We already advise graduates not to post pictures of their degree certificates online – the ‘Twitter Selfie’ as we like to call it. Not only does this reveal personal information about an individual it also gives fraudsters perfect templates to create, sell and/or use fake degree certificates.
A suspicious certificate was reported to the HEDD fraud team this week by our verification team as the dates on the certificate did not match the years the course was run.
A Google image search revealed a potential source of the fake certificate to be the university’s own online shop. The institution in question offers an online service to its graduates to purchase replacement certificates, transcripts and letters of verification and has sample images of the documents on its website.
The assumption is that the image will only be seen by students visiting the page.
The truth is that it joins the infinite internet universe of searchable images to be copied, saved and used by anyone with access to an online device.
We have contacted colleagues at the university to advise them to remove the images and we’re urging other universities to do the same.
We’ve spoken before about the appalling trade in fake degree certificates on eBay for as little as £6.95.
We decided to do some consumer research, ordering 2 fake degree certificates – a Masters in Astrophysics and Space Technology (just so I can say it’s not rocket science) and a PhD in Quantum Mechanics.
The certificates, complete with holograms would pass muster to the untrained eye.
That’s the problem with degree certificates; genuine ones have excellent security features to prevent fraud, but if an employer doesn’t know this, then a £7 fake may well be accepted, unless the employer checks with the awarding body. Asking the university is the only way to be certain.
The positive feedback scores and recommendations mount up as we try to put pressure on eBay to act. We report sellers through eBay’s reporting function, but with no response from them as yet. As of today, there are over 25 listings for fake certificates.
The seller of the certificates we bought helpfully included a label with his name and address on the envelope. We have passed everything over to Trading Standards.
Today the University of Cambridge got on the case and have committed to pursuing eBay sellers of fake Cambridge certificates using eBay’s VeRO programme which protects intellectual property rights. We are right behind them and will help in any way we can.
Amazon, on the other hand have already stepped up. They monitor and take immediate action to remove fake certificates from their marketplace. They couldn’t be more helpful and we’re grateful to them for taking this seriously.
We like to think of them as The ‘A’ Team of online retailers.
Companies and websites selling novelty awards and certificates have been around a long time. For around £30 you can pimp your collection of awards as an ego boost or a prank.
But if they’re offering more than a ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ certificate, and claim to be providing ‘replacement’ or ‘novelty’ degree certificates, it’s a different matter.
Disclaimers on the websites advising that these are novelty items only and should not be used to misrepresent the bearer are not enough to legitimise their business and they run the risk of prosecution and even jail for a variety of offences e.g.
- producing counterfeit qualification certificates which bear registered trade marks without the consent of the trade mark proprietors contrary to the Trade Marks Act 1994,
- infringing copies of a copyright work contrary to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988,
- and other offences contrary to the Fraud Act 2006.
We are particulary appalled by one site offering replacement certificates for over 50 UK universities. It also has an eBay store and a Facebook page. The eBay store shows feedback from satisfied customers, with their eBay identity. (I hope they weren’t planning on using the certificates for nefarious purposes now their cover has been blown.)
I’m not mentioning names, as we are working with Trading Standards to shut them down and prosecute the proprietor. We’ll reveal all once action has been taken. We have notifed the universities.
Interestingly enough the proprietor was jailed four years ago for exactly the same offences.
Clearly a period of reflection at Her Majesty’s Pleasure hasn’t taught them anything.