How to spot fraudulent education documents and fake degrees

Originally posted: August 17, 2012 at
The production of fraudulent documents, or fake degrees and diplomas, has been going on since antiquity, but it is only in the last ten to fifteen years that educational fraud or ‘fake qualifications’ have really become a worldwide problem.  There are two principal reasons for this: firstly, academic qualifications have gained increasing commercial value.

Educational achievement and the accompanying evidence are now used to attempt to ensure safe passage through immigration, promotion and access to employment, as well as a legitimate bargaining tool for better pay or greater professional recognition.  The cases of Gene Morrison and Stein Bagger demonstrates the lengths individual will go to in order to achieve such recognition.  It is, therefore, not surprising that educational fraud or fake qualifications have become a marketable commodity in their own right, irrespective of whether they have been earned or not.

Secondly, modern technology and the rise of the internet have undoubtedly contributed to the wide-spread trend of educational fraud and fake degrees.

There are a number of ways in which universities, college and employers can weed out these fake qualifications.  The first and most important thing to check is whether the institution is legitimate and not a diploma mill.  The easiest way to do this to check whether the education provider is listed onUK NARIC’s online database.

There are also a number of “red flags” to look out for when considering education documents:

Lack of official stamps / official seals

Degree certificates come with official seals or stamps.  These may be embossed, stamped or raised seals.

Paper quality

What is the paper quality of the certificate?  Are there any security features?

A variety of fonts used

The majority of degree certificates do not use more than three or four font styles.


Degree certificates are generally aligned down the centre of the page.  ‘Cut and paste’ techniques on documents often make mistakes in the alignment.


If there is hand-writing on a certificate there should generally be no more than one style of handwriting.  Also, there should be no alternations or corrections on the document.

Scanned signatures

Scanned signatures have often been taken from websites or scanned from other documents.  The signatures will be pixelated. On genuine documents this will not be the case.

Informal or inaccurate language

The language used on degree transcripts is often very formal.  Read the text carefully and ensure that it makes sense and that the correct grammar has been used.

Awarding bodies

Can the institution in question award that given qualification?  Is the institution accredited?

These “red flags” are only a starting point.  It takes a lot of experience and research to be able to identify bogus or fake degree; the above are just some of the elements used to spot fake qualifications.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number members asking us to check whether certificates are genuine,” commented Ian Bassett, Commercial Director, UK NARIC / ECCTIS Ltd, “additionally our training courses and the Degree of Deception publication also help ensure that there are ways of combating this threat.”

by Tim Buttress, August 2012