Media coverage has intensified on the fake degree industry, revealing elaborate strategies to market fake diplomas on a global scale. More worryingly, this grey area industry is now upgrading from fraud to blackmail. Faced with this situation, consensus among industry experts is that background screening services are more relevant than ever.
A team of BBC reporters recently investigated how Axact, a Pakistani-based IT company, provided fake academic qualifications to hundreds of thousands of people globally, some of which ended up securing employment in critical functions within care, legal, and defence industries (in the UK).
Diploma mills are not a new phenomenon. For decades, companies have set themselves up as genuine learning centres without the necessary accreditations to provide degrees.
However, the increased sophistication, such as the operation uncovered by the BBC highlights the scale of the problem. The company established a network of 350 bogus universities, creating genuine looking websites for each and even setting up call centers to answer “student” queries. It is alleged the company pocketed US$51 million in 2015 alone.
This lucrative market does not show any signs of abating. A senior representative of Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), was unsurprised with the allegations and highlighted that this industry will thrive as long as companies do not perform comprehensive checks on their new hires.
In a new development, some of these fraudulent companies are now shifting their activities from enabling fraud to blackmail. Tapping into their vast database of names, Axact tracked down some of their former customers and issued a threat of denunciations to law enforcement agencies or to their current employer. In one striking example, a British engineer based in Saudi-Arabia, was allegedly blackmailed by Axact into giving large sums of money to keep his secret safe. Initially asked to give out £1,000 the sums quickly escalated to £500,000.
Commenting on this matter, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) Head of London and Branches Engagement recommendation was clear. Employers need to perform background checks in order to mitigate the financial and reputational risks involved with fraudulent accreditations.
At Risk Advisory, we regularly see cases where a person has misstated their academic qualifications. An individual who goes to the extreme of sourcing bogus documents to support fictitious qualifications arguably poses an even greater threat to an employer. We always recommend comprehensive employee screening checks are carried out, to mitigate the risk of hiring an undesirable character.