How to spot fraudulent certificates

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matric certificates forged Independent Newspapers The number of forged matric certificates is increasing, and the situation is unlikely to change soon, according to reports. File photo: Patricia Hagen

Durban - Matric certificate fraud is on the rise, with 23 percent of national senior certificates being found to be “questionable” last year – up from 21 percent in 2011.

That’s according to Ina van der Merwe, the chief executive of Managed Integrity Evaluation, an agency that specialises in validating qualifications.

Van der Merwe’s revelation comes in the wake of reports that Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education, had declared that national senior certificates would in future have identifying marks to prevent tampering.

Umalusi spokesman Lucky Ditaunyane said the new certificates would have the national coat of arms and the word “Umalusi”, etched repeatedly in a way that was invisible to the naked eye.

In addition to the certificate holder’s name, there would be a unique barcode and sequence written in small and large type, Ditaunyane said.

Van der Merwe believes these precautions may not be enough and that people may find ways to get around the measures. “Anything that is paper based can be forged, and institutions try to implement security measures. The problem with that is someone can find a way to replicate them,” she said. The level of fraud varies, with people making minor changes to final marks, or adding an extra subject.

The need to stand out in a competitive job market is what lures people into committing this type of fraud, because for many the first step towards landing their dream job begins at a tertiary institution, Van der Merwe said.

Students who do not meet entry requirements sometimes resort to falsifying documents.

Van der Merwe said the only way to be sure of a document’s authenticity was to contact a qualification verification agency that traced documents back to their source.

The Durban University of Technology has been doing this since 2011, after two applicants sent in fake certificates.

“Since then, the university has not had a problem with fake certificates. The reason for this is that we do not require statements of results at registration. Instead, we rely on the actual official statements of results on our registration system, which were made available in electronic format by the Department of Basic Education. These are reconciled with the student applications made,” said university media officer, Snegugu Ndlovu.

University of KwaZulu-Natal director of corporate relations Nomonde Mbadi said the university had also been confronted with matric certificate cheats and the culprits faced disciplinary hearings.

UCT and Rhodes University have also encountered this problem.

UCT director of admissions Carl Herman said: “Detecting false documents is not easily done, especially if they are proper forgeries. Where there is suspicion of impropriety, UCT communicates with other institutions and examining authorities to verify the document’s authenticity.”

Rhodes also had a zero tolerance policy for fraudulent activity and “seek to have the offender prosecuted for fraud”, said registrar Stephen Fourie.

With such strong repercussions, Van der Merwe advises the public to resist the temptation of taking the easy way out.

“The message we try to get out is that it’s just not worth it. The consequences are severe and long standing. People should not look for a quick fix. Rather spend a year or two upgrading your results.”

The Central Applications Office (CAO) said the responsibility of detecting fake certificates did not lie with it.

“We pass on information to institutions who have their own controls and systems to detect fraud,” said CAO chief executive George van der Ross.

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