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.

A Lie By Any Other Name

A solicitor has been lucky not to be struck off after an employer reported her to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). She had claimed to hold a 2:1 in a job application, when in fact she had a 2:2, Legal Cheek reports.

Anna Goodwin  completed her law degree at the University of the West of England in 2006 and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 2011.

She believed that the 2:2 grade she had achieved was preventing her from getting permanent employment, despite getting high results in her Legal Practice Course and Professional Skills Course. When she applied to the Army Legal Services (ALS) for a position as a legal advisor, she lied about the grade.

Their strict recruitment process meant her deceit was uncovered, even before she was interviewed, when ALS requested her original certificates. At that point she confessed – justifying her lie as a means to obtain an interview, after which she had intended to come clean.

We applaud ALS for not only cancelling her interview, but for reporting the fraud to the SRA. They took action and have suspended Goodwin from practising law for 18 months and fined her £3,000. The long term damage to her career could be far more costly.

Too often employers reject candidates after lying on applications, but don’t take action to report the fraud. One of the key reasons degree fraud thrives is because the perpetrators get away with it. If individuals clearly see that fraud doesn’t pay, the temptation is reduced. Cifas maintains a database of known fraud offenders which it shares with employers, financial services and banks.  They also publish advice for students and graduates about the consequences of degree fraud.

Goodwin defended her action in an email to ALS saying ‘I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for exaggerating my marks on my CV slightly and I can only hope that you will see that my reasons for doing it were genuine’.

‘Exaggerating’? ‘Slightly’? A lie is a lie is a lie.

This might well be a case of naïveté and Goodwin’s assertion that she always intended to explain may be true, but the result is the same. Hopefully the publicity the case has attracted will demonstrate to other students and graduates that the risk is not worth it.

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.

Do Not Pass. Do Not Collect Your Degree Certificate.

go to jail

It’s time for our annual survey of student and graduate attitudes and experiences of degree fraud. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey here. Tell us what you think about fraud and those who cheat their way into employment.

Degree fraud went way beyond cutting and pasting fake certificates this week with the jailing of a University of Birmingham student who hacked in to the university’s student record system and upped his grades on 5 pieces of coursework from a 2:2 to a 1st.

Imran Uddin is starting a four month sentence in prison, but a life sentence as far as his future career and integrity are concerned. What university would accept him after this? What employer?

He cites pressure to get a good degree as his reason for doing it – he is the first person in his family to attend university.

A criminal conviction is surely far worse to live with than a 2:2?

The Clone Wars

Dear Innocent Graduate,

Thank you for uploading a copy of your degree certificate to your social network , enabling it to appear in search engine images.

We have now successfully taken the image and used it as a template for our ‘novelty’ and ‘replacement’ degree certificate service. We are most grateful for your help in ensuring that we have access to authentic examples.

If you have any other academic or professional certificates please feel free to publish them too, along with your passport and driving licence. We would be happy to use them.

Yours faithfully,

Fakedegreecertificates.com

This post is prompted by a real letter I had to write to an innocent graduate who had proudly uploaded their degree certificate to their business website under ‘About Us’. They had removed it very quickly, but unfortunately the damage was done and that image still comes up if you search images for ‘degree certificate’ on search engines.

It has been stolen by several fake certificate sites who sell suitably customised versions to anyone looking for a quick fix degree. It came to our attention at HEDD when the university rejected it during a verification check and then another version of it appeared only weeks later with a different name and degree subject.

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.

Needless to say our innocent victim was shocked and upset to find out their credentials have been stolen and we have pointed them to the Google reporting facility to remove information under European Data Protection law to try to get the image removed. Unfortunately this won’t stop the sites who have already copied it.

 

 

20th Century Graduates

As we passed the milestone of 20,000 HEDD enquiries we took some time to look at some of the outcomes.

Qualifications are less likely to be checked the further away from graduation day a candidate gets.  Of the 20,000+ enquiries received since HEDD launched two years ago, 76% have been to check qualifications of those who graduated after 2000 and almost half are to verify graduates who left university within the last four years.

Just 16% of enquiries were to undertake checks on those who graduated in the 1990s, and the number was halved (8%) for those leaving university before the ‘90s.

Graduates who are further on in their career have more opportunity to blatantly lie, exaggerate or bend the truth a little more than their more recent counterparts simply because they are not being checked out.

When someone has been working for a while, it’s common to assume that academic checks will have been made by previous employers. From a candidate’s point of view, qualifications can seem less important the further on in our career that we get.

Higher classification degrees are much more common now and those who have been in the workplace a long time can feel under pressure with competition from the new wave of graduates who are regularly achieving a first or 2.1 degree. Perhaps they feel that the third class degree from a former polytechnic isn’t appropriate to the senior position that they are in and are therefore tempted to embellish.

If someone is willing to lie at this level, how can you trust them when they become part of your organisation? It’s incredibly important that employers validate who they are recruiting, and not just rely on good work references to get the full picture of a person.

BBC Education picked up the story today.

 

 

HEDDlines

Over the summer we repeated a survey of students and graduates that we did last year, asking about degree fraud and fake certificates. Here’s the press release we put out this week. The results are even more worrying than they were last year. 2/3 of the respondents know someone who has committed CV fraud. We’ve also got some detail on what they’re lying about, which backs up some of the fraud we’ve seen on HEDD.

The story has been picked up well in the media, which should make recruiters sit up and take notice. Here’s the piece from the Times Higher. I hope this doesn’t make too depressing a read. The vast majority of graduates are genuine, hardworking individuals who have invested heavily in their degrees. Our main concern is to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in what is already an incredibly tough jobs market.

Graduates report increasing numbers lying on CVs, reports Graduate Prospects

Almost two-thirds (61%) of students and graduates have reported that the increase in tuition fees is putting people off university and making them more likely to lie about their qualifications on their CV to get work, which is an 18% increase since last year, reports Graduate Prospects.

As part of the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) initiative – a government-backed online degree verification system launched to tackle degree fraud – Graduate Prospects surveyed 559 UK students and graduates about their views on fraud in light of the £9,000 tuition fees introduced last year.

Two thirds of respondents said they know someone who has lied or exaggerated about their qualifications. The most commonly reported CV lies are:
• Grade – give a higher class than they actually achieved (46%)
• Course completion – say they completed a course when only part was finished (28%)
• Qualification – say they have a degree when they don’t (15%)
• Subject – give a different course subject to suit a job’s requirements (11%)

Students and graduates were also asked for their opinions on fake degree certificates. Two-thirds reported that the increase in tuition fees is making buying fake degree certificates more tempting and 14% confirmed they knew someone who had bought one or were considering it. Thirty eight per cent stated that it is very likely or likely that someone would buy a fake degree certificate over going through university.

Jayne Rowley leads HEDD at Graduate Prospects. She said: “A tough jobs market coupled with high tuition fees may be making it more tempting for people to make false claims on their CVs, but organisations need to routinely verify qualifications as part of their recruitment process; if candidates knew that they would be checked it would make lies less likely.

“One of the biggest problems we face at detriment to the hundreds of thousands of genuine, hard-working students who have invested in a UK degree programme is the number of bogus universities – of which the UK remains their favourite domicile in Europe. We alone have identified more than 130 degree mills since we launched HEDD, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”