Fake qualifications scandal highlights need for pre-employment screening

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The issue of fake qualifications has hit the headlines this week, with a BBC investigation finding that thousands of UK nationals have bought fake degrees from a ‘diploma mill’ in Pakistan.

Axact exposed as a ‘diploma mill’

Radio 4’s File on Four programme found that NHS consultants, nurses and a large defence contractor were among those buying bogus degrees from the multi-million pound Karachi-based company Axact. The fake qualifications included masters degrees, doctorates and PhDs. Former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who has been investigating Axact, told the BBC programme that the ‘credential conscious’ society we now live in had presented opportunities for the fraudsters. “So long as paper has a value, there’s going to be somebody that counterfeits it and prints it and sells it,” he said. “Employers are not doing their due diligence in checking out the papers, so it makes it work.”

Cracking down on degree fraud

The Department for Education said it was taking “decisive action to crack down on degree fraud” that “cheats genuine learners”. But employers themselves also need to wise up and make efforts to ensure candidates’ claims about their qualifications are genuine. Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) chief executive Jayne Rowley said only 20 per cent of UK employers ran proper checks on applicants’ qualifications. In fact, an astonishing 63 per cent of internal fraud cases centre around job applications where people have lied about their experience or qualifications.

Employers beware

The Employee Fraudscape Survey, published by CIFAS (the UK’s fraud prevention service) shows that education tops the list of areas where job-seekers fabricate information. People claim to have a higher grade than they actually achieved, for example, or say they have done a particular course, when in reality they started but never completed it. This kind of falsification can have huge implications for employers – in terms of performance standards, employee morale and not least damage to corporate reputation. For those industries where professional qualifications are mandatory (legal and financial sectors for example) it poses more serious regulatory and compliance risks, and could even open the organisation up to claims of malpractice.

How pre-employment screening can help

Thorough pre-employment screening can help mitigate these risks. Educational qualification verifications are a core part of standard pre-employment checks and can give employers reassurance that their preferred candidate has the necessary experience and qualifications to do the job. Another important step towards preventing fraudulent applications is to make candidates aware that lying during the recruitment process will have serious consequences. Many people think that being less than truthful about their qualifications doesn’t matter because they will be able to prove themselves on the job. Or, in the case of more mature applicants, they think their qualifications are so far back employers won’t bother, or won’t be able, to check.

Screening as a deterrent

What most people don’t realise, however, is that knowingly making a false statement in order to obtain employment is a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006, and carries a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine. Just being aware of that information and knowing their CV will be rigorously checked is often enough to deter someone from lying. For an employer, however, the suspicion that a potential hire is being less than honest in their application should raise a red flag. If someone feels the need to lie about their background or qualifications, will they actually be capable of fulfilling the role? And more to the point, what does that say about their integrity or the level of trust you can place in them as an employee?

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