What Is Degree Fraud and Can You Prevent It?
After years of hard work, graduating from college is a cause for celebration. For many people, it also marks the end of formal education as they take their first tentative steps into the job market.
However, there are some out there who want to take advantage of your efforts. Rather than study or undergo training themselves, the fraudsters use publicly available information to falsely claim that they have graduated from college.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this fraudulent activity and protect yourself from degree fraud as well.
What Is Degree Fraud?
Having already decided to invest time and money into higher education, you probably already know the benefits of obtaining a degree. But before we delve into how to protect yourself, it’s worth looking at what degree fraud actually is.
Your degree certificate serves as a confirmation of your skills, ability, and hard work. For this reason, employers are often keen to employ graduates. In challenging economic times, though, the job market can be tough, with many people competing for each role.
It’s no secret that attending college is an expensive undertaking. On top of the academic costs, you also have to find a way to pay bills, rent, and buy groceries. Unfortunately, some people out there want the benefits of a college degree but without the effort.
As a result, they fraudulently claim to have graduated from college with a degree. One method is to create fake degree certificates, but some will also combine this with identity theft to claim another person’s credentials and experience.
No one wants to be a victim of identity theft, so it’s essential to know how to protect yourself. Likewise, although it seems as though you can’t do anything about fake degree certificates, there are ways to prevent the spread of false credentials.
This is a broader problem, but an influx of fake certifications flooding the market devalues your degree. It’s in your interest to prevent the spread of counterfeit credentials as well.
So, let’s look at some of the ways you can help slow the propagation of fraudulent degree certificates and protect yourself from identity theft.
1. Don’t Post Pictures of Your Degree Certificate
We share most of our lives on social media, so it’s only natural you’d want to celebrate a milestone like graduating from college by posting some photographs. However, you shouldn’t post photos of your physical degree certificate.
On the certificate are personal details that enable social engineering, like your full name, the institution you attended, and the topic you studied. That said, you may be wise to this and blur or redact this personal information. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent degree fraud on its own.
Just as your government does with banknotes, colleges worldwide include logos, holograms, headers, and other design-based details in their certificates to verify their authenticity. By posting these details publicly, there is a risk that criminals will use that to create credible fake documents.
2. Change Your LinkedIn Privacy Settings
LinkedIn is the most popular professional social network. While there are familiar features like the newsfeed and status updates, the site functions as an easy-to-access online resume. Searching for a job used to be a manual and active process requiring hours of form filling, website registrations, and cover letters.
These days, if you have a profile that stands out, businesses and recruiters can find and approach you with job offers. However, this only works if you share information about your background on your profile for others to view.
Currently, you have to sign in to view most profiles, but once you’re logged in, if you don’t tighten your settings, any registered member has access to the information posted on your profile. To improve your privacy, you can change your LinkedIn settings to limit who can see your email address.
In some cases, this alone could be enough for a fraudster, but it is especially useful when combined with other data they glean from your online presence.
3. Google Yourself Regularly
In the UK, April 28th is known as Ed Balls Day. In April 2011, the politician accidentally tweeted his own name when searching for posts mentioning him on Twitter. He has since embraced this, and each year pokes fun at himself. However, most people view vanity searches—purposefully hunting out online content about yourself—as something to be ashamed about.
But vanity searches serve a useful function when it comes to protecting yourself online. From old websites you no longer visit, media reports, publications you’ve authored, and even social media posts where you’re mentioned, there is a potential trove of easily accessible information about you.
There’s another reason to google yourself as well; public records websites. When you sign up for various government programs, participate in the census, or register to vote, some, if not all, of this information is publicly accessible. Although they pose a significant privacy risk, fortunately, you can delete your personal information from public record websites.
4. Share Documents Securely
Following research into the prevalence of degree fraud, the UK government issued recommendations to employers to not rely on your resume and inspect the certificates and transcripts themselves. If you have obtained your degree through an accredited institution, you should have no problems passing this check.
However, sharing documents with a prospective employer can be a tricky business. If they request physical copies, you can often ask your college to provide copies so you don’t have to send your originals. There will likely be a fee for this. Additionally, you should choose a secured postage option, preferably one requiring a signature upon delivery.
That said, most employers are likely to ask you for digital copies instead. Although you’ll probably have correspondence before they ask for these credentials, you should ensure you know and trust the person you are sending them to and verify that the request is legitimate. If you use one of the most secure email providers, you can encrypt the email to keep the contents only between you and the recipient.
You could even consider using one of the most secure cloud storage services. Storing your files in this secure space reduces the risk of interception and allows you more control over who can view and access it. For instance, you can choose to share the file only with a specific person and then remove this permission once the verification is complete.
Don’t Share Personal Information on Social Media
One of the best ways to protect yourself from degree fraud—or any fraud for that matter—is to be aware of and careful with the information you post online. Social media is a great way to make connections, catch up with friends, and build professional relationships.
However, this also makes it an ideal target for fraudsters, criminals, and social engineers. Educational background is a critical part of these attacks, but it isn’t the whole picture. There are plenty of other types of information you shouldn’t share online as well.
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