Wanted: Ability to Spot Fake Credentials | DCR Workforce Blog

Wanted: Ability to Spot Fake Credentials

screeningWho amongst us has not riled at the high cost of education at one time or the other and lamented how their hard work and learning at school bears no correlation whatsoever with the work they do today? Does that mean degrees have no value whatsoever, and buying a degree off some diploma mill or claiming false credentials is not a serious offence? I should hope not!

  • Have you heard of O’Riordan? If you have not, till recently he was a top London lawyer was hired by banks, solicitor firms and top barristers’ chambers for his impressive credentials, which counted Oxford and Harvard among them. They just discovered that they were all faked and he is now suspended by the Bar Standards Board for 3 years.
  • Closer home, we have Prof Louis LaPierre, a member of the Order of Canada, teaching science and publishing original papers at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada for 30 years. He did this on the strength of a doctorate from Walden University in Minnesota – only it was in Education and not Ecology, as he seems to have claimed! Does the fact that he worked in the field for 30 years and published original papers justify the faking of his credentials? Probably not!
  • Few of us have quite forgotten the public embarrassment faced by Yahoo, when it was alleged that their CEO Scott Thompson had embellished his credential to include computer science, when in actuality he studied accounting, putting an abrupt end to his 4 month-old career with Yahoo.
  • A BBC Newsnight investigation says it costs £4500 to buy a study-free MBA degree from the American University of London (AUOL) and Newsnight also says it has found hundreds of senior executives listing AUOL qualifications.

High profile cases such as these help illustrate the scope of this scourge (last estimated at 13% of all degrees), which is threatening to grow exponentially. With the use of an extended workforce, transcending national boundaries, employers today have access to talent which is truly global. They also have the bogey of fake degrees and false credentials staring them in the eye. Online entities which provide fake degrees are proliferating and companies which offer fake credentials are mushrooming equally fast.

Background checks will have to make sure that an applicant’s credentials are legitimate and not acquired from a ‘fake diploma mill’! Such degrees usually purport to accept one’s ‘life experience’ and answers to a set of questions before awarding a Bachelor’s or Master’s – for a few hundred dollars! These phony institutes even provide transcripts, letters of recommendation and verification services at fax and email addresses; all of which are all equally faked! Once these fake credentials help a person to get a foot in the door, it is just a matter of time and patience as the person gradually amasses the experience and grows into the role (as illustrated by our examples above).

The million dollar question here is – how do recruiters recognize fake credentials or use the background checking process to expose them? Remember that about 64 percent of candidates overstate accomplishments, while 71 percent misrepresent the number of years they held a position. People with fake credentials are shown to be more likely to pursue temporary positions in the belief that the background checking will be less rigorous for a short-term assignment.  In fact, staffing agency processes tend to be more exhaustive as they are conducted by professional recruiters on behalf of a client, and the agencies recognize the severe consequences of making a mistake.   In contrast, employers filling permanent positions often leave background checks to hiring managers, and most companies fail to conduct any type of background check on independent contractors or project-based service teams!

The best recruiters take the following approach:

  • They use the interview process to validate the statements made on the resume, and ensure that the candidate has ‘walked the talk’. They ask the candidate to specify the duration of time; they have utilized the key skills and talk through some of the crucial steps in any project they claim to have delivered upon.  The interview process highlights areas that warrant further examination or validation.
  • Through reference checks, they attempt to uncover bogus job references, exaggeration, and enhancement of experience, education, skills and credentials. They go beyond references provided by the candidate to include others that may have insight into the candidate’s academic credentials and work experience.
  • They do not stop with verifying institutes, degrees and transcripts but also call up the institute’s alumni office.
  • They use the Internet to glean information about the candidate, but tread carefully to avoid charges of discrimination based on the information revealed in the search.
  • They reinforce that their official policy strictly specifies ‘no tolerance’ for possible fraud and misrepresentation of any kind.
  • When inconsistencies occur, they give the candidate an opportunity to explain, then follow-up to verify the explanation.

In each case, value judgments must be made as to the level of effort that is warranted when conducting background checks. Factors such as the nature of the position, tenure of the assignment, and policies of the company offering the assignment must be considered.  One must also take into account the degree of deviation from the truth.  While you would likely reject a candidate who claimed a non-existent academic degree, how would you handle a candidate that added three months to a work experience to mask a period of time when the individual had been downsized and was looking for employment?

There is hope in thinking that online research and resources like LinkedIn (which encourage people to connect with other students from their alma mater or to join their prior employers’ alumni associations) make it easier for those with genuine credentials and that much harder for the rest of them!

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.