Tag Archives: documents

5 Common Types of Non-Official and Illegitimate Academic Documents

February 07, 2013

Binded Document

When evaluating academic documents from around the world, ensuring their authenticity and legitimacy is the most important step. An official academic document, e.g. transcript, certificate, diploma, degree, is one that has been received directly from the issuing/source institution. It must bear the institution’s seal, logo, date, and an appropriate signature.

What makes a document illegitimate or non-official? Here are 5 of the most dubious types of documents:

1. Counterfeit or Fabricated documents – These documents are made up to represent official documents from legitimate or non-existent institutions and in some instance they use stolen letterheads.

2. Forged or altered documents – Official, legitimate documents that have been tampered and altered usually by omission, erasers, deletions, additions, or changes. For example, the transcript may show an entry with a typeface that doesn’t match the typeface of other text on the document.

3. Creative translations – These are actual “translations” of foreign-language documents that embellish, fabricate, and provide misleading information. For example, a secondary/high school diploma from Argentina is called “Bachiller,” but the translation translates it into English as “bachelor,” which is misleading.

4. Inside jobs – These are very difficult to detect on initial review as the documents are actually produced by an unscrupulous employee at the institution for a fee.

5. Degree or Diploma Mills – According to Allen Ezell in “Accreditation Mills,” a degree mill is an organization that: “awards degrees without requiring its students to meet education standards for such degrees; receives fees from their so-called students on the basis of fraudulent misrepresentation and/or makes it possible for the recipients of its degree to perpetrate a fraud on the public.” The academic studies the degree or diploma mills purport to represent are based on fabricated information.

For more reading on this topic, we recommend the following published sources:

Accredited Mills, by Allen Ezell, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Washington, DC. (2007)

Bear’s Guide to Earning College Degrees Non-Traditionally, by John B. Bear, Ph.D., C&B Publishing, Benicia, CA, USA. (1994)

Better Translation for Better Communication, Commission of the European Communities, 1983, Pergamon Press.

Guide to Bogus Institutions and Documents, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Washington, DC. (2006)

Misrepresentation in the Marketplace and Beyond, Ethics Under Siege, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Washington, DC. (2007)


Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.


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Academic Documents: The Psychology of Fraud

February 2, 2012

Binded Document

In less than a week, two senior analysts in my company detected irregularities on documents we had received for evaluation and both were able to determine that the documents had been falsified. Though the due diligence exercised by our team of analysts in their scrupulous review and handling of these applications is to be applauded, I am left with an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of my stomach. The two individuals whose false documents were quickly detected are intending to pursue employment and further studies in fields directly related to the welfare of the public. We may have succeeded in protecting our institution and those directly related but not the larger network of institutions and the general public. These individuals’ fraudulent documents may easily slip through the cracks in the hands of a less-experienced credential evaluator, personnel administrator, or college admissions officer.

Several years ago, I served as an expert witness on a legal case where the plaintiff, a young woman, had been misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist and suffered extensively under this therapist’s care. My investigation of the psychiatrist’s degrees revealed a trail of altered documents and diplomas from non-existent institutions. In fact, one of the universities he claimed to have attended for his doctorate degree was a diploma mill. The plaintiff was able to go forward and press charges, and the therapist’s license for practice was revoked. (A definition of diploma mills is provided on the US Government’s Department of Education website.)

According to a 2003 report by UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, “Academic fraud appears to be on the increase across the world, in developing and developed countries alike. It is a costly threat to societies, to their efficient operation and to public trust in the reliability and security of their institutions.”

The question we need to ask is what is causing this steady increase in academic fraud? What is the motivation? Is it an act of desperation? Is it a reaction to a competitive marketplace? There’s the old adage that desperate times force people to take desperate measures. But falsifying documents, in particular academic documents, which in many instances are used as the benchmark to qualify for a job or professional training, endangers the lives of those who are directly affected by the actions and services of the very people who misrepresent themselves as technicians, engineers, doctors, and teachers. The increasing participation in formal education perpetuates competition; competition for access to higher education, for jobs, training, higher salaries, promotions, and professional recognition. A few months ago, a news report spoke of a university professor in The Netherlands who had falsified his doctoral dissertation and held a teaching post at a prominent university. It is not just the individual immigrating to a new country, desperate to find a job to support his family, who may, out of desperation falsify his/her academic documents. The psychology of fraud transcends borders, cultures, and socio-economic ranks.

As our societies and economic structure continue to develop and expand–demanding a highly educated and skilled workforce–the pressure to obtain academic documents which meet these skillsets increases. It is no longer sufficient to complete the minimum required levels of education when higher and more specialized degrees are becoming the norm. One’s success in school and university has great value. Successful performance in examinations helps open not only doors to higher education and professional training but ensure a better chance of securing a job or promotion in a pool of qualified and aspiring candidates.

Advances in electronic communication, sophisticated copy machines and computer printers, system-wide bribery, plagiarism, degree and paper mills, impersonations, are now contributing to an industry of academic document fraud. We sit and watch perpetrators of white-collar crimes receive little or no punishment for their actions. Instead, we reward them with book deals, TV shows, high-paying consulting and speaker’s fees! We must shift our global mindset to a culture where integrity and ethical behavior are fostered and applauded; not a culture that supports and encourages the motto of “success by any means” where unscrupulous actions are the norm.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)

Since founding ACEI in 1994, Jasmin and her team of analysts have dedicated
themselves to the advancement of international academic exchange and
understanding, through the dissemination of information on world educational
systems, and evaluation of international academic documents.

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Gobbledygook: Cracking the Code

July 28, 2011

A monthly rant from the “Frustrated Evaluator”

1. Gobbledygook or gobbledegook (sometimes gobbledegoo) is any text containing jargon or especially convoluted English that results in it being excessively hard to understand or even incomprehensible.

I’m an easy going guy and 90% of the time evaluating international academic documents, something I’ve been doing for nearly 20 years, is a smooth and effortless process. And believe you me, I’ve seen it all. From the handwritten Indian mark sheets to three-inch binders filled with German exam certificates to lengthy Philippines transcripts for not one but three or more degrees. But just when I’ve settled comfortably at my desk, a fresh cup of high octane coffee by my side, transcripts laid out in front of me, and happily breezing through a detailed course-by-course breakdown, I hit a wall. There it is; the quintessential gobbledygook road block! The course title that is either abbreviated to such an extent leaving not a single clue to help expand it to its full meaning, e.g. IMC & AHC, or so ambiguous, e.g. “Manipulating Matters”, leaving you scratching your head or, as is in my case, pulling my hair. Not to put the spotlight on our neighbors to the north, since no one country is innocent, it seems that our Canadian friends absolutely relish issuing transcripts riddled with abbreviated course titles, as though they are producing highly classified documents that only a sophisticated code breaker can decipher.

Sometimes, a little bit of internet browsing on the guilty institution’s website leads me to a curriculum plan and there buried amongst hundreds of courses lies the brainteaser, the abbreviated gobbledygook with its full course title. Eureka! But this is one of those serendipitous moments in life that happens once in a blue moon. Most often, the institution and its website don’t keep curriculum plans that go as far as back as the case you’re working on and the student doesn’t have copies of a syllabus and is suddenly struck by memory loss unable to recall much of what happened in class 15 years earlier much less the title of the course. I don’t blame them. After all, who doesn’t want to leave school behind and forget about it?

You’ve exhausted all resources and left on your own laurels to deal with this dilemma. But what’s the frustrated evaluator to do?

When all else fails, I resort to the one thing I know best and use as my lifeline, and it’s Sic—generally inside square brackets [sic]—added just after a quote or reprinted text, indicating the passage or in my case the abbreviated course title or gobbledygook appearing exactly as shown on the official document. Voila! “[sic]” is my friend when all else fails. I can wash my hands off any errors or apparent errors and move on.

And, if you’re wondering about what “IMC & AHC” stands for, drum roll please….it stands for “Instrument Meteorological Conditions and Aircraft Handling Characteristics.” Not bad for a hard day’s work!

The Frustrated Evaluator


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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.
June 16, 2011


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