Fraudulent Calibration Certificates: 3 Ways to Spot a Bogus Document
It doesn't happen often. In eleven years at Vaisala Canada's Quality Manager Wlad Nefedow has seen it only once, but calibration certificates are sometimes counterfeited. Once discovered, the accrediting body will often publish the name of the offending company. For example, The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) has a Web page for publishing "False Claims of Accreditation."
Here's what happened to us in September (thank you Wlad for sharing this story!): We received a call from a facility manager who had hired a calibration company to service a refrigerator that holds biological product. After the calibration, the manager asked the calibration technician to provide some documents showing the calibration of the reference device. The calibration technician did so, but that's when the facilities manager noticed that the print out seemed... odd.
First of all, the fonts used in the PDF were not consistent... This may mean the PDF was edited, rather than generated anew as a document tied to the device(s). In this example below, the device is in Ariel and the Instrument series name is in Courier.
|Reference Equipment||Serial Number||Last Calibration Date||Next Calibration Date|
HMI41 Indicator and HMP42 Probe
Even a secured PDF can be edited with a third-party software. The facilities manager sent us a copy of the calibration certificate and we saw that, not only were there some mismatched fonts, but the Vaisala equipment was an older instrument. In addition, the calibration certificate had no signature and the lab's accreditation number (the A2LA Accreditation Certificate #) did not match the address stated on the edited certificate.
3 Quick Ways to Check a Cal Cert for Fraud:
1.) Check the Certificate No. issued from the Accrediting Body
Any calibration certificate from an accredited laboratory should have a certificate number designated for that particular laboratory by the accrediting body. This is easy to check. Simply go to the accreditor's website and enter the certificate number into the site search. Like so...
Now search for the certificate number on the accrediting organization's website. For example, our Vaisala Canada calibration laboratory is accredited by A2LA and our Certificate number is 2069.01.
2.) If the lab is there, the details will likely outline the "Scope of Accreditation," valid dates, parameters, equipment, measurement ranges and Calibration and Measurement Capabilities (CMCs). The process is the same for National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program NVLAP. The site-wide search on NVLAP's site states:
"The NVLAP Directory of Accredited Laboratories is fully searchable, using Google Search. You may search both testing and calibration scopes of accreditation by typing one or more search terms into the search box below and pressing the 'Enter' key or clicking on the Google Search button."
3.) Finally, check your calibration certificate for mention of the Scope of Accreditation, for example, this is from Vaisala Canada's Scope of Accreditation:
"This laboratory is accredited in accordance with the recognized International Standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. This laboratory also meets the requirements of ANSI/NCSLI Z540-1-1994 and the requirements of ANSI/NCSLI Z540. 3-2006 and any additional program requirements in the field of calibration. This accreditation demonstrates technical competence for a defined scope and the operation of a laboratory quality management system ( refer to joint ISO-ILAC-IAF …"
And here is the statement on compliance on the calibration certificate (shown below):
"The calibration(s) on this report are traceable to the United States of America National Institute of Standards and Technology or to other recognized national or international standards or to accepted values of natural physical constants and are accredited to ISO/IEC 17025. The laboratory meets the requirements of ANSI/NCSL Z540-1."
Finally, who is accountable for executing and overseeing the calibration? According to the A2LA's document:
"Requirements for Endorsed Calibration Certificates from an A2LA Accredited Laboratory"
"...The name, function, and signature or equivalent identification of those authorizing the calibration certificate;" Vaisala Canada's calibration certificates have the signature of the calibration technician and laboratory manager.