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Diploma Mills Churn Out Fake Credentials-for a Price

In 1984-85, a subcommittee of the United States Congress documented widespread use of fictitious educational credentials. About half a million Americans were working at or found jobs based on bought credentials, the subcommittee said. This included one of every 50 doctors.

The subcommittee found that phony qualifications were easy and cheap to obtain, growing in numbers, widespread geographically and in job categories, spurred by the increased competition for jobs, and the difficulty in detecting or deterring the practice.

Credentials Checking Process Helps Protect Profession's Integrity ollege Council

FIFTEEN years, dozens of duped patients and $4.5 million in bilked OHIP fees too late, the judicial system finally caught up with phony physician Stephen Chung in August.

Chung pleaded guilty to uttering a forged diploma and received a conditional 18-month sentence. But that was four years after a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario credentials check of the provinces' 25,000 doctors exposed the fraud.

A similar investigation process by the Ontario College of Teachers' Membership Records Unit plays a huge part in maintaining the standards and credibility of Ontario's teaching profession.

A Massive Task
The College receives 250,000 documents a year and reviews, validates, authenticates, and judges the appropriateness of every transcript that comes through. Validating means affirming that a transcript is indeed a transcript. Establishing authenticity means confirming that it came from the source it was purported to come from. Appropriateness assures that's it's an official document, not a handwritten version or photocopy.

Between January and August 2002, the College processed 7,000 applications for new graduates, 17,008 Ontario transcripts, 3,000 applications from outside the province, and 16,277 recommendations for Additional Qualifications.

A random records audit screens a small but statistically sound sample. Typically, College staff opens and examines the mail and then sends a letter and copy of the document to the originating institution to verify it. If the document is considered fraudulent, the applicant is given 30 days to explain. Failure to explain means the file is closed, at least in the case of those seeking certification.

In the case of College members seeking upgrades or changes in qualifications, attempts to submit false qualifications can lead to eventual revocation of a member's certificate and possible criminal charges.

Papers, Inks and Signatures Examined
Investigators examine paper quality, seals, print processes, inks, details, handwriting and signatures, looking for signs of information erasure, obliteration (the blocking or covering over of original material), insertion or manipulation.

In cases where a member of the College has forged or fixed qualification documents, the College pursues the fraud to the fullest extent. It recently forwarded two cases to the police in which members falsified documents to improve their status and salary.

One of the most infamous College cases-exposed through credential checking-was that of Robert Richard Haines. In 1999, the College's Discipline Committee found Haines guilty of professional misconduct for submitting faked degrees-a BA, MA and PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles-upon which he built a 27-year teaching career. Haines received salary increases and his principal's qualifications based on the phony qualifications, the College found. As result, his certificates of registration and qualification were revoked.

The challenge comes in uncovering fraud without damaging a person's or the College's reputation.

Although fraud may be uncovered prior to certification, there's nothing to stop that person from applying for a teaching position outside the province. At present, there are no information-sharing mechanisms in Canada among organizations responsible for accrediting teachers.

In Canada, university applicants sign a form agreeing to have their name circulated if they're caught in a fraud. The Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada issues document alerts on a listserv and the information is shared with other Canadian institutions. Those alerts are scanned into the Ontario College of Teachers' system and are triggered when someone applies to become a teacher.

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