Connecting...

Qualification fraud – a growing challenge for businesses and recruiters

Keith Rosser, director of Reed Screening, discusses the rise in qualification fraud from prospective employees at all seniorities and how employers can combat it.

Did you hear about the hospital board director who lied about his degree?

Or the oil executive on £120,000 a year who was jailed after fabricating three degrees?

How about the HR worker who lied about having an MA and went on to defraud his employer of almost £50,000?

You might think that qualification fraud is rare. Unfortunately, the reality is more concerning – this fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread across all levels of seniority, according to the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (Cifas).

What is qualification fraud?

Qualification fraud can take many forms. The most common form is potential employees making false claims about their university education – degree fraud. This can be a small tweak, such as changing a 2:2 into a 2:1 on a CV, all the way through to bogus universities offering online degrees for a fee.

An online, shadow university industry, offers numerous fraudulent qualification services. They range from the production of fake degree certificates purporting to be from real institutions, to far more complex operations, including ecosystems of bogus universities. These ecosystems charge fees for fake qualifications, drawing in both unwitting applicants who genuinely believe they are enrolling for a degree, and those who know the course is fake but will happily use a counterfeit degree from an official looking institution.  

These schemes have mushroomed, with software company Axact’s 370+ bogus institutions perhaps the most shocking example. The most sophisticated of these even have their own verification options, hoodwinking employers who think they are doing the right thing by verifying a prospective employee’s qualification.

This fraud is driven by the competition for jobs - with applicants seeking advantages over other candidates. The high cost of university tuition is also a factor, with bogus courses asking for fees which are a fraction of normal university tuition costs.

Why does qualification fraud matter?

If someone shows the right aptitude for the role, does it matter if they lied on their CV or presented a fake degree?

‘Tweaking’ a degree grade on a CV may seem minor when compared to buying a fake degree certificate. However, they are both classed as qualification fraud. As with the cases above, anyone found to have lied about their qualifications, including on their CV, can be prosecuted for ’fraud by misrepresentation’ and imprisoned for up to 10 years.

This stringent punishment reflects the seriousness of lying about qualifications. While some types of fraud can seem minor, there are other cases where underqualified employees can pose a genuine risk. Would you want to be treated by an unqualified medical professional? Or see criminal trials influenced by untrained forensic scientists?

There is also the principle of fairness. Someone who has bought a fake degree or exaggerated their qualifications could be employed over someone who has put years of work into passing a qualification and undergone plenty of training.

All organisations would rather hire the candidate who has worked for their qualification rather than the one who has cheated. They can only have this clarity by checking qualifications during the recruitment process.

How can qualification fraud be prevented?

Despite being a complex environment, the prevention of qualification fraud is actually very simple. All employers need to do is check if the issuing body is genuine, then verify the qualification with that body. This should be done for every potential employee, as even applicants who have previously held high-ranking positions may have lied about their qualifications.

Asking for evidence from a potential employee (e.g. for them to bring in their certificate) may seem to be enough to root out fraud. However, if a candidate presented an authentic-looking counterfeit certificate from either a real or fake institution, would you be able to tell the difference?

The only organisation which can truly confirm whether a qualification is genuine is the body that issued it. A candidate vetting service like Reed Screening, will always check that an applicant’s qualifications are correct.

Employing someone, particularly at a senior level, who has lied about their qualifications can cause reputational damage, financial loss, or in some cases even leads to risk of harm. This is a very high price to pay for something which is simple to check.

Reed Screening is a UK based, 24/7 onshore pre-employment screening service. We have reduced time to hire and worked with the Home Office to change UK Right to Work legislation. As part of the UK's largest family-run recruitment business, Reed Screening performs vetting for all staff types to protect businesses from reputational and financial risk.

If you are looking for more information about qualification checks and other pre-employment screening services, contact Reed Screening on 0161 833 8855.