Why Firms Fall Prey To Dishonest Job Seekers

SINGAPORE – The company in Singapore had hired a new vice-president but a background-check organisation it engaged found that he had fake academic qualifications, so the firm fired him.

While fake degrees or diplomas are not a new phenomenon, companies often still fall prey to dishonest job seekers, background-check companies told The Straits Times.

On Feb 17, ST reported that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) was investigating 15 work pass holders working here who had declared qualifications from Manav Bharti University in their work pass applications.

The Indian university in the state of Himachal Pradesh had sold 36,000 fake degrees over 11 years, the Times of India reported last month.

Mr Kannan Chettiar, managing director of human resource technology company Avvanz, said that fake educational qualifications were on the rise globally.

In screening job applicants, Avvanz has seen a 10 per cent year-on-year increase in education discrepancies over the last three years.

In one case screened by Avvanz, a high-ranking employee in Europe was immediately sacked when it was found he had falsified academic qualifications.

Mr Kannan said: “Among all the types of background checks we do, I think fake educational qualifications are the biggest problem now.”

He added that although hiring dropped last year, the proportion of discrepancies was higher than usual. He felt the pandemic-induced recession had motivated more job seekers to submit fake degrees to secure jobs.

Mr Kannan noted how easy it was to get a fake degree certificate, thanks to technology.

He said: “You spend a couple of dollars, and you could actually get a degree from anywhere.”

Background-check company Sterling RISQ had spotted the discrepancies in the vice-president’s educational qualifications.

Its APAC managing director, Ms Elizabeth Fitzell, said it had seen a smaller proportion of education discrepancies over the last two years in the Asia-Pacific region.

She added that in 2019, 20 per cent of educational qualifications it screened had discrepancies. Last year, it fell to 17.8 per cent.

Ms Fitzell explained that although degree mills – which hand out fabricated or unaccredited degrees – have been increasing, background checks have deterred job seekers from falsifying academic records.

Ms Ko Hui Yen, APAC general manager of background-screening company HireRight, noted that not all discrepancies are deliberate deceptions – some could simply be incorrect details.

PERSISTENT PROBLEM

MOM had said that in the last five years an average of 660 foreigners were permanently barred each year from working in Singapore because they had submitted fake academic qualifications in their work pass applications.

Background-check companies told ST there are often many layers of deception when it comes to degree falsification.

Fake degrees from fake universities are one thing, but degrees or diplomas from unaccredited institutions present another problem.

These institutions offer programmes to unwitting students who end up spending time and money on worthless qualifications.

Even more deceptive are unaccredited institutions that claim to be accredited from bogus accreditation bodies.

Job seekers may also present forged certificates from real universities.

Ms Fitzell said: “It’s a very sophisticated industry.” She added that one of the greatest pitfalls is assuming that educational qualifications are legitimate because the candidate is applying for a senior role, or that previous employers must have already run checks.

HireRight’s Ms Ko said that financial constraints amid a pandemic may also have driven some companies to skip processes to save costs.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore, said some companies may be too eager to hire when there is a talent shortage and forgo proper screening.

Ms Teo added: “Companies should be thorough when conducting background checks, and those that lack the time and expertise should consider outsourcing the task to specialists.”

PREVIOUS CASES OF FALSE CLAIMS, CERTIFICATES

2012

A former assistant professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was dismissed from the West Virginia University in the United States after a string of false claims about his academic qualifications came to light. 

He possessed only a master’s degree in epidemiology, but claimed he had a doctorate and was a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

2013

A former civil engineer was found to have used various forged qualifications to secure high salary positions in 38 companies locallybetween 2013 and 2017.

The man, who graduated only from primary school, had a fake NUS degree scroll, and was exposed when he applied for another job.

He was sentenced to two years and 11 months’ jail and fined $1,600 for multiple offences.

2016

A former polytechnic lecturer here was found to have forged educational certificates which helped him secure jobs at local polytechnics, after he was caught stealing patient information from the HIV Registry. He was jailed for 28 months for multiple offences.

2019

A man, originally from Pakistan, was jailed for three weeks for applying for Singapore permanent residency with a falsified Bachelor of Arts degree – after more than 20 years of going unnoticed. He had obtained the forged degree from a cousin in Pakistan.

Yeo Shu Hui

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