KNOW IT & PREVENT IT: CV and qualification fraud is more prevalent than employers realise

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - JULY 23, 2014

Imagine lying in theatre and moments before the sedatives take effect, you learn that the surgeon wielding scalpels, surgical drills and prescribing drugs is an unqualified fraudster who forged his CV and qualifications. This situation can arise with an engineer overseeing nuclear reactors at Thyspunt or processes on your production line or even your accountant or investment portfolio manager - an ominous prospect isn’t it?

Surveys have shown that the risk of hiring executives and specialists with bogus qualifications nowadays is very real. Just seeing a CV or certificate is no longer sufficient!

“While we have not experienced incidents of degree fraud yet, we have come across a significant number of fraudulent matric certificates and trade test certificates,” described Michelle Tuck, owner of Staff Solutions in Port Elizabeth.

Claire Zonneveld, Managing Member at Online Personnel, also in PE, agreed; “We see a number of CV’s which are fraudulent in both qualifications and experience. Candidates often claim to have specific skills and experience, in line with advert requirements, which in fact, they have never been exposed to.”

Indeed, research also suggested that many job applicants who lie on their CVs lie about education. Apparently candidates, mostly in their mid-30s, upwardly mobile and inline for promotions, lie the most about postgraduate degrees.

Rene de Reuck at Top Personnel Management and Personnel Consultants in PE explained; “Candidates resort to degree fraud, when they have almost completed a degree or diploma, and have a subject outstanding.”

“Candidates might not also indicate that they have a criminal record, they might also misrepresent their qualifications and health. The candidate might not reflect companies where they have previously worked because they know that they might get bad references.

“We have had a case where a candidate was dismissed from his company, but still pretended to work there.  We have a policy whereby we do not contact present employers, so we therefore did not pick this up,” said Tuck.

While many candidates see ‘padding’ their CVs to boost their chances as ok, Terri-Anne Gower-Pike, at East London’s Efficiency Personnel CC, described including false information on a CV and laying claim to an unearned qualification as fraud.

Tuck concurred; “If a CV is ‘spiced up’ to the extent that it does not truthfully represent the candidate, it is fraud.”

Zonneveld added; “Sometimes [they] even resort to getting friends or family members to lie as ‘previous employers’ for the purpose of references.”

“At times, the period of employment is exaggerated and extended. The misrepresentation of duties, job title, salary and duration all constitutes fraud,” described de Reuck.   

The cost

The cost of qualifications fraud to a business can be huge. Besides the new employee failing to do their job they are ‘qualified’ to do, there is also a good chance that they might commit fraud at your company, experts warn.

A ‘bad hire’ can cost the company between 50% and 100% of the first year’s annual salary or even more when the cost of training, downtime and replacement are taken into account. In the event of a disaster and loss of life, the cost to your tarnished brand can be immeasurable.

Root of the problem

South African verification agencies showed that between 11% and 17% of all qualifications submitted to them for vetting turned out to be ‘problematic’ to some degree.

Tuck said stiff competition on the job market meant a degree, diploma and a stellar CV, no matter how they were obtained, were tickets to landing the dream job and the good life.

“Sometimes it is out of desperation that they resort to this and sometimes we find candidates who are [just] pathological liars,” Zonneveld said.

Gower-Pike said; “…I would assume there are syndicates who are responsible.”

Forging degrees and diplomas was becoming brisk business for criminals seeking alternatives to the usual ID and passport fraud. In 2011, fake matric certificates cost just R2 000 in Johannesburg.

The internet is also awash with degree and diploma mills selling quick and unaccredited qualifications based on false life experience assessments for as little as US$200 via e-mail!

What can you do to protect your business?

Tuck, Zonneveld, de Reuck and Gower-Pike agreed that due to sophisticated forging techniques employed by fraudsters nowadays, it was nearly impossible for companies to spot fake qualifications or falsified CVs right away. Hence, employers should verify everything claimed by prospective employees through professional employment agencies.

“At Staff Solutions, we have qualified biometric officers. We do all sorts of verifications in order to determine that candidates have been awarded the qualifications they have indicated and that they do not have criminal records.

“We also do credit verifications among other things,” Tuck said, adding that this was especially important for candidates who would be handling cash and stock.

Zonneveld said; “Sadly, there will always be fraudsters, however, through the correct referencing techniques and verification checks, this is normally uncovered.

“Our candidates are thoroughly checked, screened and investigated and we regularly uncover the individuals who have fraudulent qualifications and skills.”

“Top Personnel ensures that the highest standards of ethics are upheld, by following strict reference checking procedures, thorough interviews and verification checks,” concluded de Reuck.