Here’s How to Spot a Fake Diploma

Degrees, diplomas and other certificates are essential for assessing the expertise and qualifications of a candidate. Recruiters can find out a lot about a potential future employee from the type of documentation they provide. On the other hand, certifications also offer a lot of information, such as the institution attended, the type of qualifications received and even how long the document is valid.

Since certifications play an important role in recruiting and job seeking, there is no surprise that there is a market for falsifying diplomas. In 2018, the BBC reported that thousands of UK nationals bought fake degrees, with some people spending close to £500,000 on fake documents.

Companies and recruiters are not the only victims of this scam. Non-accredited institutions can also provide fake documents, deceiving students and offering certifications they are not allowed to give. 

According to a recent study, 75% of admission staff cannot spot a fake credential delivered as a PDF or on paper. To make things even worse, it is estimated that over half of all people claiming a new PhD in the United States have a fake degree.

This article will guide you through spotting a fake diploma and protecting yourself and your business from becoming victims of counterfeit documents. 

What are fake diplomas?

Fraudulent documents are nothing new. People might fake signatures, stamps, titles, or skills. When it comes to fake diplomas, scammers aim to either pass an institution as credible, offering a credential that they are not accredited to provide or make a professional seem more qualified than they actually are.

A fake credential can come in many forms and require a trained eye to spot attempts of forgery. Learning how to identify problems can be essential when recruiting professionals, especially if the job requires a specific set of skills. 

As mentioned earlier, fake documents are more common than it might seem. According to the book “Degree Mills: The Billion Dollar Industry Degree Mills: The Billion Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over A Million Fake Diplomas” by Allen Ezell and John Bear, there are more than 3,300 unrecognised universities worldwide, distributing fake diplomas.  

The problem is not exclusive to one country or one specific profession. Every country has people faking diplomas and certificates and every profession can be subject to this scam. 

Manufacturing and holding a fake diploma is not a crime, but trying to pass one as real certainly is. If you come across a forged document, report it to authorities.

Key aspects to check

There is no formula to avoid being a victim of a fake diploma. However, there are some details or crucial pieces of information that you should always pay attention to, whether to choose the certification you are after or to make sure candidates are the right fit for your company.

Research the institution

Before hiring someone or choosing a course at a university or any educational institution, do your research.

If you are a recruiter, it is important to check if the institution mentioned in the diploma you want to check exists, if they offer the course for which the certificate was given, and if local authorities adequately accredit the institution.

The institution’s official website can offer a lot of information, including the length of courses, type of certificate, and level of education. 

When confronted with a diploma that might not be real, compare it to what the institution claims and check if the information provided by the certificate holder matches what the institution offers.

It is a good idea also to check your local accreditation agency. The Higher Education Degree Data check (Hedd) in the United Kingdom is an important tool for checking credentials. For non-degree qualifications, there are other accrediting bodies in the UK: the Ofqual in England, Qualifications Wales, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Qualifications Authority in Scotland. 

Double check in case of Distance Learning

Only some institutions offer Distance Learning courses. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have taken online classes and looked for alternatives to in-person lessons. As a result, faking online courses has also increased.

Since distance learning is only sometimes available, only some courses are accredited. It is crucial to check if the certification listed on suspicious diplomas is accredited – especially when it’s an online course.

Pay extra attention if the course requires some practical experience, which would be challenging to achieve long-distance or during the pandemic. 

Check the course length

Each certification requires a specific amount of hours or credits for students to graduate. When falsifying documents, not everyone will pay attention to these details. 

Check how many semesters are listed on the diploma and how many credits the candidate claims to have taken. Comparing the certificate with course requirements available online will give you an excellent way to identify scams. 

Pay attention to details

The mistakes lie in detail with printed or even digital copies of fake diplomas. You might find misspelt words, incorrect seals or stamps, and weird signatures.

While examining a printed diploma, make sure the document is signed by pen, not digitally. The same goes for seals and stamps, which should be done physically, not digitally – unless they provide a reference number or QR code to check the document’s authenticity.

You should carefully examine the spelling of the institution’s names. Often, trying to pass a fake diploma or deceive a recruiter, people will make up an institution name similar to but not exactly the same as renowned universities. Ensure everything is spelt correctly, and check the full names of accredited places. 

If it’s too good to be true, it might be a lie

It’s not always that you will come across the perfect resume. It is worth investigating if something seems too perfect, precisely what you are looking for and more. 

You should check references and school history to ensure the candidate is what they claim to be. 

The same can be said for students trying to avoid a “diploma mill”: an institution that will provide an essentially worthless piece of paper. If a school offers a lot for a small price, assess carefully. Check if the institution is accredited, if they will provide a verifiable certificate and if your qualifications will be valid once you graduate.

Digital credentials

One of the benefits of digital diplomas and certificates is how easy it is to verify their authenticity and track the institutions that provided them.

More reliable than a piece of paper or a simple PDF file, digital credentials are accessed with just one click. The data provided by the issuer of the diploma will be constantly updated. For institutions that already use a  blockchain system, you can verify the record and history of the certificate.

For institutions or recruiters that still rely on paper, printed diplomas with digital credentials will present a QR code or an URL that can be verified.


The easiest way to avoid falling victim to fake diplomas is to check digital credentials, as they offer a reliable way to verify the authenticity of documents.

However, this option is only sometimes available. In that case, attention to detail is crucial. Often, fake certificates will present small mistakes or lack features that are usually provided. Paying attention and investigating anything that looks suspicious might save you from problems in the future.

Ask for references, do your research and report to local authorities if you come across a professional – or institution – trying to pass as something they are not. Fraudulent documents can cause many issues, especially when a position requires a specific professional with a meaningful set of skills. Certificates, licenses, diplomas and badges are essential information when hiring someone, so make sure what you have is reliable and authentic.