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Background Screening and Academic Fraud

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If you’ve ever seen the movie “Catch Me If You Can” starring Leonardo di Caprio, you’ll be familiar with the concept of academic fraud. Leo plays the real-life fraudster Frank Abagnale, a serial offender who fakes qualifications and talked himself into a range of job including almost 11 months spent as a consultant paediatrician. Part of the reason why the movie was so successful was the outrageous nature of the lies and deception. However, most of us recognised that there was a grain of truth in the story. People fake qualifications and lie on their CVs all the time. It’s not seen as a serious misdemeanour.


Fake Degrees

We’ve moved on a bit since Frank Abagnale was rustling up fake certificates in the 1960s. But modern technology makes it easier than ever to print off a fake qualification or home or use the internet to find someone who is happy to do it for you. This is especially in issue in highly specialised professions, where organisations are looking to recruit people with niche skills in technology, medicine or law. How can you spot a fake qualification? HR managers are not usually trained document examiners. However, there is a range of tools which employers can use to spot the real certificates from the fakes.

  • Font and Design – fraudsters often think that using a very fancy Gothic-style font and ornate design makes a qualification look more genuine. Most universities have moved to modern design for their degree certificates. Look online to find genuine examples for comparison.
  • Language – Even the most traditional universities print degree certificates in English, so if you’re looking at a certificate in Latin, or using arcane, flowery language, alarm bells might start ringing.
  • Security features – Universities employ many of the same security devices as other official documents, like watermarked paper or embossed seals. Check these are present in the documents you have been given.
  • Google the university – If you have been given a certificate from a university you are unfamiliar with, Google them. Put the postcode into street view to see if it really exists or ring them up and have a chat.
  • Look at the domain name. A key giveaway for fake universities is that they use the .ac domain name, which is Ascension Island rather than the domain which is reserved for proper academic institutions.
  • Wording – although you might say you went to “Glasgow University” in everyday speech, your certificate will say “The University of Glasgow” instead. Any certificate using the other type of wording may well be fake.
  • Authentication – it can be hard to track down universities even within the UK as so many colleges, universities and other polytechnics have merged over time. HEDD – the Higher Education Degree Datacheck has a “family tree” of higher education so you can check who has merged with who.

The advice is never to suspicious of everyone and every piece of paper. But recruiters are advised to bear in mind that not everyone is who they say they are, and a little time spent checking at the recruitment stage could pay off in the long run.