Forensics of Academic Documents: Part I

One question that never fails to be asked when I present a workshop on foreign credential evaluations or even in casual conversation with someone asking me about what I do for a living is “do you see any forged documents?’” And I always reply “yes.” Foreign credential evaluation is part research and the determination of the U.S. academic equivalence of studies, and part detective work. In fact, there is an element of sleuthing and forensic science that’s involved when we examine academic documents. One thing that I always stress at seminars, conference workshops and at our in-house-training sessions at ACEI, is to first determine the document’s authenticity before starting the actual evaluation. This is not an easy task for a newcomer to the field and especially not so straight forward when dealing with documents coming from different parts of the world where knowledge of the nuances of a country’s mail system and document issuing practice is an essential component of the job. I find that I’ve become familiar with textures and smells of documents just as much as the country’s educational system and document processing procedures! Evaluation and determining document authenticity is tactile and intuitive supported by facts.

Over the years, I’ve encountered numerous falsified documents; some are bold and brazen attempts at reproducing transcripts and diplomas and some are sloppy and poorly executed tampering of data on existing “official” documents. The need to falsify documents stems either from desperation or a criminal mind wishing to break rules and laws as a means to an end. Regardless, if the rise in identity theft is any indication, we can be certain that document fraud will continue. And thanks to our ever evolving information technologies, we can be sure that reproducing documents using state of the art computer and printing machines has made the job easier for those seeing a profit to be made in this area.

One egregious example of fraud that comes to mind concerns a student who recently presented an official transcript and an original diploma for a bachelor’s degree in “Harbor and Port Engineering” bearing the official name, logo, insignia of a college in the United Kingdom. The individual was requesting the evaluation for employment with the transportation authorities in the port of Los Angeles and was adamant about having his equivalency report issued ASAP! (Beware of those demanding expedited service, overly aggressive and pushy manners…that alone is enough to raise the red flag!) Well, we did move fast by immediately contacting the institution in the UK for assistance with verification of the documents, since we knew from the information we had on file that this institution, albeit an approved post-secondary college, was only authorized to offer one to two-year certificate and diploma programs in general arts and sciences and NOT the Bachelor’s degree. The college responded immediately and confirmed our suspicions. The documents were not legitimate for the very reasons we had detected. Once we informed the individual that the College had notified us that his documents did not corroborate with records in the institution’s registry, we never heard from him again. The pestering phone calls and daily barrages of emails suddenly stopped.

Other cases of document fraud are not as sophisticated but include an alteration of a grade, credit, or course title to an existing original document. The forensics of detecting document fraud is both a science and an art and something that develops and matures with practice. Sometimes, it’s a hunch and sometimes it’s blatantly obvious to the naked eye. It is important to exercise due diligence as we handle academic documents for educational equivalency recommendations intended for college admission, employment, professional licensing and immigration.

If you have any personal experiences with having encountered fraudulent documents, please feel free to post a comment and share your story. In a future blog, I’ll share some helpful tips with you. In the meantime, channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and stay vigilant!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
http://www.acei1.com
June 16, 2011

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Forensics of Academic Documents: Part I

  1. Useful information shared..Iam very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us nice info.Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post.

  2. Forensics of Academic Documents: Part I. One question that never fails to be asked when I present a workshop on foreign credential

  3. Thanks Erica! Be on the watch for upcoming blogs that continue this thread offering tips and clues as you go sleuthing through the world of document forensics!

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