Most of the people and organisations that deliver exams and assessments act with integrity and professionalism. However, some might be exposed to incentives, and that can increase the risk of fraud or malpractice.
Each year more than 12m qualification certificates are awarded to learners in England and around the world. Qualification certificates can:
Regulated qualifications, offered in England, are awarded by more than 160 organisations – including many charities. These awarding organisations range from large household names that award millions of certificates, to very small, niche providers that award certificates to a few people every year.
This market is worth £600m in entry fees alone. This means that the opportunity to make money can sometimes lead to unethical behaviours. The result can be unfair outcomes for students and the loss of public confidence in qualifications, the awarding organisation and in the education sector as a whole.
Qualification fraud commonly includes theft, fraud and forgery, and may involve trademark and copyright legislation. It falls under a wider umbrella of qualification malpractice.
Awarding organisations must take all reasonable steps to prevent any malpractice or maladministration in the development, delivery and award of qualifications which they make available (or propose to make available).
Anyone who falsely creates a qualification certificate or alters a genuine one (by changing the name, subject or grade) and presents it as real is likely to be committing fraud. Intellectual property of the awarding organisations (and regulators) may also be breached if their logos appear.
Fake or altered certificates are sometimes used for immigration fraud (to gain entry to another country) or to confer a ‘licence to practise’ (ie, construction, security or other licensed role). This potentially puts public safety at risk.
Fake certificates can be hard to spot, but they might contain:
The best way to check the authenticity of a certificate is directly with the awarding organisation.
If you spot a fake certificate for sale you should report it to the relevant awarding organisation.
Fake or confidential exam materials
Students sometimes find assessments daunting and they may be nervous about their performance. If such students are accidentally given access to confidential materials, the temptation to use or share these materials can sometimes be too great. Such materials can now be shared through social media.
Awarding organisations monitor social media looking for such materials. Sometimes fake materials are sold online by fraudsters to try and steal money from students by taking advantage of their anxiety, self-doubt or desire to increase their chance of a good grade.
If you spot an exam paper, part of an exam paper or individual exam questions for sale, the best thing to do is to report it to the relevant awarding organisation.
Awarding organisations, schools, colleges and training providers hold personal data about their students and their work, and it is used to demonstrate performance in a qualification.
In the UK, follow the guidance issued by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to protect this information.
Check qualification titles and awarding organisations on Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications.
If you suspect qualification fraud act promptly.
If you work at an awarding organisation, school or college and have concerns about the delivery of an exam or assessment, you might be protected under whistleblowing legislation. See the Ofqual whistleblowing policy for more information.
BUILDING YOUR CHARITY’S DEFENCES
Ofqual has produced a range of resources covering this area. See ‘Understanding our rules’ and ‘Supporting exam officers’. Also see ‘Ask Ofqual – common questions answered’; ‘Who is accountable for awarding qualifications?’ and ‘Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: a guide for schools and colleges’.
The Independent Malpractice Commission has made a number of recommendations to reduce and deter malpractice in the examinations system.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has produced guidance for charities on how to improve cyber security quickly, easily and at low cost. See ‘Cyber security: small charity guide’.
Preventing Charity Fraud contains resources to help charities prevent, detect and respond to fraud.
This helpsheet was kindly prepared by Ofqual.
Published 2019. Last updated August 2021.
© Fraud Advisory Panel, Charity Commission for England and Wales and Ofqual 2019, 2021. Fraud Advisory Panel, Charity Commission for England and Wales and Ofqual will not be liable for any reliance you place on the information in this material. You should seek independent advice.