How to safeguard your business against fake qualifications


We all know that higher education and suitable qualifications are crucial for anyone seeking gainful employment, so it’s no surprise to know that this is also an area ripe for exploitation.

‘Degree mills’ (also known as ‘diploma mills’) have become a pervasive and ever-increasing concern for businesses globally. It’s estimated that it is now a billion-dollar industry, with over 3300 of these mills providing fake university qualifications and certifications for a wide range of job roles. However, fake academic certificates and degrees are only the tip of the iceberg. Even individuals holding legitimate degrees may falsify their academic transcripts with the aid of technology.

The fake qualifications scandal that has rocked the UK’s healthcare system in recent months is a wake-up call for employers across all industries: not only are appropriate background checks required during the recruitment process, but ongoing monitoring of employee qualifications is also considered best practice.

In this blog, we take a closer look at what employers can do to safeguard themselves and the public they serve.

What’s happened in the UK?

In February 2024, it was reported that more than 700 NHS nurses were being investigated for providing suspected fraudulent qualifications.

The nurses involved are believed to have used surrogates to take their qualifying test at Yunnik test centre in Nigeria, allowing them to become registered to work in the UK.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) initially asked 48 of the nurses already working in the UK to retake the test, to prove they were qualified to treat patients. Those nurses will also face individual hearings to clarify how they took, and passed, the test.

Since then, the NMC has declared test results by 1,955 Nigerian trained health professionals to be invalid. Those health professionals have been given three chances to re-sit the test, or they will be excluded from the register.

With quality care outcomes the top priority for the employers of these workers, it’s a timely reminder that all employers need to undertake due diligence to ensure workers are suitably qualified.

A global challenge

With an increasingly mobile, global workforce – especially in frontline workplaces in industries like aged care and healthcare – guarding against fake qualifications isn’t just a country-specific problem but a problem for employers around the world.

To cite just one example, a doctor was jailed for seven years after it was discovered they held a fake Auckland University degree. She had worked in the UK’s NHS for almost two decades undetected. The Judge in the case said that the basic spelling and grammar mistakes in a forged letter and the degree itself should have warranted a phone call or letter to Auckland University.

Indeed, a report from the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) in 2019 found that 70% of the Australian aged care workforce consisted of staff who were not adequately regulated, trained or supervised.

The ABC reported at the time that ACN chief executive Kylie Ward said unregulated workers – including personal care assistants, aged care workers, auxiliary nurses and birth assistants – were a "valued group" but they needed to be regulated and supervised.

Ward added that healthcare workers in Australia should be admitted to a register that would require a certain level of minimum training, police checks and annual/biannual renewal of registration, similar to registered nurses.

How can employers guard against fraudulent qualifications?

It’s an employer’s responsibility to ensure employees hold relevant qualifications before they start in a role. While employers always have an obligation to protect their employees, they are also responsible for protecting the public and the reputation of their profession. This can only be done by applying appropriate due diligence both before and during employment.


During the recruitment process, due diligence might include:


  • Training hiring managers to look out for red flags that might suggest a diploma mill has supplied the qualification to the candidate. These red flags might include:

  • Institutions you’ve never heard of or with similar names to well-known universities

  • No academic requirements for the certificate

  • Obvious spelling, grammar or date errors

  • Degrees awarded solely on factors such as ‘life experience’

  • Fast turnarounds for degrees, often as quick as 30 days

  • A suspicious accreditation from an agency you’ve never heard of

In addition, employers should:

  • Ensure any letter of offer clearly states the conditions that the offer is subject to, and ask the prospective employees to submit copies of their qualification or certification

  • Ensure transparent, fair and legal investigation and termination policies are in place, in the event that fraudulent activity may be suspected. The NMC in the UK has been applauded for the process they have followed, as employees accused of misconduct should be given an opportunity to explain their actions. Having clear and deterrent sanctions in place is one possible additional way to guard against people who try to gain employment when they are not qualified to work. 

  • Adopt competency-based job interviews. These can alert an employer to false qualifications by testing an applicant’s aptitude for that job and comparing what is said in person with what is written in their CV.

  • Undertake relevant background checks. These are typically done to verify information on the candidate’s resume and job application. This might include the applicant’s work history and educational experiences. Background checks can also be used to detect any potential risks associated with the applicant, such as a criminal history or poor driving records (if the role requires driving). Various industries and roles have specific mandatory checks that must be done, such as working with children checks.

Remember: A formal qualification check ensures there is documentary evidence of the completion of the qualification from an accredited institution (e.g. an original academic transcript showing completion of requirements for the relevant course). However, employers shouldn’t rely on physical documents alone. Sighting a candidate’s certificate is not sufficient. The only way to be certain is to confirm by checking directly with the issuing organisation.

Beyond recruitment

If an employee has slipped through the cracks and it later emerges that they do not hold legitimate qualifications, or it’s found that someone has submitted falsified qualifications as evidence after they have been hired, the employer should carry out a full investigation.


That could progress to a disciplinary hearing and, depending on the circumstances, the employee could be dismissed or given a second chance.


Employers should not hesitate to report incidents to regulatory bodies so that appropriate action can be taken – especially if entry to the country was dependent on employment.


What else can employers do?

Qualifications management

Qualifications management is a key aspect of workforce management and staying vigilant about employee qualifications doesn’t end once a new hire comes onboard. In certain industries, licences, qualifications and certifications need to be regularly updated. It may also be necessary to track work visas and expiries to ensure workers are cleared to work in the country. In addition, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points might need to be obtained to remain compliant with industry regulations. All of these elements need to be collated and tracked.


An integrated HCM suite like Humanforce can help in a number of ways:


  1. Using Humanforce’s Onboarding solution, new starters can upload their personal, bank and tax details into the system. They can also upload any qualifications they hold that might be relevant (and required) for the job. While no verification is done on those qualifications in this system, expiry dates are included in the upload – an important compliance element so that reminder notifications can be sent to both the employee and manager ahead of the expiry date.

  2. In Humanforce’s Rostering & Scheduling solution, managers will not be able to roster any employee who has an expired qualification – another important compliance feature.

  3. In Humanforce’s Compliance solution, CPD training can be logged and points calculated. That way both employees and managers can ensure they have completed required training by a set period (end of year, etc.). Audit-ready data exports can also be done so that senior leaders and HR can track training completions.


Don’t cut corners!

In the rush to fill an urgent vacancy, it may be tempting to skip or overlook some of the recommended safeguards above. Just be mindful that although a candidate or employee may tick 98% of a mandated checklist, that person may still have information or qualifications that don’t hold out against further scrutiny.


Background checks and ongoing qualifications management may seem time consuming and unnecessary but the price of hiring the wrong person with the wrong (or non-existent) skills, qualifications or experience can be devastating.


About Humanforce

Humanforce is the best-in-one platform for frontline and flexible workforces, offering a truly employee centred, intelligent and compliant human capital management (HCM) suite – without compromise. Founded in 2002, Humanforce has a 2300+ customer base and over half a million users worldwide. Today, we have offices across Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.


Our vision is to make work easier and life better by focusing on the needs and fulfilment of frontline workers, and the efficiency and optimisation of businesses.


To learn more about how Humanforce’s solutions, including our AN-ACC Real-Time Dashboard, can help automate people processes in your business, please contact us.