Employers are being urged to do more to scrutinise candidate CVs, and qualifications in particular, following an investigation into a multi-million pound 'diploma mill' which may have duped British businesses for a number of years.
Axact, which claims to be the "world's largest IT company", has been accused of issuing more than 3,000 fake qualifications to UK-based buyers in 2013 and 2014 alone.
Master's degrees, doctorates and PhDs were all sold from hundreds of bogus online universities operated by the company, according to BBC Radio 4’s investigation. Many of the recipients are working in the NHS and the defence industry, though there is no suggestion any are fundamentally unqualified for their roles.
But the revelation has opened up broader questions about whether recruiters and HR departments have been doing enough to check the veracity of the detail included in CVs, from qualifications and experience to achievements in previous roles.
Jayne Rowley, chief executive of Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) – a secure, government-run online portal which verifies the degree qualifications of UK graduates – said most employers ask candidates to supply documents, but many do not take the time to verify them.
She said the problem was much more widespread than employers realised, with the HEDD website listing more than 230 bogus UK universities which have issued fake qualifications.
"It is a vicious circle of fraud – employers don't make checks, so people embellish things on their CVs, they get away with it and the more they get away with it, the more they are inclined to embellish," said Rowley.
Research by the Risk Advisory Group found that 38 per cent of the CVs it analysed from 25-32 year-olds had been falsified, while a poll of 400 people carried out by HR and administration recruitment specialists OfficeTeam said the most popular areas for dishonest information or exaggerated claims were work experience (58 per cent), education or qualifications (41 per cent), technical skills (40 per cent) and duties performed in previous employment (30 per cent).
Rowley said the fake degree industry could only survive because employers were failing to undertake due diligence. Employers can quickly verify whether a certificate is authentic by using the HEDD website, which works with 100 of the UK's 167 universities. It is also possible to use a professional screening agency, and some recruitment consultants will verify applicants before putting them forward for a job, or once a job offer is made.
Rowley said the most common bogus degrees in her experience were among business-related subjects, with many opting to falsify the possession of an MBA.
The BBC investigation revealed Axact had sold fake degrees to various NHS clinical staff, including an ophthalmologist, nurses, a psychologist and consultants. But Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said all NHS trusts take their local recruitment practices seriously, to ensure they are compliant with the NHS Employment Check Standards.
“This includes ensuring individuals are who they say they are and that any documentary evidence provided as part of their application is legitimate. Verification of documentary evidence is achieved through a variety of channels," added Mortimer.
Where employees or potential employees have been found to falsify information, employers may have a legal case relating to fraud.
In 2010, Rhiannon McKay became the first woman to be convicted of CV fraud when she was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. McKay falsely claimed to have two A-levels and also forged a letter of recommendation.
"We would urge employers to state in their job adverts that any evidence will be shared with law enforcement. The key message is to make the checks to avoid risks to business," Rowley added.