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Qualification to lie for 22/09/2002

Falsification of qualifications to get a good job is on the increase

Report Tania Broughton and Johan Schronen

ARMED with “the gift of the gab”, false CVs and, in some cases, fake degrees and diplomas, these people are taking South African businesses for a ride. And yet there are still too few companies who do pre-employment background checks.

The facts are scary:

Amanzimtoti-based private investigator Mr Ray van Staden says, in his experience, two in five CVs he is given to check for his “blue Chip” clients, have false information.

A national company, MIE Resource Services, which specialises in rooting out the lies on CVs, puts the figure at one in five. But whatever the actual figure, both say it’s a crime on the increase.

Van Staden said sometimes people just lied on their CVs, others produced falsified degrees and diplomas and others “lied by omission”, leaving gaps in their particulars to hide shady information, such as jail time.

“Recently I was asked to check out the credentials, as a formality, of an American guy who had applied for a job of a chief executive officer of a large, Johannesburg-based company. When I looked at his qualifications, I realised he must have gone to university aged 12. I contacted all the institutions he named, and all came back with a negative.

“When asked to produce his certificates, he said they were in boxes, but he finally confessed, saying he had just done night classes-which also proved ultimately to be a lie. And this guy was apparently doing a good job at his current place of work.”

In another recent case, Van Staden found out that a South African, who claimed to have studied in France, had also lied. “They didn’t even offer that course at that university.”

MIE Resource’s Ina van der Merwe said her researchers had discovered a rising number of “bogus and backyard” colleges and universities in cyberspace.

“These crooks are professional and provide a back-up telephone verification for their clients who have spent a year or two at university and know how to ‘talk the talk”, using jargon picked up during early studies to impress prospective employees, are often the culprits.”

And who wouldn’t be impressed with names like Denver State University, New York City University, Danforth State University – certificates that are extremely easy to confuse with the real thing. This is why Van Staden urges businesses to screen every potential employee carefully.

“You need to verify everything that people say. It costs a couple of hundred Rand, but that is nothing compared to the thousands you will pay to get rid of them once you have employed them and realise they can’t do the job,” he says.

Van Staden said while these people could obviously be charged with fraud, he had yet to hear of any company taking this action. But University of Cape Town registrar Jim McNamara said he had criminally charged six people who produced fake UCT degree certificates in recent years.

The University of Natal’s Director of Student Academic Affairs, Vic Winterbach, said the university was in the process of outsourcing its qualification verifications to MIE Resource Services.

“This decision was sparked by an audit by the Department of Education of teachers’ qualifications. We were literally swamped with verification requests and it would have meant setting up a whole new department to deal with it,” he said.

“Regrettably we have found some false diplomas and inflated academic records in the teaching fraternity and the business world – probably about seven in the last year.

“One of our main problems is a fake or falsified matric certificate, which we have to probe through the matriculation board.”

University of Stellenbosch spokesman Hans-Peter Bakker said his university received up to 10 queries daily from people wanting to verify diplomas and degree certificates.

This year, they had discovered about 15 fake certificates, he said.

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