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Could You Detect Forged Credentials

June 1, 1996
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Bogus credentials-work documents, diplomas and the like-are not a widespread problem, according to most experts. On the other hand, fraudulent documents aren't unheard of, particularly among foreign nationals eager to trade turbulent or restrictive homelands for the United States. Although HR professionals can't be expected to be expert detectives, they can be expected to handle the basics. New York City-based World Education Services Inc. offers the following tips:

  1. Don't be rushed into accepting a credential about which you have reservations.
  2. For every copy of a document, there has to have been an original. If you have questions about a copy, try to get the original.
  3. Confirm the existence of the institution through reference sources such as the "International Handbook of Universities" or the "Commonwealth Universities Yearbook." If the institution isn't listed there, call the appropriate foreign consulate or embassy, either in New York City or Washington, D.C. In addition, large international organizations such as the Institute of International Education or AMIDEAST also might have information.
  4. Make sure a program actually is offered by a particular school or university. Write to the institution named, enclosing a copy of the document submitted for verification. Address the letter to the office of the person who signed the credential, not the individual.
  5. Examine photocopies with great care. Look at the background for signs that paper may have been pasted over an original section. If a document looks suspicious at all, ask to see the original. If the document can't be sent, write to the official body involved for verification.
  6. Note that transcripts, diplomas or other credentials must always be on school letterhead.
  7. Familiarize yourself with the appearance of credentials you encounter most frequently.
  8. Compare dates of birth and dates of graduation for logical progression.
  9. If forced to accept documents from countries not diplomatically related to the United States, such as Cuba, have the applicant sign a form declaring the information contained in the document is true and ask that his or her signature be notarized. This is more of a deterrent than you may think.
  10. Even if the student is transferring from another U.S. school, always request to see his or her original foreign credentials. Don't rely on someone else's verification of authenticity.

World Education Services also provides the following telltale signs that may indicate fraudulent credentials:

  • Poor copies or copies containing smudges or other marks
  • Stains or burns covering key information, such as names
  • Records stamped "confidential" or "not to be released to student"
  • Applicants claiming to have lost original records
  • Different type styles on same document
  • Type erasures
  • Handwritten additions to typewritten materials
  • Typed material that's slanted or added on an angle
  • Evidence of substituted names that are different than on originals
  • Unrealistically high grades or course loads
  • Credentials consisting of a solitary letter
  • Supposedly foreign documentation that seems very American in character
  • Credentials received too late to make proper verification possible
  • Letters of verification issued by U.S. institutions.

Although preliminary precautions are encouraged, most employers dealing regularly with foreign workers have experienced little or no trouble with forged documents. Valerie Moyer, immigration administrator for Allentown, Pennsylvania-based Air Products and Chemicals Inc., says her experience has been positive. "No one has tried to pull something over on us," Moyer says. "We had one employee who was too embarrassed to reveal that his spouse had a criminal record when he applied for permanent residence. The issue was resolved with the immigration service and didn't affect the individual's employment status."

Nancy Katz, director of the Midwest office of World Education Services, says that based on her experience, there's cause for caution, but not alarm. She estimates credentials fraud to be low among foreign job applicants. "Out of 14,000 applications [reviewed]," she reports, "less than 1% were determined to be fraudulent."

But Katz warns that applicants who come from nations embroiled in turbulence may be tempted to submit fraudulent credentials to get out of their countries, and into the United States. "You get problems when you have civil wars or revolutions," she notes. "It's not that they don't actually have degrees, but that the documents they often present aren't produced in their home countries. Before the Soviet Union opened up, some applicants used diploma mills. Vietnam and Afghanistan were also problems. And from the former Yugoslavia, we might start to see some weird stuff."

Bottom line: A little proactivity goes a long way.

Personnel Journal, June 1996, Vol. 75, No. 6, p. 60.

Recent Articles by Christopher J. Bachler

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