York exec hired with ‘bogus’ degree

10 per cent of all resumés cite fraudulent education, says expert

York University in Toronto recently discovered that Michael Markicevic — a former executive facing criminal and civil fraud charges for a phony invoice scheme at the university — cited a fake degree on his resumé when he was hired.

“He submitted a CV containing a bogus degree in order to obtain a position at York,” the university said in a court filing obtained by the Toronto Star.

Markicevic, former assistant vice-president of campus services and business operations at York, cited he had an MBA from Auburn State University — but no such university exists.

“This is just the latest in a line of fairly high-level executives both at corporations, industries and universities where they’ve hired based upon someone’s reputation rather than making a sound hiring decision,” said Daniel Fallows, executive director of pre-employment and HR solutions at Garda in Toronto.

Falsifying educational credentials is actually fairly common, with about 10 per cent of resumés containing a discrepancy, said Dave Dinesen, president and CEO of BackCheck in Surrey, B.C.

According to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) in the United States, 44 per cent of 400 HR professionals surveyed said there was “always” or “sometimes” inaccuracies with the degrees cited on resumés, as well as the educational institutions attended.

But many applicants get away with false claims because employers don’t check their credentials, said Fallows.

“A lot of companies out there are in such a rush to make that hire and acquire a certain individual that they’re willing to forego even basic checks to verify information and (the York situation) just illustrates the danger that kind of approach can cause,” he said.

Employers need to make sure they are conducting thorough background checks that include a criminal record check, reference interviews, employment verifications, ID verification and, if appropriate, a credit check, said Dinesen.

It is recommended employers use an impartial third party to conduct background checks.

“You need a disinterested party,” he said. “It’s important to have a third party look because it eliminates interview bias. If you sat down with someone and feel like you’ve gotten to know them, it will change how you conduct a (background check). But when you’re a disinterested third party, you’ll follow a process.”

Employers need to do their research to ensure they are choosing the right vendor. They should call previous clients as well as check out online reviews, said Rene Beaulieu, president of SECUREaGLOBE Solutions in London, Ont.

It’s also important to choose a vendor that does not use a call centre environment, said Fallows.

“That way, you can gain a relationship directly with the people who are doing the screening themselves. It’s going to build a relationship, build trust, build back-and-forth communication so that nothing’s going to get missed.”

Once a vendor is chosen, the employer should conduct regular reviews with the provider — at least quarterly — and ensure a regular quality audit is performed, said Fallows.

York University said it recruited Markicevic with the help of an outside search firm, and “search consultants do the screening and assessment of applicants and verify credentials as part of the process,” Joanne Rider, a spokesperson for York, told the Star.

When using a recruitment or staffing agency, employers need to make sure the agency is also using a third-party company to conduct background checks, and they should always ask to see the background check report, said Fallows.

Employers should do their own due diligence and double check key information.

“The staffing agency is looking at bodies — the more bodies I put in there, the more profit I make. And if they’re having a hard time getting candidates, they may start lowering their standards just to get candidates to fill your positions,” said Beaulieu.

Another huge problem is diploma mills — companies that sell fake degrees to individuals and verify the information when an employer calls to check, said Fallows.

“It’s all over the world and it’s very prolific. (People) pay $100 to $500 and get a certificate and if someone would have looked it up and got the phone number and called them, yes, it would be verified, but they have no basis for issuing a degree and, in most cases, there’s no attendance that happens — it’s merely a financial transaction,” he said.

To overcome this, employers need to make sure not only the degree itself is being validated, but the institution has the authority to issue the degree, said Fallows.

Hiring managers should also receive training on detecting deception on resumés, said Beaulieu. The biggest red flags are often found in the order in which items are listed. For example, if someone puts a PhD way down at the bottom of the page, that’s a huge red flag.

More than one-third (36 per cent) of employees who lied on their resumé said the deception was later discovered, according to a May 2012 survey of 1,000 American workers on FindLaw.com. Twenty-seven per cent of those who did so lost their job.

“You have to fire them right away, without a doubt you have to terminate,” said Fallows. “You can’t really set up any type of precedent where you’ve allowed someone to remain employed after that.”

The employer should then conduct an audit of its background checking process and consider what types of checks have been done, if all hiring managers are following the screening policy and if they are consistent at each of the company’s locations, said Dinesen.

It’s very important employers make sure they are properly vetting candidates to not only protect their reputation but ensure they are hiring the person with the right skills for the job, said Fallows.

Employers have a fiduciary duty to ensure they have qualified employees to protect customers, fellow employees and company assets, said Dinesen.

“Governments have instilled laws to ensure there’s more accountability for employers to account for who they’re hiring and the conduct of employees,” said Beaulieu. “There is definitely liability that the employer takes on from hiring one candidate that could be a loose cannon.”

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