Using QR Codes for Document Verification

Advances in technology have produced a variety of new tools for confirming authenticity, but they are not foolproof. One such tool that has gained popularity in educational documents is the use of QR codes to confirm or check if a credential is legitimate.

QR (“Quick Response”) codes are bar codes that can be read by using a scanner app on your phone. Many phones have a built-in app, and you simply hold your phone’s camera up to the QR code and your phone will read it.  (If you don’t have a built-in app, there are many free scanning apps available.)An example of a QR Code. Scan with your phone to view a text message.

Just a few of the options that a QR code can be set up to provide are:

  • Take you to a specific URL

  • Display predefined text

  • Send an email

  • Display a PDF

  • Play an MP3 file

  • Display an image

Most educational institutions use the QR code to display text or take you to a URL that provides information about the student. It usually contains enough information to match it up against the document you are scanning. However, because anyone can go online and create a QR code, you should exercise caution when using these codes to verify a document. 

Before you scan

Make sure everything else about the document appears legitimate. If the document has red flags in other areas, it’s unlikely that the QR code will be reliable. 

Investigate where the QR code will take you before scanning it.  Ideally, the document and/or a university website will clarify where you will end up when you scan the document. Look for a URL on the document, or check the university website for additional information about how they use the QR codes. There may not always be information available, so you may decide to scan a document without knowing where it will take you. 

After you scan

When you scan the document, keep your guard up. Once you are taken to a website, inspect it to make sure it is legit. Check the URL carefully to make sure it’s not a spoof website. If the site where the QR code takes you is run by a government entity, you are probably safe putting more confidence in it than something that is generated by a private source.

Make sure the information listed on the website or the text you are provided is in sync with all the other information you have about the student or school.

Use all the tools in the toolbox!

QR codes can be a nice feature to add information to your document evaluation and verification process. But we should be relying on all the tools we’ve been using for years, in addition to all the new resources/tools available. (Does the biographical data match? Do the docs look okay?) Basically, utilize every option that exists. Those working within comparative education or international admissions should be using every possible resource available to us.  We should do so with full knowledge and confidence in those tools.

Melissa Ganiere is a Research & Knowledge Management Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2006.  She specializes in education from Sub-saharan Africa and South East Asia, along with refugee documentation and online verification.

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