Ghost Certificates: What They Are and How They Work

Certificates are a testament to an individual’s qualifications, skills, and achievements. For this reason, they play an important role in assessing potential job applicants, students or professionals in general. These documents guide important decisions and thus must be reliable and verifiable.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of having proof of achievements and skills, and providing accurate and official information to educational institutions and potential employees. 

In this context, learn what ghost certificates are and how they can present a serious threat to businesses and individuals. 

What are ghost certificates?

When asked to provide a certificate, individuals might share a copy rather than the document itself. If that certificate can’t be traced back to an institution or have its validity attested, it is known as a ghost certificate.

Without an official and traceable copy available, ghost certificates can be expired or revoked, or documents that were generated improperly, not representing accurate information. 

What is the problem with ghost certificates?

Having a certificate that is not verifiable can lead to several problems, especially in contexts where these documents are used to establish trust, verify identities, or ensure the authenticity of information.

Lack of trust

Certificates are meant to be trusted credentials issued by reputable entities. If a certificate cannot be verified, its authenticity and legitimacy are questionable. This erodes trust in the entity or individual presenting the certificate and the claims it makes.

Without proper verification mechanisms, it becomes easier for malicious actors to create counterfeit certificates. These forged certificates can be used to impersonate individuals, organisations, or entities, leading to fraud and unauthorised access to sensitive information or resources.

Verifiable certificates often come with a chain of trust that traces back to the issuing authority. Copies without official verification break this chain, making it difficult to establish accountability and authenticity.

It is also important to note that a copy of a certificate might not accurately represent the current status of the credential holder or the information contained in the original certificate. This can lead to decisions being made based on outdated or incorrect information.

Legal and compliance issues

In scenarios where certificates are required for legal or regulatory compliance, using unverifiable or unofficial copies can result in violations or legal disputes.

Certificates are meant to be valuable endorsements of skills, achievements, or qualifications. When copies lacking verification become prevalent, the value of legitimate certificates can be undermined.

In cases where certificates are used for access control (e.g., SSL/TLS certificates for website security), using unverifiable certificates could expose systems to security vulnerabilities and breaches.

Organisations that issue certificates might suffer a loss of reputation if their certificates are easily copied or forged, as stakeholders may question the authenticity of their credentialing processes.

Challenges in verification

Individuals or organisations relying on certificates for decision-making processes (such as hiring managers, universities, or licensing authorities) may face challenges in verifying the authenticity of uncertified copies.

In turn, unverifiable copies of certificates might be used to misrepresent qualifications, achievements, or affiliations. This can negatively impact decisions related to hiring, partnerships, or collaborations.

How to avoid dealing with ghost certificates?

To address the problems caused by ghost certificates, it is crucial to have a reliable and standardised system for issuing, storing, and verifying certificates and other credentials. 

Businesses can take several measures to avoid dealing with this problem. Here are some strategies:

Implement a verification process

Establish a robust verification process for all incoming certificates. This could involve using digital verification services provided by issuing institutions or using blockchain technology to create an immutable record of certificates.

When requesting certificates, also ask for official transcripts directly from the issuing institutions. Transcripts often provide additional information and context about the candidate’s academic or professional history.

Use third-party verification services

Employ third-party verification services that specialise in credential verification. These services can independently verify the authenticity of certificates and provide a seal of approval.

Give preference to candidates who have obtained their certificates from reputable and accredited institutions. Institutions with established credibility are more likely to issue verifiable certificates.

Promote digital certificates

Encourage candidates to use digital certificates whenever possible. Digital certificates are often more easily verifiable and can include cryptographic signatures that enhance security.

Clearly communicate the importance of submitting verifiable certificates and explain the verification process. Candidates may be more willing to share official copies if they understand the value and necessity.

Implement background checks

Conduct thorough background checks, which can include verifying educational and professional credentials. This can help identify discrepancies between the information provided and the actual certificates.

Use verifiable digital platforms

Utilise online platforms that specialise in hosting and verifying digital credentials. These platforms often provide mechanisms for candidates to share verifiable certificates directly.

Stay informed about emerging technologies and practices in certificate verification. As new methods and tools become available, adopt them to enhance the verification process.


Access to verifiable and reliable credentials is crucial for the decision-making process of businesses and educational institutions. In this context, ghost certificates can present risks to the reputation and even security of companies in different industries.

When individuals present untraceable documents, they might also be victims of an unreliable institution. By embracing technologies that enable secure verification and by fostering a culture that values the sanctity of accurate information, we can collectively avoid the issues caused by ghost certificates.  

Recruiters can confidently select candidates who truly possess the qualifications they claim, while educational institutions can ensure that their incoming students are well-prepared for the academic challenges ahead. More than that, individuals themselves gain the power to present their achievements with confidence, knowing that their hard-earned credentials are beyond question.

Digital credentials and the services provided by Diplomasafe can help you avoid the risks of ghost certificates and ensure the credibility of your company.