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Why checking qualifications matters

Date Published: October 12, 2016 | Last Updated: January 09, 2024 | By swoodrough

For an employer, the suspicion that a potential hire is being less than honest in their application should raise a definite red flag.  If someone is prepared to lie about their background or qualifications, will they actually be capable of doing the job?  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?

The problem is more common than you might think.  The 2015 Employee Fraudscape survey conducted by CIFAS (the UK’s fraud prevention service) suggests that fraudulent job applications now represent 63 per cent of internal fraud cases – a worrying increase of 46 per cent over the previous year.

Education tends to be the number one area where job-seekers are most likely to provide misleading information.  False professional qualifications and memberships account for around a quarter of discrepancies on applications.  People may claim to have a higher grade than they actually achieved, for example, or say they have done a particular course when they started but never made it through to the end.

Falsification of degrees in particular is becoming a real issue.  Pretty much anyone with a PC or some basic digital design skills can purchase a bogus degree or create a convincing certificate themselves.  It’s worth knowing that the UK is actually Europe’s bogus university capital, with the number of known ‘diploma mills’ on our shores now exceeding 300.

The risk of taking people’s qualifications at face value has been highlighted by a number of recent cases to hit the media.  There was the top city lawyer, for example, whose glittering CV boasted three Oxford degrees, a masters from Harvard and a claim he was registered to practice at the New York bar – whereas in fact he had one degree from the University of East Anglia and although he had studied at Oxford for a Doctorate in Philosophy, he never actually completed the course.

The ramifications of this kind of falsification for employers can be huge, in terms of performance standards, employee morale and not least damage to corporate reputation.  For those industries where professional qualifications are mandatory (the medical and financial sector for example) it poses even more serious regulatory and compliance risks, and could even open the organisation up to claims of malpractice.

Pre-employment screening can help to mitigate these risks.  Educational background and qualification verification are a core part of standard pre-recruitment checks and can give employers the reassurance that their preferred candidate has the necessary experience and qualifications to do the job.

Often, just the knowledge that the information they have given on their CV will be checked is enough to deter a candidate from lying.  What many don’t realise of course is that lying on a CV can also constitute fraud.  Making a knowingly false statement in order to obtain employment is a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006, and carries a penalty of up to 10 year’s imprisonment or a fine.

The relevant case law makes interesting reading.  In 2010, Rhiannon McKay was convicted of CV fraud and sentenced to six month’s imprisonment after making false claims about her qualifications and forging a recommendation.   HR manager Kerrie Devine received a suspended prison sentence when she made false claims about her qualifications when re-applying for a job as part of a company reorganisation.  Her lies also cost her £9,600 in compensation and 150 hours of community service.

Making sure candidates are aware that misrepresenting themselves during the recruitment process will have serious consequences is the first step towards preventing fraudulent applications – while rigorous pre-employment screening will ensure employers weed out any ‘bad apples’ before they get to job offer stage.