With the summer graduation season upon us, around two thirds of students plan to share photos of their degree certificates on social media as they look for ways to celebrate.
This may seem innocent and risk free, yet this practice drives the multi-million pound trade in fake degrees, jeopardising the reputation of UK universities as well as the investment made by genuine students.
Lucrative for counterfeiters
Counterfeiters scour social media sites looking for images that show the latest degree certificate designs, which are unique to a particular university and year.
Students often unwittingly share photos of certificates that show the latest logos, crests, signatories, stamps, holograms and wording – all of which makes forgery easy. Fake degrees, often advertised as ‘novelty’ graduation certificates, can be picked up on trading sites such as eBay for a few pounds.
Because of the pandemic, we’ve heard that many universities are postponing events or offering virtual ceremonies this year. As students look for other ways to mark their achievement online, we fear there may be a surge in graduation selfies appearing on social media such as Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Having been restricted for most of the year and gotten used to living online, it’s natural that students will want to mark big milestones on social media. And who can blame them?
The bigger picture
Fake degree certificates are part of a much bigger degree fraud industry, spanning fake universities, CV lies and essay mills.
Since 2015, when the government tasked Prospects Hedd to identify and target perpetrators of degree fraud, we’ve been working with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and other law enforcement agencies internationally to apply trademark, copyright or forgery legislation.
So far, we’ve investigated more than 300 cases, resulting in the closure of 85 fake universities and, of course, we’re no strangers to fake graduation certificates.
The real deal
More often than not, the forgeries appear to be the real deal because most are modelled on legitimate ones.
When scrutinised, however, spelling mistakes and use of Latin terminology are among the more obvious signs of a forgery. To be certain, certificates need to be checked with the issuing university.
Yet, verifying a candidate’s degree is not always common practice among employers, who often take paper or digital certificates at face value, or even rely on a verbal claim.
We are urging universities to make their students aware of the risks and to look for other ways to show they are proud of their achievement – selfies with gowns and caps and rolled up scrolls provide risk-free alternatives, for example.
One of the most valuable actions universities can take to help protect their brand and reputation as well as the investment made by genuine students is to raise awareness of the fraud risk should they be tempted to show graduation certificates publicly.
Over the last few years, we’ve worked with several universities to help them get the message across and can offer advisory copy and material to send out with the certificates. If this is of interest, please contact email@example.com.
Find out more
- Prospects degree fraud toolkits offer advice to help protect students, higher education providers and employers
- Prospects Hedd university look-up service distinguishes between recognised universities and unrecognised providers, all for free and with no account required
- The helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 8148 2400 provides free, impartial advice on all areas of degree fraud