24 Sep 2015

The fraud detective

document-fraudThere is something about fraud detection that spices up even the dreariest day at the office. Undoubtedly, those of us who have experienced the thrill of catching a fraudulent document have relished the details of their stories over and over again during an occasional chat with a co-worker or a colleague at a conference reception. But how are these skills developed?

How it all began

Seventeen years ago, I was a young rookie evaluator with preliminary training on the nuances of various educational systems around the world. Along with the ambition to learn more about educational credentials, came the desire to catch that first forgery. My own sleuthing success! Nobody else’s! And then, eventually, that day came.

The application packet included a diploma from Brazil, a transcript, and a bonus feature: the applicant’s CV. As I proceeded to analyse the documentation, application form, and educational history, my suspicions began to rise. I was looking at a bachelor’s degree in computer science awarded in 1983. Something did not feel right, but what was it? There were key factors that helped me answer this question:

1. Although the diploma was pretty, it looked too generic. The fancy border pattern reminded me of my son’s certificate of achievement from kindergarten. I could swear I had seen that pattern at the local office supplies outlet. Several logos and graphics were missing and all text was computer-generated, something unusual for that era. In the early 1980s, all Brazilian university diplomas were printed in offset, with careful hand calligraphy for student’s personal data and signatures. It was too early for jet printers.

 

2. I kept asking myself: what is it with this transcript? Jet printed, clean, fresh, and filled with American-style course codes, class titles, and GPA points. There was my other clue! This printing method was far too modern. At the time, most Brazilian institutions did not use a credit system and hardly any reported course code numbers on their transcripts.

In retrospect, the CV provided added value to this entertainment package: an IT expert, President, CEO, happily married, father of two who enjoys fishing… Well, by golly! How can you not love this guy?

The thrill of catching a faker

Why do we get that thrill from someone else’s questionable life choices? There may be different answers to that question, yet we can sum them up with a simple statement: it is the personal satisfaction of a job well done. It gives us satisfaction to be watching out for those who work hard to earn their educational qualifications legitimately. A satisfaction that our expertise allows us to identify questionable information or the inappropriate use of printing technology.

A skill that can be learned

Fraud detection is an acquired skill following years of practice in the profession. However, learning to detect forgeries is not simply a matter of time. The key to success is proper training. Whether you are new to the field or not, consider asking yourself how your institution handles fraud detection and training.

  • Is it on-the-job, casual exposure to falsified credentials or more formal training?
  • What methods are used in your office to detect fraud?
  • Is there someone to go to with questions?
  • Does your office have a procedure for handling falsifications?
  • Does your office have a system for collecting samples?
  • Do you share your knowledge with others?
  • Are you proficient in online research, even in foreign languages? If so, how do you know you are? Have you ever heard of the Wayback Machine or Whois search?
  • Do you have any tools at your desk for forensic analysis?

These questions are just a few examples. They illustrate what it takes to develop expertise in the field of document fraud. To learn more about detecting fraud, you can sign up for the brand new course on International admissions and recruitment: detecting fraud at the upcoming Autumn EAIE Academy in the beautiful city of Venice.

In this course, Andre Hasselback from Uppsala University and I will explore the subject of credential fraud, CV misrepresentation, false online identities, and the proliferation of the diploma mill industry. We will discuss the best strategies for transforming your office into an efficient fraud-busting operation, and teach you how to detect discrepancies on original educational documents using real-life samples and forensic tools. You will return to your office with great new ideas and fraud detection skills!

Majka Drewitz is Research & Knowledge Management Evaluator and Senior Evaluator at Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc.

 
Sign up for the upcoming EAIE Academy to learn more about the topic.