Fake TEFL or TESOL Certificates are a fact of life.
This article explores why they exist, where they come from, ways in which they are being used and methods by which legitimate companies are combating their use.
(PS click here if you need to get a genuine TEFL Certificate.)
In the past – some twenty or thirty years ago – many teaching jobs were available to people who just needed to be able to speak English. There were no real requirements in terms of qualifications and positions were filled by all and sundry.
However, as the industry moved on, most jobs started to ask for a degree and then a TEFL certificate as a minimum qualification to teach English.
For most teachers this was fine, however for some others this became a problem. This is where the market for fake certificates began to grow.
Who Buys Them?
There are generally three categories of people who buy fake TEFL certificates.
The first are older teachers who have somehow been teaching in various schools for a number of years and may well be very competent in their teaching. After working problem-free, the country in which they’re teaching may suddenly bring in a regulation for all teachers to have a TEFL certificate or the school may one day turn around and demand all their teachers have them.
Almost understandably these teachers don’t necessarily want to fork out money for a genuine course and they may well feel as though their teaching is good enough already and they won’t learn anything from a TEFL course so instead they look for a fake certificate they can buy without taking a course.
People with Lack of Funds
Taking a top end TEFL certificate like the CELTA can cost upwards of $1000 USD (€791, £636) which is a lot of money, especially if you have a student loan to repay as well. People who can’t afford this may sometimes turn to a fake certificate as a cheap alternative.
Another sort of person who buys a fake certificate will be along the lines of the so-called ‘backpacker teachers’. They are traveling a country and as they speak English and think that teaching it will bring in some money it is an option worth trying. They can’t be bothered to attend a proper teaching course (or lack the funds to do so) so instead they buy a fake certificate from a sidestreet and go looking for work using that.
Types of Fake TEFL Certificates
There are generally 3 types of fake certificates.
Copies of Genuine Certificates
An unscrupulous shop may well take a genuine certificate issued by a legitimate school and copy it. Using pretty basic software they can then remove the original name and put in a new name; they’ll print it off on decent paper and charge someone for it.
False Certificates from Genuine Providers
It has come to light that some students have bought fake certificates from copy shops and been provided with either a very rough copy of a genuine certificate or a completely fabricated certificate purporting to come from a genuine course provider.
One legitimate course provider we spoke to showed us 4 fake copies of their certificate, each of which looked nothing like the original!
Some fake certificate makers go the whole hog and set up fake schools as well. They go so far as to set up a website with school details (mostly rubbish, of course) and then deliver a certificate on payment.
On the same tack some course providers may give out certificates under dubious circumstances such as “experience”. This is equally as worthless as a fake certificate.
There are a number of problems found in using any of the fake certificates above.
Firstly many schools these days ask their teachers to give a sample lesson to check out their teaching style. Even if it doesn’t go this far, during the interview for the job a school is very likely to ask at least a few questions about teaching style. Can someone who has never taken a proper teaching course answer these questions?
- How would you teach the difference between the present simple and the present continuous?
- We prefer the communicative approach to language teaching here. What are your thoughts on this?
Another problem is that more and more often these days schools are checking with the provider of the certificate to make sure it is genuine. If there is the slightest doubt about the provenance of the certificate they will contact the provider to make sure. Most legitimate TEFL providers these days will issue each student with a unique ID number which is printed on the certificate. It is not uncommon for schools to check these numbers with the legitimate provider who will confirm if the ID and student name are genuine or not. This is where many fake teachers are caught out since it takes just a few hours and a quick email to discover whether someone really did attend such-and-such a school.
Another problem is the quality of the certificate. Many fake certificates – especially those bought online with no recourse – are printed at low resolution on cheap inkjet printers and simply look bad or fade quickly. Others have been known to contain spelling mistakes and other obvious errors!
If you do have a fake TEFL certificate and the school knows it (or doesn’t want to know it) and you do get offered a job, then there is a strong possibility that the school you will work for is pretty poor; if they are willing to accept teachers who lie, can you really trust them to pay you? Good schools check; bad schools don’t care and don’t check.
Finally, if you do get found out at a later date you are likely to lose your job and there is also the (admittedly slim) possibility of having to leave the country as you would be in breach of your visa conditions. In early 2007 there was a crackdown on teachers in Thailand who had submitted fake credentials after a large number of schools were raided. Those teachers who were caught out were prosecuted with some being jailed and some being deported.
The cost for fake TEFL certificates vary. Depending on where you get them from, they are anything from $150 USD (€119, £95) to $300 USD (€237, £191).
Bearing in mind that for a similar price you can actually take a genuine and well respected TEFL course, the question needs to be asked: who is getting ripped off by buying a fake certificate?
Aside from the practical disadvantages of having a fake certificate (or any other fake qualification for that matter) there are ethical considerations.
- In many countries learning English is seen as a way to improve work and life opportunities and students pay a lot of money and make many sacrifices to learn. You are, essentially, cheating your students by lying to them.
- How would you feel if your teachers at school had not been qualified and had lied to get in to your class?
- If you needed to visit a dentist or lawyer or doctor for professional work, how would you feel if you found out that the certificates on their walls were fake?
Finding Fake TEFL Certificates
Although fake certificates (and other documents) are available from small copy shops in some areas of Bangkok and other major Asian capitals, most are now bought online and a quick search will bring up a number of options.
However, before going down this route, bear in mind that since you are, essentially, buying an illegal document from a questionable company you should be extremely wary of handing over your credit card details! There have been a number of cases where the card details were stolen and maxed out within a few hours of the original transaction.
Finally, a word of caution about buying from online diploma mills (as they are often known): A User’s Experience – buying an online certificate.
Essential Qualifications to Teach English – what you must have to teach
How to Choose a Good TEFL Course – forget the fakes and find out what you should be doing
TEFL Certificates to Teach English – a look at proper TEFL courses