Document legalisation scams: Things to look out for

If it's too good to be true, it probably is. It definitely is when it comes to document legalisation. Don't get caught out by legalisation scams.

If document legalisation was easy, we wouldn’t exist as a company. Everyone would do their own document legalisation and we’d all be out of a job. We exist because document legalisation is such a pain to do. People realise how complicated it is (and how much is at risk if they get it wrong) so they turn to specialist companies like us to do it for them.

When they’re browsing which company to go with, they naturally look for the cheapest options. Everyone likes to save money where they can. But, in document legalisation, that can end up costing you down the line. There are some fraudulent companies looking to take advantage of people’s inexperience of document legalisation, and more and more we’re hearing of people being stung by legalisation scams.

A man, sitting at a laptop, sitting rubbing his eyes with frustration. He has been caught by a legalisation scam.

We don’t want you to be one of them. So, in this blog, we’re going to give you some tips; things to look out for, red flags that you can avoid when you’re browsing legalisation companies. There are loads of legitimate companies out there – don’t get drawn in by illegitimate ones.


We’ll start with an obvious one – always check the reviews of any company you use.

Check, Google, Trustpilot, Facebook. See what previous customers have to say about them. If everyone’s warning you not to touch the company with a 10 foot barge pole, you should probably listen. No reviews at all should set a few alarm bells ringing, too. They might just be new (everyone has to start somewhere), but it’s a bit of a risk.

Also keep in mind that it’s easy enough to create fake accounts and give yourself 5-star reviews. I’d be wary of any companies that have a lot of ’empty’ 5-star reviews; reviews without specific comments about the service. Some review sites have a ‘Verified Customer‘ tag. These guarantee the reviewer has made a purchase, so they’re more likely to be truthful than unverified ones.

Quoted time frames

It’s easy to find yourself in a bit of a pickle. You leave document legalisation until the last minute, and then you panic when you realise how long the process can take. So, obviously, you look for the quickest service options.

But this is where fraudulent companies get a lot of their victims. They’ll promise you an impossibly quick service time, and, because you’re in a rush, you’ll go for it. But document legalisation is a time-consuming process. There’s no way around it, unfortunately. It takes as long as it takes.

A woman sat in front of her laptop, clearly annoyed. Been scammed.

I’ll give you a quick example. We had a customer who recently came to us with documents issued in South Africa. At the moment (August 2023), it’s taking 6-8 weeks to get documents back from the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation (DIRCO) in South Africa. When we quoted this time frame to the customer, they questioned it. They said their partner had recently had their documents legalised for South Africa with a different company who’d quoted them 1 week.

That’s just not possible. The 6 to 8 week timeframe we gave came directly from DIRCO – the official government department in South Africa that handles document legalisation for the country. How can some random legalisation company turn documents over in 1/6th of the time it takes the actual government?

Something dodgy is going on. Best case scenario they’re massively overpromising to get your business. Worst case scenario they’re forging the documents. Either way it’s criminal activity that you need to steer clear of. If you’re caught with forged documents, legalisation is going to be the least of your worries.

Just be wary of any company offering ridiculously quick service times. If the vast majority of companies are telling you something will take a month or so and then you find a company who claim to be able to do it in a week, that’s a red flag. If it could be done in a week, all the other companies would be doing it too.

Cut-price costs

Like time-frames, some aspects of legalisation can’t be helped. Cost is one of them.

There are baseline costs to legalisation. They’re charged by government departments and embassies. When you use a specialist company to legalise your documents, you’ll obviously pay more than the costs charged directly at the embassy. Not only are you paying for the manpower and expertise of legalising the document, but you’re also paying for the convenience of not having to do it yourself.

A company massively undercutting all of its competitors is a bit of a red flag. Legalisation costs as much as it costs. An Apostille, for example, costs £30 at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). If you find a ‘specialist’ company offering an Apostille service at £30, or even marginally higher, ask yourself what’s in it for them. They aren’t making a profit, so how are they making money?

Beats us. They could be committing fraud, or they could be about to go out of a business in a couple of week. It’s not a viable business model. It’s definitely something you should be a bit suspicious of, whatever the case. It could suggest a legalisation scam.

A businessman in a suit sat in front of his laptop with his head in his hands.

Recent company creation

Check how long the company has been in business – see how long they’ve been established. If a company has been around for years, then that’s a pretty good indicator that they’re legitimate.

Sham companies pop up, scam people, then disappear without a trace a month or so later. After a while they pop up again with a new name and do the exact same thing. It’s like whack-a-mole. For that reason, it’s a good idea to be cautious of newly-formed companies. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a scam – they could just be a budding new company just starting out – but it’s worth doing a bit more research into them.

Be careful – don’t get stung by legalisation scams

When you’re browsing document legalisation services, keep in mind that not all of them are legitimate. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Check the reviews and compare the costs / time-frames to other legalisation companies. If they’re massively undercutting competitors, it might be worth thinking about how they’re able to do so. Don’t get stung by fraudulent companies because you’re looking for a bargain. Always do your research!

Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Consular. He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

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