Certificate Fraud

What Is Certificate Fraud? 

Certificate fraud is where someone fakes evidence of having qualifications. They may create a false qualification certificate or doctor a genuine one. They then falsely present the certificate as evidence that they have earned a certain qualification or grade. This is also known as qualification fraud.

Culprits of certificate fraud can fake certificates for degrees, diplomas, and a wide range of other qualifications. As well as this being an act of fraud, those who commit such an offense may also be breaching the proprietary rights (such as intellectual property and/or copyright clauses) of the awarding body whose certification(s) they are falsifying.

Reasons for certificate fraud may include:

  • immigration fraud
  • applying for jobs that require certain skills or qualifications
  • supporting progression within an industry

It is not only individuals who may falsify certificates. Businesses may be tempted to do the same – for example by faking a quality standard certificate (such as an ISO accreditation) in order to win a contract. This is an example of business-to-business fraud, which is expected to become one of 2023’s biggest fraud trends.

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How Does Certificate Fraud Work? 

Certificate fraud works in several ways, from the creation of fake certificates from scratch to the changing of details on a genuine certificate. Here are some of the most common ruses.

Common RusesExplanation
Creating fake certificatesWith the plethora of modern software and high-quality printing services available these days, fraudsters are finding it easier than ever to create realistic-looking certificates. So much so that one survey found that 75% of university admissions staff were unable to detect fake certificates.
Doctoring existing certificatesSome fraudsters don’t create an entirely new certificate but instead change the name, qualification, grade, or other details on an existing certificate. Again, this involves making use of modern photoshopping tools and color printing services.
Rigging testsIn some cases, the test itself is compromised. An example of this was the widespread rigging of tests for Construction Skills Certification Scheme cards in the UK a few years back, which resulted in untrained individuals working on building sites.

Types of Certificate Fraud 

Various examples of certificate fraud exist, with individuals and businesses using them to get ahead and gain a competitive advantage. Let’s look at some common examples.

Degree and Diploma Certificate Fraud

If your business is taking on staff, one thing you’re likely to require for certain roles is that candidates hold a degree or diploma. Candidates who don’t hold those qualifications may be tempted to claim that they do. Then, if asked for evidence of their claim, they may fake the certificate in the hope they will get the job.

This kind of certificate fraud may also be used during immigration processes. For example, if a country only allows immigration for certain jobs and for people with certain qualifications, would-be immigrants may be tempted to fake their paperwork in order to progress their application for residency. This can apply to those seeking to live in another country to study, as well as to work.

Fake Skills Certificates 

In certain industries, such as construction, and for certain roles, such as electricians or gas safety engineers, skills certification is required to show that workers can carry out their tasks safely and competently. Career progression within certain industries can also be linked to the attainment of skills-based qualifications. Those who lack the ability to obtain such qualifications may attempt to fraudulently create fake certificates instead.

Fraudulent Safety Certificates 

Some roles require the postholder to hold a certain qualification, such as a food hygiene or First Aid qualification. These qualifications are mandatory for safety reasons. To work in a job piercing ears, for example, an individual should hold a First Aid qualification and have completed a bloodborne pathogen prevention course. Again, this is an area where faking a certificate may enable an individual to get a job, progress in a career, or access further role-based study opportunities.

Quality Certification Fraud

Research from Crowe shows that fraud costs businesses and individuals around the globe more than $5 trillion per year. Not all of that is down to fraudsters targeting businesses. Sometimes, an otherwise legitimate business might be tempted to commit quality certification fraud.

Let’s say that a business ticks all but one box during a bid to win a new contract. If all that’s stopping it is one particular certification, such as an ISO certification, that company might be tempted to fake the certificate in order to remain in the running for the contract. This is one type of vendor fraud that can occur as businesses jostle for market share.

Why Is Certificate Fraud Important?

Certificate fraud is important as it can impact everything from a business’ reputation to public health and safety. Let’s have a look at some of the negative impacts that certificate fraud gives rise to:

Negative ImpactExplanation
Reputational damageIf your firm hires unqualified staff and they make mistakes and/or provide a poor customer experience, your reputation will suffer. This could lead your customers to try out your competitors instead. For example, a hairdressing firm that takes on someone who pretends to be qualified but then destroys someone’s hair is likely to see customers vote with their feet.

If you are the body whose certificates fraudsters are faking, you could also suffer reputational damage. The credence that comes with your qualifications will quickly diminish if those who allegedly hold them fail to perform in their roles when companies take them on.
Risk to public healthIf you work in the medical, food, or various other industries, certificate fraud could lead to your business unintentionally harming the individuals who use your services. An example could be a food business where a lack of food hygiene training leads to an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning.
Risk to public safetyBusinesses in industries such as construction need to ensure workers are suitably qualified. Failure to do so can result in unsafe environments, such as poorly constructed buildings.

The Financial Impact on Businesses 

Certificate fraud that results in your business performing below both your own and other people’s expectations could lead to a loss of income through decreased customer loyalty, damaged engagement rates, and the loss of valuable contracts.

Even minor reputational damage can have an impact when it comes to your finances. Every sale you don’t make or customer you lose represents a loss of potential income. And any major incidents that occur can result in a significant loss of income and potentially even lead to legal action.

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How to Protect Against Certificate Fraud

There are multiple ways that you can protect against certificate fraud. If your business is hiring employees, for example, it is best practice to confirm qualifications with the issuing authorities rather than simply accepting any and all certificates that the candidate claims to own.

If, on the other hand, your business is the one that issues certificates, there are multiple steps you can take to protect against fraudsters imitating your documents. Next up, we’ll look at some of the things you can use to help protect your certificates.


The more complex you can make the paper on which you print your certificates, the harder it will be to copy, so a unique watermark is a must for many certification bodies.

Bespoke Fibers

If you work with a specialist printing firm, you can embed bespoke fibers and threads within your paper to make it extremely hard to copy.


Like bespoke fibers, holograms can’t be replicated by a photocopier or scanner and printer. As such, they are an excellent choice for ensuring your certificates aren’t easy to fake.

Security Background Designs

A range of security background designs can help to keep your certificates safe from fraudsters. These can include:

  • Microscopic text: This looks like solid lines to the naked eye (and to photocopiers) but can be verified using a magnifying glass.
  • Intricate, repeating background patterns: Known as guilloche patterns, these are used on documents such as banknotes and passports.

Anti-Copy Paper

This specialist, textured paper has patterns on it that don’t appear to the naked eye, but, when it appears on any photocopied pages, it will create lines, shadows, or words (such as “VOID”).

Verification Software 

From numbering systems to encrypted QR codes, there are various ways that businesses can make their certificates verifiable. Organizations can also use blockchain technology to enable peer-to-peer verifiable credentials, as we move towards the increasing use of self-sovereign identity.

Building Security

In addition to the above, the physical security of your building is a key consideration. Paper for certificates that you are yet to print should be kept safely locked away. After all, spending a small fortune on paper with holograms and security background designs is pointless if you make that paper easy for malicious parties to steal.

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