“Fraudulent matric certificates are on the rise,” says Ina van der Merwe, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), South Africa’s largest background screening company. “There is also no sign that the tide is likely to turn any time soon, which is concerning in an economy hungry for jobs and skills.”
According to MIE’s statistics, there has been a gradual increase in the number of matric certificates that indicate risk during the verification process, i.e.:
- 2010: 21%
- 2011: 22%
- 2012: 23%
Risk is indicated when there is inconsistency in terms of the information that is provided and the information that is available. For example, some falsify their matric grades and/or subjects to qualify for admittance to tertiary institutions, whereas some buy fake matric certificates because they dropped out of school or failed the year. The quality of the fraud varies too. It can be fairly amateurish, involving a poorly doctored photocopy or a PC-generated colour print-out. Alternatively, it can be so sophisticated that it’s barely detectable to the trained eye. This is largely due to advances in forgery technology and the prevalence of criminal syndicates operating in South Africa.
Van der Merwe says that while there is no excuse for fraud, it’s symptomatic of a country experiencing recessionary pressures. “Today, there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs available. This dichotomy breeds desperation and fear, and desperation and fear make people reckless, especially when they’re feeling hopeless and vulnerable. People know the value of a good education all too well, which is why nearly one in four fake it. There is also a group of people who consciously forge academic transcripts as a means of gaining access to bursary funding. In our experience, they generally take the money and run.”
“Changing the cycle is challenging, but it isn’t impossible,” adds van der Merwe.
She believes that people need to understand the consequences of falsifying a matric certificate, degree or diploma. Tertiary institutions are taking an increasingly hard line in this regard, including the laying of criminal charges. In every case where risk is indicated and verified, the background screening company concerned is compelled to list the person on a special database managed by the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS). “This means that a seemingly “innocent” mistake when you’re 18 or 19 can seriously damage your whole career.” Ideally, learners should be informed of the implications of misrepresenting their achievements before leaving school. Career guidance classes and lessons in life skills are already in place and could serve this purpose.
At a macro level, there is a need for more bridging courses and learnerships, as well as part-time academic and volunteer programmes, where people can learn together, gain experience together and network together. Counselling and mentoring could also play important roles in the future.
In the end, Ina says that the best advice is to resist the temptation of a “quick fix” and seek career guidance or professional advice. “More and more tertiary institutions and employers are doing background screening as a matter of course; there really is no place to hide. When you’re caught, you’ll destroy your reputation, credibility and chances of a better life. A criminal record is a life-long sentence that shouldn’t be regarded lightly.”
Fake degrees and diplomas are equally pervasive in the South African landscape. “It’s regrettable, but in this day and age, background screening is the only way that tertiary institutions and employers can make sure you are who you say you are,” ends van der Merwe.