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Tackling the menace of fake degrees

By Sanjiv Nadkarni

There have been innumerable instances of people trying to get jobs using fake degrees. Last year Delhi Police busted a PAN-India racket that involved 40 agents. They had already sold over 50,000 fake degrees and certificates of nearly 30 universities and boards in India. A degree was sold for over a lakh of rupees. It is no longer the case of an odd individual making a fake degree but in fact a well organised business running in multiple crores of rupees.

In Goa one person got inspector’s job in the police department using fake degree. He was eventually caught. Information Technology (IT) industry is one of the largest job producing industries. It employs 40 lakh people and creates nearly two lakhs new jobs every year.  It was found that 18 per cent of fresher’s had submitted fake degrees during interviews in IT companies. In banking and financial services industry  comprising of banks, insurance, mutual fund companies where generally BA, BCOM, BSC students apply, it was found that fake degree cases had reached 40 per cent.

After a person has been recruited it takes employer several months to do background check including verification of his degree. By that time, money is spent on his training and he is put on customer projects. When verification comes out negative, it causes embarrassment to employer besides loss of money and time as recruitment process has to be carried out again.

In recent past it was found that about 11000 employees of Maharashtra government secured jobs by submitting fake caste certificates. This case went to the court which ordered punitive action of terminating such persons. The government is faced with situation as how to take such action against thousands of persons fearing backlash from staff and at the same time how not to disobey the court.

This market thrives because it is very easy to produce fake degrees. Buyers are readily available. There are guidelines for making printing secure but most universities adopt easy method of printing mark sheets and degrees.

New paper has been developed that uses an embedded Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chip. This is not really a paper but outcome of manufacturing process in which certain polymers are treated to produce thin sheets and a very fine electronic chip is inserted between two sheets that produce the Smart Paper. Chip cannot be separated from the paper. This paper does not use wood pulp. Normal paper on which degrees are printed absorbs moisture and becomes brownish over time. It becomes brittle and tears. Weather has no effect on Smart Paper. It is water resistant and long lasting.

A degree can be printed on this paper using a normal ink jet printer. There is a small device like a set top box of a TV that is connected to the computer. This is the chip writer. After printing degree on the paper, it is kept on the writer and computer writes certain info regarding university and student ID in the chip. Degree is now ready to be given out. When the student goes for interview, employer just holds his mobile phone over this paper. Phone reads contents of the chip and is directed to the University server that shows image of original degree as maintained by the University.

Counterfeiting is now not possible as the verification happens on the spot and the culprit can be apprehended red handed in case of any malpractice. This way degree verification can be done instantly from anywhere in the World. This is called the NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. Recently banks have changed our old magnetic strip ATM cards by chip based ones. They also use NFC to authenticate our account information. Hackers cannot copy our account details easily thus making our ATM cards more secure.

The ministry of HRD (MHRD) launched a good initiative known as NAD (National Academic Depository) that has a central server on which degree certificates and mark sheets can be uploaded by universities. Interviewer can search documents on this portal for quick verification. This initiative is facing unexpected challenge. Candidate who submits fake degree acts over smart and claims that his degree document is genuine and there must be a mistake in uploading data on NAD server. NAD says it is not responsible for data validity as it provides only a platform to put the data and if an employer suspects a degree to be fake, he should verify it from the University. The process is back to Square One. Chip enabled degree certificate is proving to be a better solution.

Another document that has high instances of counterfeiting and far reaching effects is passport. The ministry of human affairs (MHA) has recently announced that it will be issuing chip based passports so that security agencies can just hold their phone over the chip and they will get diverted to MHA server and image of original passport can be seen. Alternatively an App can be provided to security agencies which will read contents of the chip. When you renew your passport the next time, there is every likelihood that you will get a Smart Passport.

Universities can make their degrees difficult for counterfeiting by incorporating security printing features. Following are some examples.

Micro Printing: It involves the use of extremely small text in background as used in bank cheques.

Guilloche Lines: Fine, repetitive patterns are made all over the underlying surface which is paper in this case. A well-designed security patterns are printed which makes the document difficult to counterfeit. Guilloche Lines are used for certificates that often become the object of forgery and falsification.

High resolution border: Using Graphical Effects to promote Document Security

Void Pantograph: In security printing, void pantograph refers to a method of making tamper-resistant patterns in the background of a document. Normally these are invisible to the eye, but become obvious when the document is photocopied. Typically they spell out “void”, “copy”, “invalid” or some other indicator message.

Artificial Watermark: This is produced by printing a pattern on the back of a document with transparent coin reactive white ink. This cannot be copied or seen by naked eye. To view the water mark image, document is usually tilted at 45 degree angle to the light source. When scratched with a coin, the mark becomes grayish.

Blind Emboss: Blind embossing is a printing technique that doesn’t use ink, which is why it is also called embossed stamping. Blind embossing creates an image in the material, which gives it a chic look.

Data is new oil and data puts power in the hands of the holder. We must continuously evolve solutions that will make copying and altering of data difficult. Counterfeiting means making duplicate of a good brand, hurting its reputation and revenue.  A university can develop reputation if it can create image that its Mark Sheets and Degree Certificates have strong security and instant verifiable features.

Fraudsters will make efforts to beat the system. We need to constantly stay ahead of them by adopting newer technologies to improve our efficiency and achieve perfection. As Winston Churchill said “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Those who adopt innovation early become leaders. Those who don’t, remain followers.

The writer works in areas of IT and renewable energy.

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