A growth in the value of cards has led to increased criminal activity, but CSCS is fighting back.
In recent years, CSCS has moved decisively towards a new regime in which every card issued represents a genuine qualification.
While that is leading to a better-qualified workforce, it also means that the cards are more valuable – and with that comes a new challenge.
“It used to be pretty easy to get a card and now it’s a lot harder,” says CSCS chief executive Graham Wren (pictured). “Gone are the days when all you needed to do was pass the health and safety test and get an employer endorsement.
“You now also have to demonstrate that you have a relevant qualification in construction which requires a commitment in terms of time and money. The card becomes intrinsically more valuable, hence attracting the attention of the criminals.”
To an extent, fraud has always been an issue that CSCS has had to tackle. In the 2000s, the main form of fraud was pretty basic, with people “mocking up the cards with pieces of plastic in their back rooms or garages”, according to Mr Wren. In response, CSCS launched smart cards in 2010, which can be read electronically and are almost impossible to counterfeit.
Smart cards are supported by a free app, GoSmart, which makes it easy for site managers to check the cardholder’s qualifications and the validity of the card electronically. “You can read a card in a matter of seconds using a smartphone, tablet device or via your PC,” Mr Wren says.
However, as CSCS started to focus on moving to a fully qualified workforce – thereby increasing the value of cards – it found that criminals moved away from producing fake cards to fake certificates, which could then be used to obtain a genuine card.
“The problem is that when we identify fraudulent certificates relating to one of the awarding organisations, the criminals realise they have been discovered and move on to the next awarding organisation”
Graham Wren, CSCS
“The evidence indicates that we are now dealing with highly organised criminal networks and the number of reported incidents of fraud is increasing,” Mr Wren says. “In our contact centres we have seen an increase in incidents of fake certificates being uncovered. These certificates are supposedly issued by recognised awarding organisations, which if not properly checked could lead to the issue of a legitimate CSCS card.”
CSCS requires applicants to send in a certificate before a card can be issued. Certificates are then subject to a visual inspection; if there is any doubt, the CSCS team puts out a call to the awarding organisation to check it is genuine. The problem is the sheer number of certificates to be checked.
“It’s quite a time-consuming process,” Mr Wren says. “The problem is that when we identify fraudulent certificates relating to one of the awarding organisations, the criminals realise they have been discovered and move on to the next awarding organisation.”
In response, CSCS is in the process of appointing a new service provider that will develop technology that can authenticate a certificate automatically. “What we’re saying to the awarding organisations is that we will require automatic checking of the certificates when that new service goes live next year,” Mr Wren explains.
“That will make things quicker – we’ll be able to check every certificate against the awarding organisations database – and this will speed things up for applicants in terms of receiving their cards.”
In an effort to stay one step ahead, however, fraudsters have now come up with a new tactic.
“The perfect solution for them is to have a valid certificate leading to a valid card,” he says. “So what they’re trying to do now is target specific centres and convert staff within those centres to act criminally – to dish out legitimate certificates without the applicant having done the qualification.”
This is something CSCS can do little to counter by itself, but when fraud is detected at a centre, it will electronically cancel the cards. “In those circumstances, what we’re saying to the awarding organisation is that the arrangements around auditing the centres have got to be strengthened,” Mr Wren says.
“Obviously, this is an area that has to involve the regulator, Ofqual. Part of being regulated is that you have to have good governance and audit processes in place so that this sort of activity can’t happen.”
Clearly CSCS is doing everything it can to counter fraud – but it also needs help from the industry. To that end, Mr Wren is calling on leaders to ensure cards are read electronically every time someone enters a site to establish the card is genuine and hasn’t been cancelled.
“I think it’s important that leaders understand that the industry has to play its part in being vigilant,” he says. “People have to make sure cards are read electronically and not just given a quick visual inspection.
“There has to be more rigour around checking individuals and their qualifications when they come on site, and checking cards electronically is the most efficient way of doing this.”