January 19th, 2017
On January 5, 2017, the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA), frustrated with the continued proliferation of diploma mills and fraudulent qualifications, made a bold announcement that it will name and shame holders of these bogus degrees and diplomas. The SAQA has established a national registry where those found guilty of having misrepresented their achievements with the use of fake degrees will be listed and said registry will be made public.
The issue of diploma mills and misrepresentation of academic documents is not new but it is a growing problem which continues to fester in countries around the world. Here at ACEI, we realize the importance of doing our due diligence in vetting and verifying academic documents and ensuring that they are in fact issued by legitimate educational institutions to individuals who have duly earned them through actual attendance and participation in classes and coursework validated by final examinations.
From time to time, we share tips we’ve gleaned from our years of experience with academic documents and in this week’s blog we’d like to do exactly that and repost a comprehensive to-do list for you. We welcome any tips you would like to add to this list.
Ensuring the authenticity of educational credentials is by far the single most important step in credential evaluation and international student admissions. Without due diligence in fraud detection, we may run the risk of evaluating documents that may have been falsified, or fraudulently procured and admitting the students into our institutions based on unauthentic credentials. As professionals involved in international credential evaluation and admissions, we must remain vigilant and adopt best practices that protect us and the community from fraud.
In this blog post, we offer some tips to consider when evaluating international academic credentials.
What is an authentic academic credential?
The definition adopted by the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers is as follows:
An official transcript is one that has been received directly from the issuing institution. It must bear the college seal, date, and an appropriate signature. Transcripts received that do not meet these requirements should not be considered official and should be routinely verified for validity and accuracy before proceeding with the evaluation and admissions consideration.
The 5 Most Common Types of Non-Official and Illegitimate Documents
1. Forged or altered documents – Official, legitimate document that have been altered in some way (usually by omissions, addition, or changes)
2. Inside jobs – these are special cases because the documents are actually produced by institutional employees, usually for a fee; inside jobs are virtually impossible to detect upon initial review.
3. Fabricated (counterfeit) documents – documents fabricated to represent official documents from real or non-existent institutions (including use of letterheads)
4. Degree or Diploma Mill Products – The products of degree/diploma mills are not in themselves fabrications but the academic study they purport to represent certainly is.
5. Creative translations – “Translations” of foreign-language documents that are not just inaccurate but systematically misleading, tantamount to fabrication.
Watch for the Red Flags!
Checklist of Clues:
• The application is unusually late, assuming that it would impede verification, or is accompanied by a long letter from an impressive office – usually located in the U.S. – which may be attempting to lend an aura of officialdom to otherwise unacceptable documents. Do not be pressured or rushed into completing the evaluation or reaching an admissions
• Discrepancies/inconsistencies noted in the application for evaluation;
• Evidence of corrected personal data (birth date, gender);
• Document is tampered and has evidence of white-out, burn-marks, erasures, corrections;
• Credentials do not display misspelling, wrong course titles for the time period, smudges, white-outs, or erasures;
• Fonts, text layout, and symmetry of documents are correct for that institution’s credentials.
• Interrupted/obliterated lines where information is generally typed or printed;
• Missing pictures on diplomas or professional identification cards;
• Partial seals on the surface of superimposed pictures not on the document surface;
• Institutional logos are clean and correct for the time period.
• Signatures of institutional authorities do not look forced, unsteadied, nor copied and pasted.
• The type is inconsistent throughout the document because subjects have been added or grades changed. In some cases, crude alterations have been made in longhand, or lines may have been typed in at a slight angle to the computer generated originals;
• Irregular spacing between words or letters, or insufficient space for the text;
• Questionable paper quality, texture, size (regular or legal), weight coloration;
• Ink color and quality;
• Inappropriate or outdated signatures;
• Incorrect seals/emblems, colors, shapes;
• Excessive seals and stamps attempting to help the document appear official;
• Does the document security features, such a embossed seals, foil printing, raised text, or holograms that should be the official document of that country?
• Does the document include a stamp “not to be released to student’ or “confidential,” yet it is provided by the student?
• Applicant claims to have lost the original documents;
• Applicant claims to have graduated from an institution but can provide only a letter indicating completion of program;
• Although the applicant had taken external examinations, the certificates have been lost and all he/she has left is a statement of attendance or graduation from the school;
• You know the education system to be different from US system, yet the transcript appears to be very American, giving, subjects, grades and credit hours in US terms;
• Grade certificates prepared in a language other than the official language of the country where the document originated. Many countries are currently using official transcripts in English: Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Canada (except Quebec), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and India.
• Names may have been substituted. Typically, a person will type his/her name on a sheet of paper, cut it out and paste it across a copy of an original, which he/she then photocopies; the substitution of names will rarely appear on an original;
• Grades listed may be absurdly high, or the number of course hours claimed to have been carried per semester an improbably load;
• Numerical aberrations: credits do not add up and the overall grade point averages are a mathematical impossibility;
• Is the educational terminology correct for the country concerned?
• Use of unprofessional language on academic documents, poor grammar, misspellings;
• Are there any dates or signatures on the documents?
Our advancement in technology is both a blessing and a curse. With sophisticated computers and printers at their disposal, counterfeiters today produce flawlessly perfect documents that for the uninitiated make it difficult to detect fraud. We hope that the tips shared in this blog and your institution’s enforcement to have in place strict standards for the submission and receipt of academic documents help thwart it not eliminate fraud.
Who ever said international credential evaluation is dull doesn’t know and appreciate what we do. Stay vigilant and happy sleuthing!
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.