Court comes down hard on fake certificate sellers

Students hoping to secure places in higher education or with employers will want to put their best foot forward with a sheaf of hard-won qualifications. But fake certificates sold online are an increasing problem. Now the body representing the main UK examination boards, the Joint Council for Qualifications or JCQ, has won an important court victory against the fraudsters, sending a strong message to others making money from this illicit trade.

JCQ – a guardian of educational standards

JCQ provides a single voice for the seven largest awarding bodies offering qualifications in the UK, including all of the bodies offering A-levels and GCSEs. The academic and vocational qualifications provided by the JCQ members form a vital part of the educational system. Protecting the integrity of this certificates and awards system is important for students, higher education institutions and employers alike.

As part of a concerted campaign to stamp out misuse JCQ, acting on behalf of its members, has successfully shut down a website supplying fake examination certificates. The website (replacement-certificates.co.uk) had been offering fake GCSE, A-level and other certificates at prices around £400. Genuine replacements for lost certificates can be obtained directly from the awarding bodies at much lower prices, typically under £50.

The challenge of tackling fraud

It can be difficult to tackle this kind of fraudulent behaviour. The legal analysis can be complex and involve difficulties with proving the knowledge and dishonest intent of the individuals involved. Using intellectual property rights can be a valuable way to stop it by drawing on a set of relatively clear statutory rules.

A case of flagrant infringement

Acting on behalf of five of the awarding bodies, Mills & Reeve applied to the High Court on the basis of trade mark infringement. Importantly, JCQ's members had registrations of their names and logos as UK and European trade marks. This meant that unauthorised use by others could be stopped more easily than if the rights had been left unregistered. A particular difficulty here was identification of those responsible for the fakes. This meant that a special form of order addressed to the operators of the offending website, rather than named individuals, had to be used.

The High Court judge ordered an injunction to stop the website from advertising, offering or supplying fake certificates, plus an inquiry as to damages or an account of profits, and indemnity costs. Those responsible for the website were also required to display a notice on the website publicising the Court's decision. The misuse of the names and logos amounted to “flagrant infringement”, the judge said. 

While counterfeiting is always harmful commercially, this kind of trade mark infringement is also dangerous. Individuals using fake certificates to circumvent rigorous education and assessment could secure jobs in areas like health and social care for which they are not properly trained.

The Mills & Reeve team involved in the case was delighted to support JCQ and its members in achieving this important result.

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