Weeding out the fakes

Major counterfeiting bust shows importance of detailed background checks

A counterfeiting ring operating out of a house in Markham, Ont., could have supplied thousands of people with forged university degrees and transcripts as well as forged immigration documents, according to York Regional Police.

The police confiscated forged degrees from the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario, Cape Breton University and many others.

When police showed the forged documents to university officials, even they had a hard time telling the fakes from the real deal, said Det. Fred Kerr.

“These were of such high quality that our university people had to do a double take,” said Kerr. “From an employer point of view, you’re not going to catch what’s wrong with them.”

With technology that allows fraudsters to create such convincing fakes, how can HR professionals prevent unqualified applicants from getting hired?

“Don’t take them at face value,” recommended Kerr.

A candidate’s degree or professional designation is the one thing employers most often take for granted, said Dan Fallows, the manager of pre-employment screening for Ontario and the Maritimes for Montreal-based security firm Garda.

The best way to avoid hiring someone who has lied about his qualifications, or who presents false documents, is to speak directly with the institution, said Fallows. The employer also has to make sure the institution is actually accredited to issue that qualification.

“All over the United States, there are diploma mills popping up daily,” said Fallows.

To confound matters, false accreditation agencies that verify the legitimacy of these institutions are also sprouting up around the U.S., he added.

That’s why it’s important to go through a government body, such as a ministry of education, to verify an institution’s legitimacy.

With about 130,000 employment checks a year, Garda has found about 12 per cent of applicants lie about their education.

The majority of them are lying about a degree they never got, said Fallows.

“If you’re going to verify anything at all, verify the education,” he said.

Employers should never rely on the phone number a candidate has supplied for the university, said Fallows. Instead, the employer should call the university’s registrar directly through a credible source.

While Murray Bandura, a Calgary-based recruiting manager for staffing firm Robert Half Canada, has seen some candidates with fake documents, HR needs to watch out for candidates who are padding their resumés, he said. Garda has found that as many as 22 per cent of applicants lie on their resumés, said Fallows.

HR should use the same caution when calling a candidate’s references as when verifying her qualifications, said Bandura.

“I have seen situations where an individual sets up their friend,” he said.

HR should call the company’s main switchboard and ask for the reference’s title to confirm she is in fact who the candidate says she is.

To guard against fake documents, employers should request an official transcript to be sent directly from the institution to the employer, without ever going to the applicant.

This is something Keith Brown, the vice-president of business development at Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S., sees many requests for. In his role at the university, Brown also interviews many job applicants and sees hundreds of resumés.

He has found the best way to avoid hiring anyone with fraudulent qualifications or experiences is to conduct very detailed reference checks with previous employers and colleagues.

“It’s incredibly time consuming, but for me it is extremely important,” he said. “You can really learn a great deal from detailed reference checks.”

In a tight labour market where employers are fighting each other for top talent, they may not want to take the time to do thorough background checks, but it’s time and money well spent.

If the employee’s annual salary is $50,000 and she stays for three years, that’s $150,000 the company is investing in that person, said Bandura.

“You are making an investment on behalf of the company,” said Bandura. “You want to make sure that what you are buying, or in this case hiring, is what is presented to you.”

Latest stories