Admissions battlefield: stamping out fraud in international education

Admissions battlefield: stamping out fraud in international education

We all know that without due diligence in fraud detection, we run the risk of  admitting a student with suspicious or incomplete documentation, or denying admission to a student who submits authentic, official credentials. As international admissions officers and academic credential evaluation professionals, we do not want to encourage fraud in our environment nor do we want to reward fraud. We must be fair, ethical, and practice good policies to prohibit the use of fraud.

Following the blog post by retired FBI Agent, Allen Ezell, on fraud prevention, this blog post takes a deeper look at the various stages of evaluating students’ credentials in the fight against fraud.

Gathering the ‘intel’

First we need to ask ourselves the question: Do we know all we can about educational systems around the world? What benchmark credential constitutes completion of secondary education in a country or how can a student enter into a second degree programme outside of our own institution? Do we know what official academic credentials look like from China or Brazil or Mozambique?  What is the official language in which the credential should appear? Take a look at your resources: are they comprehensive and up-to-date? Have you established your own network of colleagues around the world who can help you if questions arise and only a human resource can be of assistance? Today, more than ever, intelligence gathering is of most importance and whether your intelligence comes from a publication or an online database, be sure that the information is current.

Analysing the basic data

Our battle plan at this point is to look at the fundamentals: the completed and signed international admissions document and the educational history of your potential student. Does the biographical data of the student match what is stated in his or her documents? Many credentials will state a full date of birth, city of birth, and even parents’ names. Are there any unexplained gaps in the student’s educational history? Organise the academic credentials in chronological order. Does the student’s age at the time each degree/diploma was awarded correlate with what usually occurs in that system? Are any academic credentials missing from the admissions packet? If so, request them.

Let’s also take a look at the student’s institution of study and the basics of the credential before we go further. Is the name of the institution on the credential spelled correctly, using diacritical marks in the correct manner, or is the credential name misspelled? Is the institution name correct for the period of time in which the degree was awarded? Names of institutions of higher education change over time, for example many institutions in the former republics of the Soviet Union will have changed names. Chinese higher educational institutions can be stated in English in many different ways and those differences may be acceptable.

Watch for red flags!

Now we proceed into battle. Look for aspects of the documents that seem out of place, that are inaccurate, and that seem to pop out of the page right before your eyes. Use a lighted magnifying glass. Touch the document. Measure it. Here’s a short list of some documentation features that require inspection, measurement, study, and scrutiny:

  • Paper size/colour/weight is correct for the country.
  • Institutional seals/stamps are clear, crisp, and legible.
  • Institutional logos are clean and correct for the time period.
  • Signatures of institutional authorities do not look forced, unsteadied, nor copied and pasted.
  • 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.

You should also be on the look out for the following:

  • Do the grades seem too high?
  • Is the educational terminology correct for the country concerned?
  • Are there are dates or signatures on the documents?
  • Are the credits/hours of study are too high/too low for that programme of study?
  • Is there a lack of security features, such as embossed seals, foil printing, raised text, or holograms that should be the official document of that country?

Discovering a suspected fake academic credential

The red flags are waving brusquely; we suspect the academic credential may be fake. Now what? The verification process is not difficult: photocopy the credentials in question and send the copies to the appropriate office at the external institution. When composing your verification request, keep it short and simple. Use English as the primary language of the letter, or choose the country’s official language if that is possible for you and your staff. Assign a specific code to the letter and ask that the institution reply using that code. If you receive confirmation of a forged credential, your institution should have a policy in place to handle these types of fraud. If not, push to have that policy formulated on your campus. There are ethical and legal reasons to do so.

Making use of forensics

The best way to engage successfully and thoroughly in fraud detection is to make sure you have the correct resources for the mission ahead. Besides the pointers mentioned above, the published books and the online databases, there is another mechanism in fraud detection: forensics. This methodology goes even deeper into the aspect of credential fraud by examining the document at the printing process from start to finish. This investigation also uses forensic tools such as lighted magnifiers and jewellers’ loupes. The EAIE Professional Section Admissions Officers and Credential Evaluators (ACE) has hosted workshops and sessions on fraud detection including the use of forensics. There are other organisations who train in fraud detection as well. Educate yourselves, be aware, and be a sleuth. If it’s fun for Sherlock Holmes, it surely can be entertaining for us, as well as being the right thing to do.

By Marybeth Gruenewald, Director of Global Initiatives and Senior Evaluator at Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. (ECE)