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.

 

 

Check please!

My apologies for the online absence. I have brought a note. Anyway – how’ve you been?

It’s been a tremendously busy summer and autumn on HEDD. We have welcomed Surrey and Nottingham Trent Universities into the HEDD family and we’re processing record numbers of checks every week. I’d like to think that our campaigning efforts to encourage checks are having an effect, but sadly our latest research tells a different tale.

A third of employers are still taking CVs at face value and don’t request degree certificates from job applicants.

Of those who request certificates, 76% assume they are legitimate and don’t verify them with the issuing university and 32% accept copies rather than original documents.

Many businesses, particularly when recruiting graduates, invest significantly in sophisticated application tracking, assessment centres, psychometric testing and so on, but it seems only a few verify qualifications as part of that process.

Many of us want to believe that people are telling the truth, so we place our trust in references, applications and interviews. With a low perception of the frequency and risks of qualification fraud it’s easy to become complacent.

This is totally at odds with the views of students and graduates when we asked them. Three quarters said they expect employers to check their qualifications and 82% would like to see verification compulsory. (So would we, if I’m honest).

Graduates are used to rigorous checks by UCAS pre-university and to having their academic work verified by plagiarism detection software to prevent cheating, What a shame the same rigour isn’t in place for job applications and employment.

Fake Britain

If you stuck around after BBC Breakfast today you will have seen the issue of fake certificates and degree fraud covered on the BBC1 consumer programme Fake Britain.

it’s no longer on BBC iPlayer, but you can catch our segment on YouTube, if you missed it.

Jayne explaining a fake certificate
Jayne explaining a fake certificate

It demonstrates the consequences of fraud and looks in more detail at the case of Julia Rawlinson, the Torquay ‘teacher’ we have mentioned before here on the blog. It discusses the effects on the pupils she was preparing for exams at the time when she was arrested and the possible consequences for them of not getting the grades due to their inadequate teacher. We talk to some current students about their views.

We also show some fake certificates and expose the sophistication of the degree mills combining provision of fake documents with verification websites like the fake University of Wolverhamton where you can use the certificate student ID to get a verification online.

It was an excellent example of clear, serious consumer journalism.

Sadly our Rogues Gallery of fake certificates grows bigger by the week. The latest culprit is a mash up of one university’s name and the crest and signatures from another. On the one hand it’s great to catch the culprits, but depressing in the frequency of the occurrences.

 

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I recently interviewed some students whilst filming for a BBC Documentary on degree fraud. Yes, we’re going to be on TV – more about that later.

Their views were fascinating and encouraging. They also had a take on things which I hadn’t considered.

The most common questions we get asked on HEDD are about data protection and student consent, when universities are joining. I hope the points below convince them that their students are more than happy to be part of HEDD.

The Student Perspective:

Unaware that their degree qualifications are not checked with their universities by 80% of major graduate employers. For ME’s and SME’s the figure is undoubtedly much higher. They were shocked by this, frankly. They had no idea employers would rely on paper credentials without verifying with the issuing university.

Unaware of the levels or types of degree fraud – as you might expect – no-one is.

Appalled at bogus universities, fake certificates, grade inflation claims. 

View it as the university’s responsibility to do something. They felt the universities had a duty of care to ensure their interests are protected.

Completely comfortable with having their student record data in a central database available for checking.  They were proud of their study and achievements and had no objections even to the extent of publishing them.

Came up with the concept of HEDD unprompted – ‘there should be a central database where you can check everyone’ – I was happy to fill them in on what we’re doing.

Want the Government to make it mandatory – ‘the Government should make universities do it’.

Frustrated that their pre-university qualifications were rigorously checked by UCAS with software checks on their personal statements and academic submissions to prevent cheating; but that no such rigour applies to their job applications and employment. I’d never considered this at all, but they are right.

Related this point to their financial investment in HE and expectations of how that is protected. This week’s figures showing the levels of expected debt with the high fees make this point really hit home.

We’ll be passing on these comments to colleagues in universities and to employers. I’m happy to let the students make the case for us.

How to spot a fake UK university

Universities in the United Kingdom have a high reputation of academic excellence. It is no wonder then that ne’er do wells would want to utilise that reputation for their own ends. The UK is home to hundreds of awarding institutions. How do you tell what’s a real UK university and what is not?

In the United Kingdom, the Education Reform Act [1] makes it an offence to claim to offer UK degrees (the title of Bachelor, Master, or Doctor)  without the authority to do so.

When considering UK study or verification a UK qualification, the first port of call is to determine whether that institution is a legitimate degree awarding body. For an institution to award UK degrees, it must either be a recognised body (which has degree awarding powers in its own right) or a listed body (who issues degrees through a recognised body).

Are they on the list?

The first port of call would be to search in the HEDD University Lookup Service for the institution at our home page. Our institution list contains all the recognised bodies in the UK, antecedent institutions, some listed bodies, and some bogus institutions.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills also provides lists of recognised and listed bodies within the UK which could be your second port of call. These lists are complete but do not contain antecedent institutions or bogus institutions [2].

What if the institution you are looking to study at or verify from does not appear on these lists? Does that mean it is not a legitimate institution?

Not necessarily and this is because institutions come and go – it could be an old institution or a relatively new one. Recently for example, the University of South Wales is a newly created university which resulted from a merger between Glamorgan University and Newport University [3]. As a result, Newport and Glamorgan will disappear from the BIS list, but they were still legitimate degree awarding bodies in the UK and degrees awarded by them will always be legitimate.

There are some tell-tale signs that should ring alarm bells. One of them is that they do not appear on official recognised or listed body lists. Here are some of the others:

Using the .ac domain name

The top-level domain for the Ascension Islands is “.ac” and what this means is that when you type the address into your web-browser, the suffix will be .ac (example http://www.fakeuniversity.ac).

Many bogus institutions are registered with a .ac address because the Ascension Islands does not put any restrictions on using the .ac domain name.

The reason this is a problem is that the top-level domain used by legitimate educational institutions in the uk is .ac.uk. The .ac.uk domain is tightly regulated and registration is only open to those who have a legitimate reason to use this. Naturally, being an illegitimate degree awarding body is not a legitimate reason to use the .ac.uk domain.

As such, a good indicator that an institution is legitimate is that they have a .ac.uk domain. Any other domain, especially .ac, but also .com, .net, .org, etc, might indicate that something isn’t quite right.

Using fake names and addresses

Many bogus institutions will use fake names or addresses. This plays on the idea that nobody is actually going to check these details.

Our recommendation is to check their bricks and mortar address on Google Maps and ask yourself “Does this look like a university?”. Our experience with looking at the physical address of these institutions is they are either not real addresses or for private residences more suited to housing a small family rather than an institution with UK university status.

One bogus institution listed their address as Galway, Dublin. Galway and Dublin are two cities which are hundreds of miles apart. It does not make sense.

Where there is a suspicion the certificate is fake, it is worth checking the names on the certificate. This includes the registrar who, we find, either does not exist or was not the registrar at the time when the award was purported to be granted.

Poor English

Aesthetically, many of the sites look like they could be legitimate institutions. However, if you look closely at the spelling and grammar you will notice that it is unlikely the author passed their GCSE English. Spelling and grammar are not high on the priorities for illegitimate institutions.

This may be that the sites are designed to target those whose first language is not English. These kinds of mistakes might be missed by a non-native speaker, but they are a dead giveaway for us.

One particular website spelled “Registry” as “Regestry”. Fake certificates often contain spelling mistakes, such as “postgraduate sutdent” or “certified ture copy”.

Promises of Education without Study

The biggest giveaway is a promise of education without study. In the UK, the scope to receive any honour – Bachelor, Master, or Doctor – without study or supervised research is very limited.

As such, any institution which, as a matter of course, claims to offer awards without study is undoubtedly illegitimate.


1. Education Reform Act 1988: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/40/section/214

2. BIS Recognised Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-recognised-bodies
BIS Listed Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-listed-bodies.

3. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/university-south-wales-launches-today-2582465#.UWbU81nRWSc.twitter

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.