Event roundup: Qualified for the job? How to spot fake qualifications
Organised to take place as school leavers received their A Level results and university graduations were propelling newly qualified young people into the labour market, this webinar featured insights into spotting fake certificates, new ways fraudsters are targeting employers, and certain qualifications to be wary of.
Keith Rosser: Chair of the Better Hiring Institute and Director of Reed Screening
Adam Rudd: Chief Revenue Officer, Qualification Check
Chris Rea: Head of Commercial Services, Prospects Hedd
Qualification Fraud today
Keith Rosser explained that fake applications and fraud in recruitment were on the rise, as seen by screening specialists at Reed Screening and reported by members of the Better Hiring Institute (BHI). A recent survey of 1,000 UK workers found that:
- 27% lie about gaps in their employment
- 13% lie about their work experience
- And 31% are willing to lie about their salary.
Data from Cifas reveals:
- 1 in 12 Brits admit to lying about qualifications on their CV
- 1 in 6 of those aged 24 or under admit to lying
- 1 in 5 within this group see it as a reasonable thing to do.
Trends in application fraud
Right to Work fraud - Most recently, there has been a rise in people targeting Right to Work and ID checks with fake documents. Since the launch of Digital Right to Work checks, developments in technology driving improved accuracy in ID verification have meant that higher numbers of fake documents have been uncovered. However, Digital Right to Work can currently only be used by candidates who hold a valid British or Irish passport, meaning those who don’t meet this requirement must carry out a face-to-face Right to Work check. Fraudsters are taking advantage of this by obtaining fake birth certificates and bypassing the highly accurate technology-based verification, instead meeting employers face to face.
Dual Jobs – this means that people with a genuine Right to Work in the UK and the right qualifications for the job are applying for roles, accepting positions, but then passing their shifts onto someone else who goes on-site to work on their behalf. Equally, people are also registering for more than one job or employment and using others to do some of the work for them, particularly where it’s remote work.
Disguising using AI – we’re seeing instances of candidates using AI to create deepfake videos for pre-recorded interviews to disguise themselves or create new identities. We’re also seeing fraudsters using AI to generate hiring paperwork for applications that would pass vetting standards but aren’t necessarily truthful.
Fake references – Also on the rise is the use of fake references, with bogus companies being set up to generate fake references at scale for people who are trying to mask the absence of a work history or potentially mask other activities where they weren’t in work. At Reed Screening, specialists have found 15 of these companies working at scale, with large numbers of work seekers using the same companies to provide their references. For employers, the BHI offer a free document with advice on how to spot and report fake references.
Tackling the issue
The BHI is taking note of these trends and feeding them into their policies and campaigns. The Home Office is currently working on expanding Digital Right to Work to accept other documents and close the gaps in accurate verification methods.
The BHI is also working with government departments on the shareability of centrally held government data which can help employers to verify individuals’ claims. Work is currently underway to identify other datasets that can be used in future to speed up recruitment processes and close loopholes.
The use of open banking to confirm and validate CVs automatically is also being developed. This involves the use of salary payment dates to confirm the dates, employment, and salaries that candidates are providing on their CVs. This is the first step towards removing the need for a CV for work history.
Adam Rudd spoke about the work of Qualification Check, a global provider with clients in 30 different countries working in education, healthcare, migration, and regulated sectors.
The risks associated with qualification fraud can be enormous, and the recruitment market today is offering increased opportunities for fraudsters to target employers.
Employers are looking further and wider for the skills they need – as employers search nationally and internationally for new employees, this means they’re encountering qualifications from different countries, with which they are less familiar and less likely to spot fakes.
Stiff competition for well-qualified candidates – the skills shortage is pushing employers towards taking risks. The need for particular skills drives some employers to overlook certain screening procedures.
Remote working has widened the talent pool – remote working offers opportunities for fraudsters to slip through the net more easily.
Migration is diversifying candidates’ backgrounds – increased migration globally means that employers are encountering a range of different pathways to work and unfamiliar qualifications.
Types of Certificate Fraud
There are four main types of certificate fraud:
Altered certificates – this refers to a genuine certificate that has been altered slightly to up the grade, change the dates (to appear younger) or change the name. The candidate is still qualified but has adjusted the certificate to mislead employers regarding their achievement level or personal details.
Forged certificates for a real university – advanced technologies can create very convincing copies of certificates from real universities, even going so far as to include holograms and other security features.
Forged certificates for a fake university – for every real university in the UK there is a fake one created by fraudsters. For example, Newcastle University is a genuine institution, but the University of Newcastle doesn’t exist. Fraudsters will create certificates for the University of Newcastle to claim they’ve achieved a qualification that they have not.
Unaccredited institutes – these are companies selling courses to unsuspecting work seekers that offer diplomas, but the training is not accredited so there’s no way an employer can be sure of the standard of education.
Protect, Detect, Respond
Adam described ways in which employers could deal with and avoid falling victim to qualification fraud.
The best way for employers to protect their companies is to attract the good and repel the bad. Employers should try to communicate the level of screening that qualifications will undergo early in the process. While some employers worry that this presents an obstacle to good candidates, it’s often not the case. Genuine candidates will appreciate the value placed on the time, work, and money that was put into achieving their qualifications, while fraudsters are more likely to be deterred.
It's a good idea to make qualification screening policy-based, so checks are done by default, and there’s no risk of prejudice or bias affecting which candidate’s qualifications are screened.
Technology and AI have advanced to the point where adjustments to certificates and forgeries are very sophisticated and can be virtually impossible to spot visually. Therefore, it’s always best to go to the source and validate the key data points – name, grade, dates etc.
However, it’s also important to consider the context around the results of checks. For instance, an educational institution may not be able to find a candidate’s personnel records, but the certificate could still be legitimate. In the USA, for example, universities will refuse to verify someone’s credentials if they haven’t fully paid all their student fees.
Alternatively, candidates could be using their married name but have studied under their unmarried name, meaning that institutions may not be able to verify the candidate’s qualifications if they have failed to provide the correct name to the employer.
Keeping an audit log of all inquiries around verification ensures that should there be any appeal process, all communications and checks are recorded and can be referred to in any investigations.
Should a fraudulent application be discovered it’s important to communicate clearly and non-judgementally to the candidate in the first instance to ascertain whether it is fraud. The candidate may have changed their name and mistakenly provided you with the wrong one or have another legitimate reason for the institution being unable to verify their qualifications.
However, those who are committing fraud are likely to drop out of the process at this point.
It’s important to notify the institution of the incident so that they are aware of the fraud and can take any actions they feel are necessary.
For candidates whose certificates are verified, Adam explains that it’s important to make this a positive experience, and Qualification Check provide candidates with a digital wallet that confirms the certificate has been verified at source and is true and correct, which they can take throughout their career to demonstrate the authenticity of their documents.
Chris spoke about the work of HEDD, the UK higher education system’s official degree verification service. Created in 2011 to make the process of checking degrees and third-party verifications more straightforward, HEDD has investigated more than 350 fake universities.
Each fake university is listed on the HEDD database, and the situation is such that there are now more fake institutions on the database of degree-awarding bodies than there are legitimate ones; the prestige and the reputation of UK degrees make it highly desirable for fraudsters.
For employers familiar with the UK higher education system, some fake certificates are easy to spot. For instance, many UK-based employers know that “Richshire University” is not a real place, or that Surrey University is not the correct way to refer to the University of Surrey. However, that certainty diminishes for employers abroad with less familiarity with UK institutions, but a small amount of investigation can uncover the truth.
However, confusion is high around postgraduate diplomas and certificates, where the robust regulation that degrees are subject to is lacking.
Post-graduate diplomas and certificates
Degrees are tightly regulated qualifications, and therefore represent a known quantity – employers can be confident in the level of education that a degree-holding candidate has received. It is incredibly difficult for an institution for learning or education provider to obtain degree-awarding powers, and the term “university” cannot be used as a trading term without permission from the government.
However, outside of degrees, the rules are much looser, and qualifications such as postgraduate certificates and diplomas have no real framework or regulations to define their level of education. Setting up as a provider of postgraduate diplomas is relatively straightforward, and some institutions offer 3-month programmes for eyewatering sums. Work seekers, particularly those unfamiliar with the UK education system, are liable to fall victim to paying inordinate sums for qualifications that are unquantifiable and not as valuable to employers as other university-offered diplomas or certificates.
Spotting untrustworthy providers
Many institutions offering bogus or overpriced postgraduate diplomas trade on spurious credentials. For example, institutions might state that they are UKRLP accredited – this simply means that they have registered as a learning provider, and it doesn’t indicate any sort of ongoing monitoring or assessment of the quality of the training provided. A training provider who uses their registration as a major credential is a red flag for students and employers alike.
Another bolstering of baseless credentials often adopted by bogus institutions includes using their registration with Companies House as meaning they are validated and authorised by the UK government, and claiming partnerships with international organisations, that have no premises or obvious establishment.
It’s important to investigate a company’s address and contact information. One example that Chris gave was an institution whose contact address was a mailbox office, showing that no such institution existed and that many poor unwitting candidates were conned out of large sums of money.
Chris expressed that increased regulation and control was required around these sorts of institutions, but until then employers needed to be looking closely at the qualifications that candidates are claiming, and ensure thorough investigations take place as a matter of course.
Insights from our attendees
We took the opportunity to get a gauge of the experiences and opinions of our attendees.
Would you feel confident identifying a fraudulent document?
No – 41%
Unsure - 41%
Yes – 19%
Have you ever seen application fraud in the hiring process?
Yes – 62%
Unsure – 20%
No – 18%
Which of the following methods of application fraud do you see the most?
Fake references – 24%
Fake qualifications – 23%
Interview/application coaching – 16%
Dual jobs – 10%
Fake identity – 6%
With the vast majority of our attendees being unsure of how to identify a fraudulent document, it’s clear that fraud detection training and increased awareness of document fraud would be beneficial for many employers.
With over three-fifths of our attendees confirming that they’d encountered application fraud, it’s clear that this growing problem is not going away and demonstrates the scale of the problem.
At almost a quarter each, fake references and fake qualifications are the most common types of application fraud among our attendees, showing that there’s a need for more technology-based solutions to tackle these problems.
Questions from our attendees
As usual, our attendees had a raft of questions for our presenters. We’ve included the most popular questions and answers below:
What is your advice on how employers can verify college qualifications and then perhaps more awkwardly, verify local training provider-type qualifications?
Adam: It is definitely a trickier area because the good thing is as Chris has mentioned, a lot of the universities and degree-level providers have processes in place. They have databases in place like the HEDD database and other providers out there. They are a lot more set in their processes. So going to them and verifying that information is becoming more widespread, and there are more global databases with this sort of information as well. I kind of feel like we're always a little bit behind the US, but the US have the centralised database that holds all their academic records. I feel like that's slowly moving its way here, very slowly. But going down to college and high school level, it’s very archaic. You tend to find each individual institute has its own set process.
Actually, it goes back to the basic principle of you've got to reach out to the source. You need to validate that the person you speak to at the source is the right person to speak to, but it will take a little bit longer and it will be a bit more troublesome because generally they only have records in a filing cabinet somewhere. They're not really as online as a lot of the universities are.
Chris: I mean it's the case that the deeper it goes down the line, if you like, the more fragmented it gets. I think if we're still struggling for majority use of checking degrees by employers, then you know that there are so many reasons that make it difficult for recruiters to look at lower-level qualifications. And I think that just widens the fraud gap. I think if you know the likelihood is that it's going to be too time-consuming and difficult for the recruiter, the verifier, whoever the entity is to make that check, the more likely it is you're going to get through on fake credentials if you're inclined to do that.
I think the sheer volume of certificates, documents, licences and training requirements that exist, I think it's overwhelming, it's very hard and the answer has to be, like you say, it's always that there's no excuse not to go to the source, but how easy it is to do that in some cases, who knows? Because not every organisation or certification or qualification provider makes it obvious how you actually check the validity of those qualifications. It's not always as straightforward as what I call higher-level qualifications. It's not. And systems like HEDD and Qualification Check and others provide that kind of portal and way in.
Are there any portals to check overseas qualifications available?
Adam: It will depend on the country and in some countries even by region or state. So I think the US do lead the way. They have the Student Clearing House which is a centralised database that you can go in and validate information. Then as you move your way around the globe, the further East you go the less likely that is sadly. But there are some. It's just knowing which for the Institute because some countries will have some that only cover certain institutes.
Any advice if qualifications can't be checked at source?
Adam: You can get mitigating evidence. I guess this comes down to a company's risk and what they're willing to accept. I'm aware that some companies say, well, I've just viewed the certificate. My recommendation is always, if you really want to be double sure, it's always going to the source. Every source will have a process to do that. It is just going to require a little bit more work and effort in order to get that done.
Digital hiring is a fast-moving area, with new developments happening all the time. Reed Screening is hosting regular events where you can keep up to date with the latest news and share your opinion on policy and process changes.
Below are a few of the upcoming events you can get involved with:
28th September - A year of digital right to work - where do we go from here? - Join us to hear from the UK Home Office and industry experts on what you need to know now and in the future surrounding right to work.
26th October – Digitising Employee Screening - Join us to hear from the UK government & experts on the latest to do with digitising employment.
23rd November – Making UK hiring the fastest globally – Join us as we spotlight Reed Screenings’ collaborative campaigns with industry and the UK government to make UK hiring the fastest globally.