Investigation uncovers large-scale purchasing of online fake degrees

The importance of verifying employee qualifications has been reiterated following the reveal of large-scale purchasing of fake degrees online.

Does your new starter have that all important diploma, or is their degree a first or a 2:1? It would seem the real question is, can you be sure it is even real? This is a question all organisations should be asking themselves as an investigation uncovers the significant number of fake degree certificates being purchased online.

As revealed by BBC Radio 4’s File on Four programme, thousands of individuals in the UK have purchased fraudulent degree certificates online from a Pakistan-based “diploma mill”. The company, Axact, advertises courses from a number of fictional universities, such as ‘Brooklyn Park University’ and ‘Nixon University’. Documents show around 3,000 false qualifications, including Masters, PhDs and doctorates, have been purchased by UK-based individuals in 2013 and 2014. These include purchases by consultants, psychologists, nurses and other healthcare professionals. In one case, a British engineer living in Saudi Arabia is believed to have spent close to half a million pounds on fake qualifications.

As current UK legislation states organisations only have to check employees’ right to work and criminal records, qualifications can be overlooked. The Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) also suggest the likelihood of qualifications being checked decreases as an individual becomes more senior or has lengthy experience. A recent case involving a top London barrister who fraudulently claimed to own degrees from Harvard and Oxford shows seniority does not necessarily ensure credible qualifications.

It is important organisations are aware of this issue and are carrying out the necessary due diligence; conducting appropriate pre-recruitment checks to ensure qualifications are legitimate. There are websites available for organisations to check the validity of degrees and qualifications, however, HEDD believe organisations are not utilising these resources sufficiently, with 1 in 3 organisations admitting they have never checked qualifications of job candidates.

To allow organisations to carry out appropriate checks, candidates can be asked to bring evidence of their qualifications to their interview, with a copy taken to be put on their file. In certain sectors, organisations could face penalties from the regulatory bodies if it comes to light staff did not possess the correct qualifications legally required to work in that particular field, especially where the individual’s role involves invasive, skilled or dangerous work associated with the general public. It will be good practice to ensure any offer of employment in these sectors are made conditional on the verification of their qualifications.

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