A quick google search of ‘fake qualifications in Australia’ returns pages upon pages of websites purely created to offer fake diplomas, degrees and transcripts for purchase, providing authentic looking certificates using reputable Australian academic institutional logos. Even with an increased spotlight on this risk over the past decade with high profile case studies (particularly in the healthcare industry), stories of Australian employers being hit by fraudulent qualifications continue to roll in.
This is evident from the outcome statistics from qualification verifications undertaken by our team in 2020. Data in the below diagram shows that, 24% indicated a discrepancy between the information provided by the candidate and what our enquiries revealed during the verification process; and a further 8% had “Information to Note” e.g., contained possible adverse information, depending on the candidate’s role. This means that 32% of qualifications verified identified something an employer should probably be aware of. That is approximately one in every three candidates!
Some of the most common deceptions we find when it comes to qualifications are:
- Degree Mills are often involved: Degree mills often claim to be legitimate educational institutions that sell transcripts and diploma/degrees outright for a fee. Some even provide methods to obtain verifications. A variation to degree mills are lifestyle universities – these scams ask the user to provide details of life experience and “award” a degree based on that experience. One of our candidates provided a copy of a certificate and claimed to be a graduate from a university in the United States. The university website provided did not appear to be legitimate and therefore sparked suspicion with our Operations team. A further investigation using several resources revealed that the university was not listed by a higher education accreditation institute recognised by the US Department of Education, or the Council for Higher Education. These findings indicated that the degree certificate provided by the candidate may have been purchased online from a degree mill.
- A legitimate institution is provided, but the qualification is not genuine: Another of our candidates claimed they completed a Master of Science Security at a College in the UK; however, an educational authority in the UK confirmed with our team that the college listed by the candidate was unable to award UK accredited higher education qualifications. As a result, they were in the process of investigating the college in the hope of having their website shut down or at least revoking their “ac.uk” suffix/domain route which is protected in the UK.
- Qualifications are overstated: We all want to impress potential employers with our skills, qualities and credentials, and the resume is the opportunity to do this; however, some candidates are willing to “bump up” their awarded credentials in order to come across as qualified (or overqualified) for a role, even if that is not the case. For example, one of our recent candidates advised they had completed a Certificate III in Business IT; however, during verification inquiries, it was revealed that a Certificate II was completed by the candidate.
Recent Fake Qualifications in the Media
Falsified qualifications and resumes can slip through fingers incognito, even in sectors where compliance is a focus. Eventually discovering the fraud down the track can be a “too little, too late” scenario and the mistake can be fuel for the media, causing reputational damage and loss of trust from the Australian public.
Take this case study that unfortunately found its way into the media, circa 2017, as a prime example.
The incident prompted the government to scrutinise recruitment processes and undertake an investigation that uncovered two previous cases of alleged fraud from 2011. An individual was appointed Director but later resigned during allegations of dishonestly representing falsified work history and qualifications. The second case revealed that a former business engineering manager was fired during their probation period because falsified qualifications were provided. The “certified copies” were allegedly accepted at face value only.
Just as concerning, major government bodies are still falling victim to this type of fraud in 2021. In January, NSW Health discovered that two of their employees had falsified their qualifications to work as scientists in the pathology department for four years! It is alleged that one of the individuals was responsible for botching blood transfusions twice, using incompatible blood and causing adverse reactions in patients. The employees were caught out previously by British regulators, but this was not picked up during the Australian hiring process.
The risks like these associated with not undertaking thorough background checking within the healthcare industry are clear. Hiring unqualified individuals to treat patients can potentially lead to endangering the vulnerable that trust these professionals with their life.
The above is a surprising case study given it is so recent. We previously published an article ‘Combatting ID Fraud & Fake Qualifications in Healthcare’ where we discussed how NSW Health conducted an inquiry into a similar situation involving a Doctor working in hospitals for 10 years under the stolen identity of a UK Doctor. In 2019, the inquiry concluded that an improved recruitment process should be introduced within NSW Health, which included tightened requirements for the registration of international medical graduates. Although the 2021 discovery related to employees hired four years prior, perhaps this raises the question as to whether additional measures are needed, such as re-screening or screening audits when cases highlight gap areas.
PeopleCheck strongly recommends that all Australian and international qualifications are verified directly with the awarded institute for candidates across all roles that require a qualification. You cannot assume an individual holds the required qualifications just because it is listed on a piece of paper. Accepting resumes and academics at face value can expose your company to reputational damage, an unwelcome spotlight in the media, and potential loss of trust and revenue from consumers and stakeholders – as well as the obvious risk to the vulnerable in certain industries.
The information contained in this post is the opinion of PeopleCheck and does not form the basis of legal advice.