A surprising forgery story: Why we are now watermarking our CSP Certificates of Publication

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By Mark Buckshon

Publisher, Ontario Construction Newspaper

Two months ago, we received a surprising email from a municipal government’s project manager.

She was trying to verify whether we had published a Certificate of Substantial Performance (CSP) for a contractor, which reported it had completed a project in her community and provided what appeared to be one of our Certificate of Publication notifications.

However, she couldn’t find any evidence on our public record database of the reportedly published CSP.

We checked our files as well, digging into internal records and files. In addition, we checked to see if the contractor had published the CSP elsewhere, through our open certificatesubstantialperformance.com verification site.

Once we found no evidence of publication anywhere, we asked the project manager to send us the purported Certificate of Publication.

Some things matched. We had indeed published a CSP in her municipality for that date. But it was from another contractor and a totally different project. As we looked at the form more closely, we could see the contractor had forged the document.  The typefaces weren’t quite right, and the images indicated that someone had cut and pasted details about the fake project within our form template.

We then sent the municipality formal notice that we had not, indeed, published the CSP. The official thanked us and advised that she would report the matter to the city’s legal department.

I, as you probably will, find it astounding that a contractor would fake a CSP Publication Notice certificate.

First, as we observe in this reporting, it doesn’t take too long to verify things as we, and other publishers, make the information readily available online. After all, the whole point of the CSP publication process is to make everything very visible so that there is a clear delineation of when projects are substantially complete. This ensures subcontractors and suppliers can know the deadlines for filing lien claims, and gives security to owners and general contractors that they have a clear-cut off for any project claims.

Secondly, I shudder to think about the consequences for the contractor after the forgery was discovered. I’m not a lawyer, but imagine there are plenty of civil and criminal penalties, both for the corporation and the individual(s) involved in the fraud. (We elected not to press charges as we didn’t suffer any direct economic consequences, but will accurately report on the forgery to any authority requesting information on the matter.) I also doubt the municipality will have any future dealings with the contractor – which will not see the holdback returned anytime soon.

After this incident, we decided that a simple security enhancement on our standard Certificate of Publication was in order – and so, effective immediately, each CSP form is now watermarked with our logo to make it much harder to conduct a cut and paste with a laser printer and photocopier to forge the relevant document.

Mark Buckshon is the president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes Ontario Construction News. He can be reached by email at buckshon@ontarioconstructionnews.com.

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