Event Roundup: Qualified for the job? How to spot fake qualifications

Event Roundup: Qualified for the job? How to spot fake qualifications

In our most recent webinar, we spoke to leaders in the qualification verification technology industry about the dangers of qualification fraud in hiring, and how to identify fabricated educational and training claims.

Presenting were:

Chris Rea, lead on HEDD, Jisc’s degree verification and qualification fraud services.

Ed Hall, CEO of Qualification Check which he founded in 2009.

Keith Rosser, Home Office ECHO committee member, Chair of the CRBT, BHI chair and director of Reed Screening

Qualifications in the current recruitment landscape
A recent report by the CIPD that showed that 76% of employers are still asking candidates for qualifications. 57% of employers are asking for degree level qualifications only, and it's implied that a number of those are doing it solely for the purposes of sifting. However, the challenge with asking for qualifications during the recruitment process, is how do we know that people are telling the truth?

It's important to note that qualifications should not be limited to just educational qualifications – it can also mean training certificates, broader micro-skills, and also experience, which is often verified through CVs.

Not all sectors require candidates to hold qualifications to the same degree:

Limited – this includes roles in creative industries, hospitality, and retail – qualification data in these sectors is generally only used for sifting.

Partial – roles in construction, engineering, and the public sector, where qualifications in the relevant subject are an important indicator of competency and knowledge.

Enhanced – this is where the possession of the relevant qualifications is a safeguarding matter, and is integral to the job. This includes roles in health, pharmaceuticals, finance, and education.

How widespread is qualification fraud?

According to recent data, it’s estimated that 40% of people lie on their CVs.

In a survey of 1000 workers, it was found that:

27.1% lie about gaps in their CV

31.4% are willing to lie about salary

12.9% lie about work experience

11.4% lie about their previous responsibilities

This shows that in the current recruitment landscape, there’s an appetite for embellishing the truth on CVs and in applications. However, lies in a job application are considered fraud, and could cost candidates the job if employers check and vet properly.

Qualification fraud is a growing issue, particularly as we digitise the recruitment and hiring process. Many employers aren't meeting candidates face to face as regularly, and original documents and paper documents are often only seen online, which makes validation more challenging.

Additionally, certificates from training organisations are often print-outs, easily forged, and very challenging to validate, while it can be difficult to prove the legitimacy of training organisations, particularly those that are not providing university level qualifications.

Innovations to combat qualification fraud

We are seeing an increased interest in online and automatic validation of qualifications and credentials. There are different models that are developing and exploring it, for example in the US the Velocity Foundation is working to digitize credentials onto a blockchain and have employers share information about people's credentials so they can be automatically verified.
UK ENIC, which post Brexit is what became of UK NARIC have a number of ways of being able to validate certain qualifications and information.

The Better Hiring Institute is currently working with academics in the UK and technology platforms to identify ways of digitising qualifications, from college level, school level and training, and at the moment are performing user testing. They are working on industry standards and how it could work in terms of validating qualifications and certificates, as well as looking at running a pilot with the Scottish Government in 2023.  

HEDD – tackling bogus universities and fake qualifications

Chris Rea spoke about HEDD, which is the UK higher education’s official degree verification service. Launched in 2011, they work with universities, embassies, employers and background screening agencies to provide secure online degree verification.

They also operate a degree fraud reporting service on behalf of the Department for Education and the Office for Students and work with agencies such as the national Fraud Intelligence Bureau, City of London police, domain providers and other agencies to help shut down fake operators.

To date, they have identified 350 bogus institutions, and have closed 85 of them, as well as collected more than 400 fake certificates.

There are some incredibly convincing fake certificates in circulation. Because UK degrees are desirable internationally, there’s a lot of money to be made in the certificate forgery business, and perpetrators often invest large amounts of money into keeping up with latest technology and devices that universities use for their own highly secure documents.

There are also less convincing forgeries that do sometimes end up in personnel departments and HR files because they haven’t been looked at closely enough.

As well as faked certificates from genuine educational institutions, employers should also be wary of qualifications from bogus universities, which are very widespread: for each genuine university, there’s a fake, “shadow” university.

There are a number of ways to spot bogus universities:

Reordered names, i.e. instead of The University of Manchester, fake certificates may come from Manchester University.

Fake universities in real counties, for example Rutland University – it doesn’t exist but sounds plausible.

Fake universities in fake counties – if an overseas employer isn’t familiar with UK geography, made up places such as the example Chris gave, Richshire University, might sound plausible.

Many fake providers can be found in the HEDD database, as well as genuine universities who have changed their name.

For example, if an employer or screening agency has a degree certificate from Leeds Polytechnic, the HEDD database will confirm that it is now managed by and has become Leeds Beckett University.

It’s less clear cut, however, in the more nebulous, uncertain area where it's not clear what is illegitimate, where regulation is less stringent and where entities and education providers trade openly and provide certificates and courses of study for which it's not entirely clear where they sit in the legitimacy framework. Often these institutions are based outside of the UK and are therefore difficult to investigate or close down fully, however, they are often connected to numerous other dubious establishments, and lack credibility in certain areas.

Institutions offering post graduate diplomas should also be looked at with caution by employers, as although they are offering training legally, they are often not providing training to the level that fully accredited universities are, and the diplomas they offer are subject to far less regulation than degrees.

Setting up as a provider of diplomas is very easy, and companies can charge huge amounts of money for diplomas that actually mean very little in terms of qualification or real training. Just because a provider has a UKRLP designation, doesn't say anything about the quality or even the legitimacy of the qualifications being provided.

International qualification fraud

We are currently experiencing a competitive, candidate led employment market, and employers are finding it more and more difficult to attract the qualified candidates they need. Looking to recruit from Europe is now more difficult because of Brexit and the rescinding of freedom of movement benefits. Therefore, employers are looking further afield to emerging markets from where perhaps they don’t have expertise or experience recruiting, and are unsure about verifying qualifications and the whole compliance landscape.

For example, the NHS have committed to recruiting 50,000 nurses before 2026, and there's also a shortage of 20,000 doctors within the NHS. Many will need to be recruited from overseas, and this becoming common in many other sectors, including the construction industry, engineering, teaching, technology, and financial services.

Because of all of these pressures to recruit, employers are more vulnerable to fraud. They may be speeding up their recruitment processes and overlooking certain parts of compliance, which leaves them open to the fraudsters.

The common forms of fraud include:

A candidate embellishing the grades or level of qualifications they actually received, i.e. lying and saying that the third that they achieved was actually a 1st class honours degree.

A candidate lies about the institution they studied at. What is often found is that when a candidate is going to lie to that extent, they’re likely to lie even bigger. For example, fraudsters are more likely to claim they achieved a MBA from Harvard, as opposed to a 2:2 from an obscure university.

A candidate has paid for a qualification and spent time studying, but the institution was not accredited, and the qualification is in fact worthless.

Building a robust qualification verification process

Including a robust qualification verification process in your recruitment operations does not mean you need to negatively affect your candidate experience.

Don’t trust a certificate – certificate forgery is widespread and can be very convincing. Always go deeper and carry out further checks.

Check the validity of the institution to ensure it’s not a diploma mill or a bogus university.

Contact the student records department with the correct fields of information and a consent form from the candidate. If an international institution, contact them preferably in the local language. They can then access their database and respond to you in a fully auditable way, so that if there's any query over the validity of that verification, you know you've got a full audit trail.

There are other tools that can be used instead of going directly to the institution. For example, HEDD in the UK, Student Clearinghouse in the USA, Duo in the Netherlands, Europass in the EU, and other institutes across the world.

Insights from our attendees

We took the opportunity to get a gauge on the experiences and opinions of our attendees.

Do you check qualifications as part of your hiring process?

Yes – 72%

No – 25%

Plan to – 2%

Have you ever unearthed an employee who has falsified or elaborated qualification details?

Yes – 45%

No – 45%

Don’t know – 9%

Would you check qualifications if there was a secure, fast & easy way to do so?

Yes – 90%

No – 0%

Would consider – 9%

Almost three quarters of respondents already check qualifications as part of the hiring process, while 45% had unearthed an employee who was being dishonest about their qualification details. All of our respondents would consider using a qualification verification service if it was fast, secure, and easy.

What happens next?

Digital hiring is a fast-moving area, and with many details still to be confirmed, Reed Screening is hosting regular events where you can stay up to date with the latest developments and share your opinion on the new processes.

Below are a few of the upcoming events you can get involved with: 

1st September – Live event with UK Home Office - A free webinar covering the latest developments within Home Office and UK GOV impacting right to work checks for employers. We also have law firm, Sheridans with us focusing on the changes over the last 12 months such as BRP changes, skills visas, and sponsorship.

29th September - Insider fraud – Fake documents in recruitment - With the developments in tech, ID fraud continues to plague UK employers. Join us to find out how to remove identity fraud from your hiring