Businesses that employ executives who claim to have degrees or diplomas without first checking that they were valid faced huge risks.

Danie Strydom, MD of the qualifications verification company QVS says because their new employees would first of all not be able to do the job they were hired for, there was also a good chance that they  might commit fraud.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that degree fraud is a growth industry because of the ease with which fraudulent degrees and diplomas can be acquired through so-called degree mills.

“The onus is on the employer to make sure that the new employee has the qualifications he or she lays claim to.”

Cynthia Schoeman, MD of Ethics Monitoring & Management Services, says fraud in the workplace has become a cultural institution in the South African workplace and people often lied about their qualifications or experience.

“Unfortunately, many employers take the information applicants provide on their CVs at face value and don’t bother to verify those degrees or diplomas. This is a huge mistake because CVs often contained false or fraudulent information about qualifications, experience and even work permits.”

As part of the works she does to help companies to conform to ethics standards such as those entrenched in the King 3 report and required by the new Companies Act, she as a matter of course recommends that all qualifications are checked and verified.

“I had a personal experience of job applicants who attempted to commit CV fraud when I started receiving phone calls for references for people claiming to have worked for my previous deregistered company.

“As a deregistered entity they thought it would be safe to use it,” Schoeman says.

She says the problem comes down to a lack of ethical awareness and is perhaps explained by competition for jobs. “There needs to be verification of qualifications at all time.”

The revelation by a UK screening company that 25% of all CVs checked by them contained lies was to some degree mirrored in South Africa.

Strydom says that although our qualifications fraud rate is not that high in South Africa, anywhere between 15% and 17% of all queries prove to be problematic to some degree. Some students claim higher marks that those actually attained for their degrees while some add subjects that they did not in fact pass, he says.

The UK study of 3 000 candidates conducted by the Risk Advisory Group found that CVs submitted by applicants for jobs in the UK financial services sector contained at least three lies. These ranged from lying about their previous employers to outright lies about their qualifications.

Unisa, the University of Pretoria, the University of Johannesburg and the University of Cape Town have all made it clear that they will prosecute people who falsely claim to have degrees issued by their institutions.