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Academic Qualification Fraud: How To Spot a Fake CV and What To Do

(Updated: 16 April 2023)

When we consider the number of people applying for the same position, applying for a new job may seem like a daunting task. Therefore, people may feel the need to embellish their CV to appear more impressive and to maximise their chances of securing an interview or possibly landing the job.

“White lies” may initially seem harmless, but the potential consequences of these embellishments can be quite severe. Through verifying candidate CVs’, companies can deter potential fraudsters and therefore safeguard their business from potential reputational, financial, and judicial risks.

In this article, we will take a look at why people commit CV fraud, how you as a business owner can identify fake CVs, and what steps you can take to protect your business from the threat of fraud:

Why do people lie about their qualifications?

Despite unemployment decreasing by 0.2% in Q4:2022 according to Statistics South Africa, the unemployment rate is still a very high rate that has far-reaching consequences for South African employers as academic qualification fraud is continuously on the rise.

With added pressure to stand out from the plethora of CVs that employers get and to present oneself as the ideal candidate for a position, South African jobseekers have a tendency to lie on their CVs. These lies included overstating responsibilities at previous employment, embellishing job titles and misleading employers about their skills. However, the most common thing potential employees lie about is their qualification and educational background.

How are qualifications being faked?

Academic fraud isn’t a new concept, and neither is the creation and purchase of fake certificates from a large variety of educational establishments. With a few keystrokes, you can easily find multiple online platforms claiming to provide “well made” or “authentic” fake qualifications from universities of your choosing, amongst a variety of other legal documentation that can give you a leg up in the job market.

With that being said, fraudsters can gain access to fake qualifications through:

  • Online platforms utilising digital recreations of existing certificates from established universities.
  • Syndicates gaining access to original certificates from various educational facilities through other means of fraud to resell.
  • Individuals creating certificates themselves from made up educational facilities or by copying and editing exiting certificates found online.
  • An employee of an established university selling fake / false certificates as part of fraudulent scheme.
  • Simply giving employers the run around by stating qualifications on their CVs but not actually producing the required certificates because they have been ‘lost’ or ‘misplaced’.

The news behind academic fraud

Academic fraud is by no means a new phenomenon in South Africa as demonstrated by the copious amounts of scandals facing our politicians with fake degrees and qualifications. If those that lead and have power are faking qualifications it can only be expected that the average, desperate individual would view this as an example to follow.

It must also be noted that it is not just individuals that are in the business of seeking fake qualifications, there are also institutions that have come under fire as of late for the issuing of fraudulent academic qualifications. These further compounds the problem as this leaves students feeling as though their legitimate degrees are disreputable and undervalued. This sentiment then adds to the ever-present pressure of the jobseekers’ market and may push some students to lie or “fluff” their academic qualifications or where their degree was awarded to separate themselves from the bad reputation of the university.

There are even more unfortunate circumstances of bogus colleges preying on the vulnerability and desperation of poor youth attempting to acquire a better education. These are opportunistic businesses that enrol students under false pretences, take their money (which is more often than not a loan that the student cannot actually afford) and then leave them with invalid qualifications.

Governmental actions towards qualification fraud!

The National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act No. 12 of 2019 states that criminal prosecution may result if someone “falsely or fraudulently claims to be holding a qualification or part-qualification registered on the NQF or awarded by an education institution, skills development provider, Quality Council (“QC”) or obtained from a lawfully recognised foreign institution”.

The bill makes an appeal to employers to verify the qualifications of their employees. If any fraudulent qualifications are found this should be reported to SAQA where a record of the holder of the fake qualification will be kept.

According to Rademeyer Attorneys article “Fake qualifications could lead to jail time”, anyone who is convicted of an offence that is outlined in the National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act No. 12 of 2019 will be held liable to a fine or to imprisonments for a period not exceeding five year, or to both the fine and imprisonment.

The Department of Higher Education has ongoing efforts to close bogus colleges and has also urged young people and their parents to confirm the legitimacy of any private institution via the call centre before enrolling at any private institution of education and training. There are roughly 90 bogus colleges identified by Keep Climbing in January 2023.

How to spot a fake qualification

We understand that not every business can afford or feels the need to register and pay for verification services, especially if they do not recruit frequently. However, knowing what to look for on candidate CVs can help you protect your company against potential academic fraud.

  • Does the university exist? A common tactic used by fraudsters are to issue certificates from non-existent or fictional universities or schools. Furthermore, they can have fake social media profiles and website’s set up to “authenticate” the false establishment. We recommend you do independent verifications by checking these online profiles against bogus colleges and verifying the physical address through Google Maps.
  • Is the design notably outdated and old-fashioned? When it comes to university certificates we often think of the old-fashioned font and design. However, universities have moved with the times and have updated their document designs to reflect modern prints.
  • Are there obvious spelling and grammar errors? Always read through a certificate carefully, as authentic, and legitimate certificates will never contain spelling or grammatical errors, colloquialisms, or slang. This includes names of students, abbreviations of the institute, or official name for the institution.
  • Do the certificates contain Latin? Although it is not uncommon for schools or universities to have Latin sayings, it is rare for these schools to issue certificates written in Latin. Therefore any “flowery” language should raise alarm bells.
  • Can you see the security features? Most certificates contain subtle security features such as watermark seals, hologram, barcode, or embossing etc.

What should you do?

The best course of action will depend entirely on the point at which the deception has been discovered. Let’s take a look at a few examples of what actions you as a business owner can take when you’ve identified academic fraud in your business.

We strongly recommend consulting with an attorney for any legal advice before taking disciplinary action against and employee as it could help avoid costly mistakes.

  • Pre-employment: If you uncover false credentials of a candidate after sending them a formalised job offer, you can withdraw the offer citing the reasons why. However, in order to further protect your company, we recommend documenting the recruitment process thoroughly and state the reason for any decisions made to avoid claims of discrimination.
  • New employee: If you uncover false credentials of an employee after they started working for the company, you could have grounds for dismissal, claiming a breach of trust and employee confidence. If the deception is severe, this might escalate to legal action and call for immediate dismissal without notice.
  • Longstanding employee: If you uncover false credentials for longstanding employees, the process may be more complicated as it can bring claims for unfair dismissal. You will need to ensure that your actions and reasons for dismissing a longstanding employee for fraudulent qualifications can be defended as a reasonable response to the misconduct in question.

Employers should carry out detailed background checks and verification of all qualifications of potential candidates in order to reduce the risk of fraud. As an added security measure, employers can include in their letters of employment and contracts a notice that explains what disciplinary actions will take place should fraudulent behaviour or false representation regarding qualifications be identified.


Hiring a fraudulent person not only decreases the credibility of your company and diminishes your work quality but opens your business up to future acts of fraud. Need help protecting your business against academic fraud? Then register with MarisIT’s easy to use and affordable vetting platform today and start verifying potential candidates.

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