share of his profit from the sale of the house in Topsham, an insurance payout for a Seat Leon car, premium bonds, and a pension plan.’

It just goes to show the risk that you run if you fake your qualifications. It also shows the risk that degree fraud poses to institutions of all sizes, from the small start-up to the behemoth that is the NHS.

In his summation, the judge mentioned that “the defendant was narrowly preferred to another candidate when he was appointed to the hospice”. In other words the NHS were just one degree verification check away from recruiting the right person.

As with our previous post the advice here is simple. Check qualifications for everyone you hire – regardless of seniority, fine CVs and track records. Fraudsters come in all guises.

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.

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.