Safety fraud: Why it happens and how to avoid it

Tips to respond to malicious imposters and prevent victimization

Safety fraud: Why it happens and how to avoid it

Safety leaders need to be vigilant in protecting their companies and organizations from fraudsters claiming to hold specific certifications, licenses, and qualifications. 

“We do have to be a little bit more guarded…a little bit more investigative to figure out are these people actually who they say they are,” says Doug Legg, service and training manager with Rubicon Safety.

Last week it was revealed an alleged con-artist posing as an engineer conducted more than 80 crane inspections in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Southwestern Ontario. Jay Harding faces 352 charges and may be continuing to dupe unsuspecting clients in New Brunswick.

A safety training provider also recently discovered a forged working at heights training certificate bearing his company’s name was being presented to a potential employer.

Incidents like these serve as a reminder due diligence is required when hiring outsiders for jobs that have a direct impact on the safety of a worksite. “The world has become such a tech savvy place that anybody can edit and make their own certifications,” says Legg.

Business based on trust

The company Legg works for, Rubicon Safety, provides safety training services, including those involving cranes, and it is based out of Burlington in Southwestern Ontario, not that far from where Harding was allegedly perpetrating his fraud.

Legg says the construction industry in the region is “moving at light speed all the time. Every site that I'm on, every project I go to, everything's moving so fast.” Legg thinks the pace at which work needs to be completed combined with a culture of trust, makes it possible for imposters to fool others.

“There's a brotherhood, and there's a trust that's just been built…there's a lot of benefit of the doubt…I believe that is part of what potentially could have happened here.”

Healthy skepticism can not only prevent your company from becoming a victim of fraud, but it can also potentially help expose the behaviour and put an end to it.

How to verify credentials

“A lot of this information is available…a Google search takes two seconds,” explains Legg.  And while it may seem like extra work to guarantee someone is who they say they are, it can save a lot of headaches in the long run.

In the case of Harding, a quick search of the directory of the Professional Engineers of Ontario would have revealed he isn’t listed. Harding was also allegedly conducting non-destructive testing. The federal government has a searchable list of professionals who are qualified to do that kind of work.

If you need a qualified welder, you can find one on the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB Group) website, which contains a directory of certified companies and inspectors.

There’s also a way to find other approved training services, like searching Ontario’s list of working at heights providers.

Beyond utilizing Google and other search tools, Legg also suggests asking pointed questions when speaking to people who claim to hold certain qualifications.

“Are these companies insured and bonded to do that work? Do they have errors and omissions insurance? What kind of liability insurance are they working with?” Legg says responses to these types of questions should be quick and clear, “and if there's hums and uhs, and they can't even sort that out, well then that to me would be a huge red flag.”

What to do after being duped

If you or your company has been duped regarding matters related to safety, then you don’t have much choice according to Legg. “You've got to go back to square one, and you've got to get somebody back in to do the inspection.”

Not only do you need to find a qualified professional to re-do the job, but in the case of Harding who was allegedly inspecting cranes, Legg says you likely need to pull those machines out of service because “it doesn't have that up-to-date service record.”

The fraudsters, and their phony documents, also need to be reported to the relevant authorities. While it might be tempting to go after them to recoup costs or force them to make amends in some way, Legg says that energy would be better spent by “forging ahead in a new direction with the proper inspectors.”

“I think you would bog yourself down. And then in that time of trying to go back to that person, are you continuing to use an item that you know should be pulled out of service because it's maintenance records and service records are out of date.”

The best advice is avoid being duped by fraudsters in the first place by performing due diligence when hiring people responsible for safety.