Certificate Fraud: a Resolution

james holfordBlog

Not all of us are the type to have made a New Year’s resolution. Perhaps everything in your life is already perfectly in place (lucky you), or you already possess the will to achieve your goals without a ritualised resolution. Maybe you’re unwilling to set yourself up for inevitable disappointment, or maybe… you just think the whole thing is a load of old cod. For those of us that do take that sacred oath when January comes around, whatever the resolution may be, we can all agree the aim of the commitment is in pursuit of one thing: change.

As one of the more memorable years in recent history, 2016 brought with it a host of events that resulted in change. In the world of Education, it was no different.

The Dark Side of Certification

Like any of the most nefarious schemes, the ubiquitous ‘diploma mill’ has grown in the shadows over time, their presence bolstered by the anonymous freedom of the internet. The most prominent case in history, of the Pakistani company Axact, investigated for an online certificate fraud scam that spanned more than 300 fake websites, 197 countries, and hundreds of millions of dollars, has culminated this year in the dismantling of its operations and the arrest of one of its executives, Umair Hamid. Hamid is potentially facing 20 years in prison. It’s an important win for the Education sector, as coverage of the story has brought the scale of the problem into the spotlight; but in reality it’s nothing to what is still in the shadows.

Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), spearhead of the UK government’s commitment to crackdown on fake universities, were reported to have closed down more than 40 fraudulent websites throughout 2016 – a record number for the organisation. Are the fraudsters multiplying, or are the methods of finding their fake institutions improving? Either way, it’s a constant push and pull that does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Especially when, due to the complicated politics of cross-border policing, it’s almost impossible to identify, let alone prosecute, any perpetrator.

A Global Solution?

Globally, organisations and institutions appear to be waking up to the existence and effect of both diploma mills and degree fraud. And where the criminals exist seemingly only in the realm of digital cyberspace, the answer appears to be a case of fighting fire with fire – through digitisation.

Digitisation of the verification system has been in consideration for a while. This makes sense after all; the practice of bringing a printed certificate to a job interview which then needs to be validated by telephone to the issuing institution seems somewhat archaic. People increasingly want to be able to share qualifications via whatever device they are using at the time, in whatever way is most convenient. These are in fact some of the drivers behind our own ecertificate portal.

In January 2016, the French Education Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, announced plans to create a national centralised digital database for degree qualifications. It was not too long before India, a country rife with false degree documentation, followed suit with the Indian Minister for Human Resource Development, Prakash Javadekar, stating,

It is high time the academic awards are verified and authenticated, accessed and retrieved in a digital depository”.

Well put, we’d say.

It’s an incredibly bold move, in answer not only to the issue of certificate fraud during job recruitment, but also the inefficiencies of the verification process for the governmental departments in question. Nothing like a financial implication to make things happen!

In Africa the issue of certificate fraud is even more prominent. Fraud so deep-set that it’s woven into the fabric of operative procedure all the way up into the seats of Government officials. So it’s reassuring to see a response befitting the scope of the issue in these areas when May saw the official launch of the African Qualifications Verification Network (AQVN). The AQVN is an initiative launched by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) involving 14 African countries in a unifying and unmistakeably assertive move to combat certificate fraud, particularly on the African continent.  Their long term goal? To establish Digital Student Data Depositories.

Stay Resolute

So, we are seeing a common solution appearing at the highest level in nations around the world. A resolution to make change. Yes, it will take time to implement; each nation has an implementation timeline drawn out – but for us, it’s logical. It’s current. And by the nature of digital technologies, it’s future-proof. These are solutions that our certification portal aligns with, because we also believe that digitisation can help Certification find its integrity again.

According to research, it’s around this time of year that nearly 50% of resolutions will have failed. Which would suggest that now is a good time to check our resolve, and dig in a little deeper for the long run. This may be hard to do, but change is worth the effort.