The Fraud Triangle: Understanding threats to test security

Posted by Julie Delazyn

There can be lots of worry and planning around assessment security, but there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. The Fraud Triangle described by criminologist Donald Cressey provides a useful lens for identifying security threats and understanding how to deal with them effectively.

The diagram below shows the key issues in fraud. In order for someone to commit fraud (e.g. cheat at a test), he or she must have Motivation, Opportunity and Rationalization.


Understanding the stakes of assessments is key to determining motivation and therefore the appropriate level of security for it. For example, if an employee’s promotion is at stake, then the risk of fraud is higher than if the individual were simply taking a low-stakes survey. So it’s important to evaluate the risk before deciding the measures to take and to apply security where the risk is higher.


There are three main areas of opportunity to be addressed:

  • Identity fraud: a participant might ask a friend or co-worker to take the test instead of him/her
  • Content theft: where questions are circulated from one test taker to another; e.g. someone copies an exam and shares it with someone else
  • Cheating: where test taker sits with a friend or uses Internet searching to help answer questions


In order to cheat at a test, people need to justify to themselves why it’s right to do so — perhaps reasoning that the process is unfair or that the test is unimportant. You can do a lot to reduce rationalization for cheating by setting up a fair program and clearly communicating that it is fair. (It’s notable that having a positive, long-term relationship with test takers lowers the risk of cheating: where there is strong trust, people generally would not want to break it over something like an exam.)

For a fuller description on The Fraud Triangle, see Questionmark CEO Eric Shepherd’s blog articles: Assessment Security and How to Reduce Fraud and Oversight Monitoring and Deliver of Higher Stakes Assessments Safely and Securely. Another good source of information, particularly in the context of compliance, is our white paper: The Role of Assessments in Mitigating Risk for Financial Services Organizations. You can download it free here, after login.

Assessment Security: Reducing Fraud

julie-smallPosted by Julie Chazyn

I’d like to draw your attention to some recent writing by our CEO, Eric Shepherd, on the subject of “Assessment Security and How To Reduce Fraud.”fraud risk image

In this post on his blog, Eric describes  what motivates fraudulent behavior and explains some common methods and processes to help you minimize and eliminate it from your assessments. He references the “Fraud Triangle” created by famed criminologist Donald Cressey to explain why people commit fraud. Eric examines the three elements in the triangle: Motivation, Rationalization and Opportunity. He also offers some practical tips for deterring fraud.

If you are interested in this and many other issues surrounding assessment be sure to check out Eric’s blog.