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.”

Do-It-Yourself Verification?

When candidates apply for roles, they will provide you with a claim as to their academic achievement.

It is in the employer’s interest to ensure that these claims are in fact true, as it is ultimately the employer who will gain peace of mind about the legitimacy of the candidate.

The great thing about HEDD is that we provide the opportunity to verify a candidate’s award without the candidate’s involvement (excepting that you must have candidate consent). You can be sure that a positive result from HEDD means that candidate is a legitimate graduate who holds the award they claim to.

However, one thing that we see very often is employers requesting that candidates verify their own award. But this strikes us as a bit perplexing: If you, as an employer, do not trust a candidate’s claim to hold an academic award, why would you trust their claim to verify that award? Why put a candidate through this unnecessary step?

Putting Self-verification in Context

If you are willing to let a candidate verify their own award, then you might as well accept their claims to hold an award at face value.

If you wish to verify students and obtain total peace of mind, then you must conduct the verification process yourself without the candidate being involved. Anything else is less than the certainty you require and leaves you open to the risk of forged documents followed inevitably by forged verification results.

Candidates: “What happens to my data?”

With education verification checks required by many employers across the world, it is a legitimate question to ask: “What happens to my data?” In this post we explore what happens during a verification check and what you can do to make the verification process as painless as possible.

HEDD is the Higher Education Degree Datacheck – we are a central shared service for education verification for, at the time of writing, 11 partner institutions.

Although we are rapidly expanding, we presently verify all awards for:

  1. University of Manchester
  2. University of Salford
  3. University of Wolverhampton
  4. University of Nottingham
  5. University of East London
  6. University of Essex
  7. Sheffield Hallam University
  8. Imperial College London
  9. De Montfort University
  10. University of Sussex
  11. Anglia Ruskin University

If you are a student or graduate of one of these Universities, then our process starts with an employer or agency wishing to verify a your award. The Data Protection Act requires that in order to process or disclose your data, your consent is required and we require this as part of our terms of service.

Q: Are there any times when my consent is not required to disclose or process my data?

There exists one exemption under the Data Protection Act which allows data to be disclosed or processed without consent. This exemption concerns the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, or the assessment of tax.

HEDD does not process any requests without consent. Exempted requests will only be fulfilled at the discretion of your University. Universities take protecting your data very seriously and will only release your data under such an exemption to legitimate authorities, such as the police, and only with a strong qualifying reason to do so.

At some point in the employment process, you should have signed a disclosure agreement. This agreement allows your prospective employer or a third party agency to process your data in order to verify your education and your dates of attendance.

The employer will either create an account with us or log in to an existing account and submit a verification request to a partner institution. In some instances, where the data is a perfect match to records we hold locally, an instant verification can be provided.

In other instances, where a perfect data match cannot be found, it will be sent to your University for a manual verification. The University will respond to the employer or agency through the HEDD system shortly.

Universities can respond in several ways.

They can verify the enquiry, where all the information is correct. They can also partially verify the enquiry and provide amendments where some of the information is incorrect. In the event that your student record cannot be found given the information provided, a result of not verified will be returned.

We are very proactive in ensuring that the correct response is provided. Where there is concern that an enquiry which is returned not verified is in fact a false-negative, we will endeavour to seek additional information in order to provide the correct result.

Your verification result will be available to the enquirer in their secure dashboard. They will be able to access it in future should you apply for a job with an employer who uses the same agency.

How can I help the verification process?

Many screening agencies are international organisations that have to verify awards from all over the world.

In order to assist them in verifying your qualification so starting your job is not delayed, it is useful to provide the following information on your CV:

  1. Your name as it appears on your degree certificate, if your name has changed, please tell them as Universities will not have record of this and it can cause a false-negative result
  1. Your date of birth
  1. Your qualification type, examples include “Bachelor of Science”, “Master of Arts”, “Postgraduate Certificate” or “Doctor of Philosophy”.
  1. Your course name, examples include “Mechanical Engineering”, “Law”, or “Mathematics”. Again, check this against your degree certificate as the university may express it in a different way than you think.
  1. Your classification, i.e. the result you got 2:1, 2;2 etc.
  1. Your year of graduation

If you can provide the prospective employer or agency with a copy of your award certificate, this can help greatly with the verification process.

If you studied at an affiliated institutution – such as at a former UMIST academy or a subsidiary college of a University – then this is also highly relevant in assisting the verification process.

Any further questions?

You’re more than welcome to ask in the comments below and we will answer them if we can.

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