Tag Archives: diploma

The never ending case of Credential Fraud and Misrepresentation

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 and eliminate fraud.

Who ever said international credential evaluation is dull doesn’t know and appreciate what we do. Stay vigilant and happy sleuthing!

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

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.

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Filed under Credentials, Education

International Credential Evaluation: A Matter of Trust

June 27, 2013

world map 3D

When I first entered the international education profession in 1982 as a junior level credential evaluator, there were less than 10 companies engaged in providing credential evaluation services. Today, there are more than 300 such companies spread across the U.S. Question that I get asked is how does one go about picking the company they can trust?

First and foremost, selecting a credential evaluation company cannot be solely contingent on price and turnaround. If so, the door is open to hucksters and scam artists, looking to make a quick buck at the expense of the student and the academic institution. How carefully a credentialing agency is assessed and vetted is crucial in establishing trust and confidence in the educational equivalency reports an institution receives.

Everyday, I come across websites of yet another newly created company. And some, brazenly and blatantly make uncorroborated claims of professional membership, affiliations and accreditation, and in the case of a bogus company we discovered recently, plagiarize our company’s information directly, word for word from our website! What I find odd about many of these entities is their lack of transparency. In an industry where one’s professional expertise and knowledge base on world education and evaluation of credentials is tantamount to the legitimacy of services provided and equivalencies recommended, the nonexistence of who is running the show is highly questionable. They do not disclose the identities of their leadership team or professional staff (and if they do its either false or a pure case of identity fraud), yet they tout their wares by offering special discounts, and speedy service, as though the process of evaluating academic credentials is no different than a visit to the local dry cleaners. Not so.

I founded ACEI (Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.) in 1994, following in the footsteps of those giants in the profession who were my teachers and mentors. I received my training from the best of the best. It was under the tutelage of titans like Inez Sepmeyer, Gene Dean, and Ted Sharp that I acquired my basic knowledge of evaluating international credentials. I also benefited from participating in various in-country research projects, boot camps for credential evaluators, where recognized and respected international education experts like Jim Haas, Jim Frey, Rebecca Dixon, Caroline Aldridge, Gloria Nathanson shared their knowledge and expertise. My contribution to the field continues to this day whether through my regular blogs on international education-related topics, presentations at conferences or through webinars and publications on world education systems.

Today, I chair the Credentials Committee of the AACRAO – Special Task Force on International Credentials Evaluation, Recruitment and Research. We’ve been assigned the task to help define standards for the profession and help bring about the recognition and acknowledgement it deserves. In addition, the formation of The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals (TAICEP), of which I’m a Charter Member, is to serve as a forum for individuals in the profession to exchange and share their expertise working toward maintaining standards of best practices.

The point being made here is: credential evaluation is not a game. People’s academic and professional careers depend on accurate and trusted evaluations prepared by companies managed by trained and respected professionals. Before you accept a company’s promises for faster and cheaper evaluations for your students, find out who is running the company. What is his/her expertise? For that matter, inquire the expertise of its professional team engaged in credential evaluations. What contributions have they made to the field of international education? Is the company a member of one of the two nationally-recognized professional associations: AICE and/or NACES? How many years have they been in operation? Ask around; ie. inquire about them through colleagues at other institutions of higher education. Find out their methods of verifying academic documents. Do they work directly from copies or official transcripts?

Several years ago I served as Chair of the ADSEC (Admissions Section) Committee at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. We were tasked with the assignment of preparing Guidelines to help NAFSAns with the selection of a credential evaluation service. The suggestions recommended in these guidelines are available for your viewing on the NAFSA website for its members. To view these Guidelines, please click on this link: http://www.nafsa.org/resourcelibrary/default.aspx?id=8817.

In the past 30 years, the proliferation of companies vying for a piece of the international education market, has given rise to the chatter about the absence of standards in the profession. Entrepreneurs backed by investors are looking into dipping their toes into the profession claiming that they can do this better and faster. Standards do exist. Just look at the existence of the AICE and NACES and professional associations such as NAFSA and AACRAO and the myriad of publications and research projects sponsored on world education systems, credential evaluation methodology, placement recommendations, and best practices. The burden of selecting a reputable, trustworthy, experienced and respected credential evaluation agency also rests with those at U.S. institutions who wish to refer their students to a private service for the evaluation of their credentials. A little homework on the part of the U.S. institutions by checking references, just as one would hiring a new staff member or any other company offering its services, goes a long way.

Due diligence is a two way street. Just as much as we at ACEI are committed in doing our part by ensuring the validity of academic documents through verification, recommending accurate educational equivalency reports through evaluation, and maintaining and enhancing our knowledge of world education systems, trends and policy changes through professional development programs, the same level of commitment and collaboration is needed on the part of our colleagues at U.S. institutions. By adhering to the general principles of best practices, together we can help maintain and uphold standards in our profession.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI


Filed under Credentials, Education