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Universities require letters of recommendation as part of the application process. For some borderline students, solid letters of recommendation can be difficult to get; as a result, some students turn to creating fake recommendation letters to get into college. The organization that tracks and verifies student credentials, the National Student Clearinghouse, does not track fraud, but fraud appears to be on the upswing as more students compete for spots at exclusive universities. Fraud is especially a problem at universities that process a large number of applications, because these schools don't have the time to examine each reference.
Examine the letterhead that the reference was typed on. If the letter did not come on letterhead and it is supposed to be from a school official in high school or college, it is probably not legitimate.
Read the letter. If the letter is from a university or an established businessperson, look at the level of writing. If the writing seems poor and contains a low vocabulary level and errors, the letter is probably not real.
Verify the letter writer's identity online; investigate whether that person is real and works for the organization. If you are unable to find the person online, call the company or school and ask for the reference's contact information. If they have not heard of this person, explain the situation and see if the referrer had ever worked for that company or school. If no records can be found, the reference is false.
Call the number listed on the letter and ask the person detailed questions about the applicant. The applicant might have written the reference but may not be who he claims to be. Include a few probing questions about his alleged position. If the reference is real, he will be able to respond to your questions promptly and intelligently.
Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.