A 2011 report from Europe’s leading background screening firm revealed an astounding 48 percent increase worldwide in the number of known fake diploma mills in the previous year, and the number of what the report describes as “largely online entities whose degrees are worthless due to the lack of valid accreditation and recognition” is likely to increase in the coming year as desperate job applicants knowingly – and unknowingly – do business with companies that offer fake degrees and false credentials for a price. This is Trend Number 6 of the fifth annual ‘Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Top 10 Trends in Background Checks’ for 2012. To view the list of trends, visit http://www.esrcheck.com/ESR-Top-10-Trends-in-Background-Checks-for-2012.php.
According to the second annual Accredibase™ Report for 2011 from Verifile Limited, the United States was the world’s diploma mill capital and saw a 20 percent increase in known diploma mills with the number rising from 810 to 1,008. More than 40 percent of U.S. diploma mills operated in four states – California, Hawaii, Washington, and Florida. The Accredibase™ database of diploma mills has identified approximately 5,000 suspect educational institutions and accreditors. In addition to the 2,615 confirmed diploma mills, more than 2,000 suspect institutions are currently under investigation. The report is available at http://www.accredibase.com/index.php?section=871&page=4493.
Adding to the challenge of employers detecting education fraud, some diploma mills have even created fake accreditation agencies to falsely vouch for the phony schools. To combat diploma mills in the United States, schools are generally accredited by private organizations that are recognized as legitimate accreditors by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The CHEA website is at http://www.chea.org/. The U.S. Department of Education has also created a website with a Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs where employers can search for accredited schools at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/search.aspx.
There is no doubt that “genuine” fake diplomas are on the rise. Getting a college diploma no longer requires years of hard work, taking tests, paying tuition or even reading a book. Instead of these formalities, all a person needs is a credit card and a web browser in order to buy an authentic looking diploma that mimics real colleges, universities, and even high schools across the United States. Go to any search engine and run keywords such as “fake Diploma” and anyone can instantly “graduate” from nearly any school in America with a very handsome and authentic looking diploma suitable for hanging.
The following stories from 2011 show how widespread the problem of diploma mills – and all types of education fraud – has become in the U.S.:
- A story from The New York Times College Sports Blog ‘The Quad’ titled ‘Yale Coach Resigns After Rhodes Scholarship Claim,’ is an example of education fraud. The Times reports that Yale University recently announced the resignation effective December 31 of the school’s first African-American head football coach after the coach told Yale’s senior quarterback – who had to decide whether to play in the Harvard-Yale or attend a Rhodes scholarship interview scheduled for the same day – that he had faced a nearly identical choice nearly 20 years earlier between a career in professional football or a possible Rhodes scholarship, a story that turned out to be a lie. A Times investigation found that the Coach had never been a Rhodes scholar candidate or applicant, even though his résumé and Yale Web site biography indicated otherwise. To read the full New York Times story, visit: http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/yale-football-coach-resigns/.
- In another recent story ‘Cops bust caretakers for bogus credentials,’ The Miami Herald reported a crackdown called ‘Operation Cardiac Arrest’ on a diploma mill in Florida that gave customers fake certificates for health workers for training in CPR, infection control, and care for people with special needs. The phony certificates helped unqualified and untrained caretakers to get jobs at assisted living facilities with elders and mentally ill. To read the full Miami Herald article, visit: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/07/2536436/cops-bust-caretakers-for-bogus.html.
- The ESR News blog ‘Former Harvard Student Who Faked Academic Achievements Jailed for Alleged Probation Violation’ reported that a former student at Harvard University who last year pleaded guilty to faking academic achievements by falsifying transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation to get into the prestigious school was back in jail without bail after allegedly violating his probation. The former student – who was originally sentenced to ten years of probation in December of 2010 and ordered to repay the more than $45,000 in grants, prizes, and financial aid awarded to him based on lies and plagiarism – allegedly violated the terms of his probation when he submitted a resume that indicated he had attended Harvard. To read the full blog, visit: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/2011/11/16/former-harvard-student-who-faked-academic-achievements-jailed-for-alleged-probation-violation/.
- In the ESR News blog ‘Questions about Degree from Possible Diploma Mill Cause Kansas Chief IT Officer to Resign,’ the new Chief Information Technology (IT) Officer of the State of Kansas resigned after a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal raised questions about his college degree from an unaccredited school linked to diploma mills. The newspaper reported that the newly hired chief IT officer resigned from the $150,000-a-year position following the disclosure that his college degree in business administration was acquired from the University of Devonshire, an unaccredited school linked to a consortium of diploma mills in the University Degree Program, a company viewed as “one of the most prolific diploma-production enterprises.” To read the full blog, visit: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/2011/11/10/questions-about-degree-from-possible-diploma-mill-cause-kansas-chief-it-officer-to-resign/.
According to the Accredibase™ report, the following “red flags” – or warning signs –may help identify diploma mills:
- The institution does not have authority to operate or grant degrees from the education authorities where it claims to be based.
- Degrees are delivered in a short space of time – sometimes a few days.
- Degrees are granted based entirely on work or life experience.
- Contact details are limited to email addresses and vague about the institution’s location.
- The institution allows students to choose their own course titles and specify graduation years on the certificate.
- Sample certificates, transcripts, or verification letters are available on the website.
- Institutions make complicated or misleading claims about accreditation or recognition.
- The institution’s name is similar to that of a recognized and respected education institution.
- The institution’s Internet domain names are misleading.
- The institution’s website is poorly designed, has poor spelling and grammar, or plagiarizes copy from other institutions.
Fake credentials are not limited to fake educational claims. Some job applicants are also making up fictional employment histories to fool prospective employers. A past ESR News blog reported that one company (http://www.careerexcuse.com/) offered false job references – complete with job titles, start dates and end dates, and salary – to jobseekers seeking employment that were willing to pay a fee plus a monthly subscription. This service offered phony references from real “Reference Providers” and work histories from “Virtual Companies.” The company will even create fake web sites to make the fake company look real and provide fake pay stubs. To read the full blog, visit: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/2011/08/19/past-employment-verifications-important-to-employers-with-some-jobseekers-receiving-false-job-references-for-a-price/.
When jobseekers offer false past employment information to employers, they may end up being hired for jobs they are too unfit, unqualified, dishonest, or dangerous to complete. Meanwhile, honest jobseekers are overlooked for being more truthful with their references. While it is true some jobseekers will stop at nothing to land a job, providing false past employment reference information is not the best way for a prospective employee to begin a business relationship with a potential employer.
In addition, more companies are conducting due diligence pre-employment background checks on jobseekers that include reference checks. A 2010 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) “Conducting Reference Background Checks” revealed that 76 percent of Human Resources professionals surveyed – or three out of four – said they conducted reference background checks for all job candidates. The SHRM survey is available at: http://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Articles/Pages/ConductingReferenceBackgroundChecks.aspx.
With hiring decisions becoming more critical in challenging economic times, verifying past employment and education and obtaining references has become very important. Employers should not take the educational accomplishments of job seekers at face value without ensuring that the applicant has actually obtained the degree, and that the degree is from a legitimate educational institution. Educational credentials are an important part of an employer’s decision making process in hiring and educational achievement and can tell an employer a great deal about the job applicant’s ability and qualifications. Many employers feel that educational qualifications are a critical factor in predicting success on the job, and for many positions education is a prerequisite in terms of subject matter knowledge or for obtaining the appropriate license for the position.
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a leading provider of background checks accredited by the National Association of Background Screeners (NAPBS) – provides education verifications to ensure that a school is legitimate and not a diploma mill. To help businesses understand the importance of checking the educational records of job applicants, ESR also provides a wealth of material on academic fraud, including the article “The Basics of Educational Verifications” at http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/1090/the-basics-of-education-verifications. In addition, the ESR Resource Center contains lists of fraudulent schools as well as information how to find real accredited schools at: http://www.esrcheck.com/services/resources.php. For more information about background check services including education verifications, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com/ or call toll free 888.999.4474.
About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Founded in 1997 in the San Francisco, CA area, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by ESR Founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR streamlines the screening process and reduces administrative overhead though its proprietary technology solutions. ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®), a distinction held by less than two percent of all screening firms. This important recognition was achieved by successfully passing a third party audit demonstrating compliance with the NAPBS Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about ESR, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com or call toll free 888.999.4474.
About ESR News:
The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected].