The hemp industry can be challenging... then add in the stress of not knowing if you have quality...
How to tell if your COA is Fraudulent
COAs impact everyone in the hemp industry, from producers and testers to manufacturers and consumers. It's the official document verifying your product is safe, legal, and fairly priced. Unfortunately, too many people have been led astray by fake results. While we expect the abundance of fraudulent COAs to decline as people become educated and learn what to look for/how to spot them, it's always important to take a proactive approach to consumer safety.
In this post, we will hope to accomplish the following objective:
- Define what a COA is
- Explain why verifying COA legitimacy is important
- Provide tips and best practices to tell if a COA is fraudulent
- Suggest what to do if you suspect a COA of being fraudulent
What is a COA, and Why Does It Matter?
First thing's first: if you're new to the industry, you may be wondering what, exactly, a COA is and why it's important. Don't worry; we've got you covered!
COA stands for "certificate of analysis" and is essentially a report issued by third-party hemp testing laboratories certifying potency and quality. It confirms whether the manufactured product meets regulatory requirements and meets customer expectations.
Despite being in the early stages of standardization, the industry has (for the most part) self-regulated, and states have begun implementing stipulations. So, even though COAs aren't Federally mandated (yet), it's hard to buy or sell products without these tests performed. Unfortunately, not everyone can be trusted. As you've probably heard, some folks have taken to fabricating their results, whether to cut corners to increase their sales yielding. Rest assured, many of the bad players are being weeded out and will continue to be as the market increases, but it's important to be mindful.
How to Identify a Fraudulent COA
You're probably asking yourself, "How can I tell if a COA is fraudulent?" Luckily, we've seen a lot of these and know what to watch out for:
- Verify if the COA has a QR Code. QR Codes are hard to tamper with, and people are already refusing to go to labs that don't use them.
- Check the server the QR code is hosted on. When you scan the QR code, you should be directed to a laboratory information management system (LIM System) (e.g., Confident Cannabis). If you're not sure the system is legitimate, you can reach out to the lab and ask them.
- Review the COA for anything out of the ordinary. It's common for individuals fabricating COAs to use snipping tools to alter or move result items.
- Confirm the results are recent. The testing date should be along the top of the COA. Some people will use old results for new products or even change the date to make it appear current.
- Ensure the document is an official copy. Reputable organizations will send a pdf. COAs should never be copied or scanned. (Another reason to always check the QR code first. It's the most important component of a COA)
- Make sure the photo and description match. For example, buds leverage a higher potency/cannabinoid content than stems and leaves. Some people may only provide you with the bud results, but the product they're selling is biomass material. Biomass material includes stems and leaves, which contain lower cannabinoid content than buds but add extra weight.
- Double-check equations. Yes, you read that right; there's math in this step! First, it's important to know labs do not test for Total THC and Total CBD in their higher performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) machines (the machines most used to determine cannabinoid content levels). These figures are determined using equations, which can usually be found beneath the Cannabinoids section of the COA.
Download your copy of the FREE Guide to How to Tell if Your COA is Fraudulent to learn more tips and tricks!
What to do if you suspect a COA of being fraudulent
If you suspect a COA of being fraudulent, you can do a few things.
The first is to contact the lab that issues the COA. Results are confidential, so the lab likely won't divulge any specifics unless they're speaking with the individual or company it was given to; however, there is a workaround. In most cases, you can read the results to the lab and ask them to confirm (yes or no) if they're correct. At the very least, they should be able to verify whether they have results on file for that sample identification number. It never hurts to call and check!
Next, you can show your lab the COA that you received. At AIT, we've seen enough of these that we can sometimes tell just from looking at it if it's a fraudulent document. We will continually educate our customers on COA fraudulence practices to our customers and the public so that they learn to identify them on their own.
If you suspect that the COA you received is fake, it is up to you to decide what you want to do with it, but we highly suggest retesting the product. You can always ask the person you received the COA from (because who knows who perpetrated the fraud...) for a sample of the product to test with a lab of your choosing.
AIT has also been taking measures to make it harder for people to alter our forms. We've added watermarks and shading in the Summary boxes in different colors, making manipulating those results challenging. We also include QR codes with every COA that we issue. COAs without them are far too easy to tamper with.
It's essential to be vigilant in ensuring COA results are accurate from a moral, legal, and safety perspective. When in doubt, reach out to a lab you trust to review the COA or even ask them for a retest. Luckily, we should all continue to see instances of COA fraud declining as the public is more aware of the warning signs outlined in this blog and market regulations become more standardized.
Your hemp testing laboratory should supply accurate and unbiased data to satisfy your needs. Come to AIT if they don't; we're happy to help.