Academic fraudsters

Background screening experts MIE on the challenge of combating counterfeit qualifications

The increase in fraudulent or counterfeit documents (and certifications in particular), circulating within the broader South African market has verification credential experts on high alert. In 2015, opposition party The Democratic Alliance stated that there were as many as 640 public sector officials who had lied about their qualifications. Furthermore, a simple Google search like “buy fake degree south africa” has about 122 000 search results, thus revealing the demand for counterfeit qualifications.

Established operators in the field of commercial background screening agree that a shrinking job market and expanding number of job seekers is fuelling the problem of fraud.

Ina van der Merwe - CEO at Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ideco Group and established in 1988 as the first commercial background screening company in South Africa -says the concern is not only the amount or volume of fraudulent documents being discovered but the lengths that people will go to in order to manipulate mechanisms and check systems in place.

“The technology used to alter documents has advanced and the reality is that fraudsters are not only keeping up with innovation but also with the skills required to produce authentic-looking documentation,” Van der Merwe explains. “It is near impossible to instantly recognise a falsified document with the naked eye and it would be irresponsible to accept anything on face-value.”

MIE advises decision makers to avoid the temptation to rely upon their own judgment and pass documents on to specialists in the field for verification. Van der Merwe says that credible, professional and experienced service providers are in a position to serve as agents that have the ability to handle situations, facilitate communication and achieve expedient results.

Part of this is having established communication channels and the ability to track the progress of established systems and services designed to authenticate documents and substantiate the facts.

“This ability and the quality of service is dependent on the service provider’s level of experience, the system or systems that are in place and the quality and credibility of the industry partnerships that have been formed,” Van der Merwe continues.

MIE believes that merely identifying fraudulent certificates is not sufficient in rooting out this phenomenon; putting further control mechanisms in place is important. The company works closely with the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) in this regard.

“Once we have written confirmation that a submitted certificate is fraudulent, we list that person with the SAFPS. It sometimes happens that people falsify documents but then actually qualify legitimately at a later stage. If we have listed them, we would require a letter from the institution that the person originally faked a certificate from, to say that we may remove them from the SAFPS database,” says Van der Merwe.

“This is dependent on the results of a negotiation between the institution and the candidate. Very often the institutions press fraud charges against the candidates using falsified documents and sometimes they take other steps. This is entirely at the institution’s discretion,” she continues. According to MIE the effort to curb certification fraud is making a difference and experts are optimistic that the progress can and will be sustained.