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Ensuring Integrity in the Workplace: Identifying Red Flags of Qualifications Fraud

In today's dynamic professional landscape, stories of deceit often lurk behind the facade of success. Recent revelations involving high-profile individuals have brought qualifications fraud to the forefront of discussions, challenging our notions of credibility and integrity. As we navigate this discourse, we must move beyond the discussion of punitive measures and consider practical steps employers can take to detect fraudulent qualifications proactively.

In this article, we shed light on the red flags of qualifications fraud and empower employers with the knowledge to safeguard their organisations. 

While tertiary qualifications are frequently the target of falsification, many low-level positions such as those of general workers and cleaners only require a high school pass and are just as prone to fraud. While it is recommended that employers use verification agencies to confirm the authenticity of qualifications, some frauds are quite easy to spot if one knows what to look out for.

Below we provide a non-exhaustive list of red flags to watch out for, starting with the  tell-tale signs of fudged high school reports.

For general work positions that require no more than a grade 11 pass:

  • The original report card is lost, but a poor-quality copy is presented;
  • The person was in high school in the 1990’s, but the report card reflects Grade 11 instead of Standard 9;
  • The subjects reflected in the report card were not offered in that era, eg. a Standard 9 report reflecting Maths Literacy, instead of Standard Grade Mathematics, Life Science instead of Biology;
  • The report card is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors;
  • The school is not contactable on the telephone number reflected on the report card;
  • The report card reflects an e-mail address and/or a mobile phone number on a report card generated in the 1990’s. This is more suspicious for township and rural schools;
  • The physical address of the school does not correspond with postal code reflected on the report card;
  • The report card only reflects a post box number and not a physical address.
  • The postal code reflected on the report card does not correspond with the dialling code of the schools’ telephone number shown on the report card;
  • The grading system does not correspond to the era in which the report was issued.

In addition to those listed above, the following red flags are pertinent to matriculation certificates:

  • The subjects reflected on the matric certificate were not offered in that era, eg. Maths Literacy, Life Science and Consumer Studies all had different names in the 1990s;
  • The matric certificate issued in the 2000s reflects a student number instead of an identity number;
  • The matric certificate was obtained from a school with a flamboyant name;
  • The candidate’s names reflected on the matric certificate do not match those in the candidate’s identity book/card and/or birth certificate;
  • The ID number on the matric certificate does not match those on the candidate's identity book/card and/or birth certificate;
  • The font used for the subjects shown on the certificate does not match the font used for the marks obtained for the subjects. This applies to font type and font size.

Similar discrepancies can also be spotted on tertiary qualification certificates. The following red flags are unique to tertiary qualifications:

  • The language used on the certificate is poor and inconsistent;
  • The certificate does not show the student number of the recipient of the certificate;
  • The certificate was awarded on a public holiday;
  • The certificate contains only one signature. Tertiary certificates usually contain the signatures of the vice-chancellor/principal, registrar and dean of the relevant faculty;
  • The certificate does not contain a seal of the tertiary institution; and
  • The certificate is printed on poor-quality paper with poor-quality ink.

In addition to the abovementioned red flags, employers should be suspicious when

  • An employee becomes irritated or even throws temper tantrums when requested to submit original certificates for verification;
  • An employee is evasive or keeps forgetting to submit original certificates;
  • A competent and well-skilled employee in a low-ranking position does not want or avoids applying for promotion.
  • An employee is overqualified for the job they are applying for.
  • An employee has a poor grasp of concepts that are covered in the modules he/she claims to have studied; and
  • An employee holding a master's or doctoral degree avoids or refuses to discuss his/her academic research topic.

Recognising these red flags is paramount for employers striving to maintain the integrity of their hiring processes and safeguard against qualifications fraud. We further recommend that employers should use experts to conduct qualification audits across all grades of employees in their organisations. Vigilance, coupled with thorough verification procedures, serves as the cornerstone of ensuring the authenticity of employees' credentials.

Reach out to Motsoeneng Bill Attorneys’ Forensic Investigations & Fraud Risk Advisory team for assistance with auditing the qualifications of your employees.

About the author

Sekgalo Tsaagane

Executive: Forensic Investigations and Fraud Risk Advisory

Certified Fraud Examiner,
Commercial Forensic Practitioner South Africa,
BCom Acc (Wits, 2002),
Postgrad Dip Investigative and Forensic Accounting (UP, 2007),
Advanced Certificate in Fraud Examinations (FASSET, 2015),
LLB (UNISA, 2021),
Practical Legal Training (LEAD, 2022)

17 years Forensic Experience

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