Pre-employment vetting: First Class Dishonours – why you should give new employees the third degree.

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One of the services we are called upon to provide in our work as private investigators, is that of pre-employment screening. We’ve undertaken work for well-known companies recruiting top CEOs, for charities, NGOs and government departments.

There’s not much we haven’t seen – the candidate in line for a top job at an international charity who we discovered had a less than savoury pastime; the successful prospective employee whose CV forged an illustrious path in big business but who omitted to mention the somewhat crooked road he had taken along the way, and we have lost count of the number of potential recruits whose glittering academic degrees have proved to be tawdry fakes.

So we were not surprised to read in the Guardian this week, an article revealing that more than 30 fake UK universities have been shut down in the last year.

The fraud perpetuated by these institutions is two-fold. In some cases, students undertake an online course with a “university” in good faith, usually paying large sums of money, and are awarded a completely worthless “degree” at the end of it. The institution in question has no authority to award a degree whatsoever. They are not affiliated to any UK university, nor recognised by any UK Higher Education body, Instead, they are simply vehicles to extort cash from their unsuspecting victims. Often, the fake university will have a glossy website with images of an impressive campus and extensive facilities. In reality, they can be nothing more than a PO Box.

Then there is the prospective employee whose real academic career is not quite what their prospective employer is looking for. The top job they seek perhaps asks for a PhD, or at least a Master’s in Engineering, for example, But our poor job-seeker only has a third class degree in geography. What to do? The answer for some is easy: the good old internet has the solution. For those willing to pay for a quick fix, any number of bogus institutions can sell you a fake degree online, complete with a certificate with a convincing name, and even a nice Latin motto thrown in for good measure.

You may think such fraud would be easy to spot. But the truth is, it goes largely unnoticed. Only 20% of employers actually bother to check a candidate’s degree with the awarding institution. Many don’t even ask to see a degree certificate.

In our ever-increasing reliance on the internet for everything, the rise in online academic institutions – of which some are bona fide – together with the government’s plan to increase the speed with which new academic providers with no track record can award degrees, can only mean that this kind of fraud will grow.

And it is a crime that is not restricted to the UK. Many fake colleges and universities have a global presence. It is easy to set up a fake website from anywhere in the world, easy to persuade those desperate or unscrupulous enough to part with their cash to further their careers, easy to con the unsuspecting student to undertake an expensive online course on the promise of a degree at the end of it. What is difficult it would seem, is for employers to notice when this is happening.

If you want to read more about this, have a look at the article in today’s Guardian

And if you want to be sure you are employing the right person with the right degree, you can always call us.