Besides forensic features on paper documents, there are several red flags that may give away a potential fraud. When we talk about red flags, we don’t mean that the flags themselves prove the document is fake. It’s merely a piece of information that should nudge you to take a closer look at the document and consider verifying it with the institution.
How do you learn to spot these red flags? Well, experience does help. But if you are new to credential evaluation, or new to evaluating a particular country, we’ve found the following practices increase the likelihood of spotting suspicious documents.
Invest in resource materials, printed and digital
Even our most experienced evaluators at ECE have to refer to books. It’s impossible to remember what every document from every country from every time period looks like. There are many great reference books out there that describe a country's education system. Most of them include either descriptions of documents or actual samples of documents.
Keep in mind that having a good understanding of the system can also help you spot red flags. Knowing what the entrance qualification is or if there are alternate routes to a particular degree can help you spot the unusual.
You can check our Resource section for books that we find helpful.
Hold regular evaluator meetings
Our evaluators hold a meeting once a month to check in with everyone and share information. They discuss policies and share case studies, samples, and research findings. Even if people are sharing information about a country you don’t evaluate, we’ve uncovered common issues that we would not have realized otherwise.
Setting time aside to talk to each other and share information will pay off when you find out a colleague has found a new verification tool that might be available in a country you deal with. Or they tell you about a new forgery trick that you should be aware of.
Store and organize policies and guidelines in a shared space
We use a wiki tool to organize all our notes. It currently has over 13,000 pages, which is 40 year’s worth of notes and case studies. Saving all those notes definitely comes in handy when we see obscure documents. If we’ve seen it before we usually have notes on how we handled it in the past.
You don’t need to have anything as elaborate as a wiki; you can use a shared Word doc or something similar. Check with your IT department to see what tools you might already have for building shared information (communication tools are often bundled together).
Collect and organize samples for office use (shelf or digital storage)
In addition to collecting and sharing your case notes, we also recommend saving samples of both authentic and fraudulent documents. A direct comparison to a document you know is authentic can quickly throw up red flags. Again, just because a document doesn’t look exactly like previous documents you’ve received doesn’t mean the document is fake. It does mean that you should probably investigate further and confirm any inconsistencies.
If you are just starting out or don’t see many samples from a particular institution or country, you can also check books and online databases for examples of documents. Our Connection Advantage subscription gives you access to our publications and recorded ECE® e-Learnings, which include document examples. Also, our Sample Document database is included in the subscription. We have over 2,000 samples of both secondary and post-secondary documents for almost every country in the world.
Majka Drewitz is a Research and Evaluator Supervisor and Senior Evaluator. She has been with ECE since 1999. Majka authored ECE Insights: Evaluation Tools for Russian Credentials and co-authored the third volume of ECE’s Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean series. She is a frequent trainer for the EAIE Academy.