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Psst... Want to buy a S'pore degree?

China-based websites selling fake NUS, NTU and SMU degrees for up to $4,000 promise to cover all paper trails. -TNP

Tue, Feb 23, 2010
The New Paper

By Liew Hanqing

AS SINGAPORE becomes a brand name as a high-value education hub in the region, degrees from local universities are becoming more coveted among foreign students.

And like most things that have high demand, the degrees have attracted counterfeiters out to make a fast buck.

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The New Paper on Sunday learnt recently that fake degrees from National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) were on sale here.

An investigative team went undercover to expose this apparently roaring trade where a fake degree can be bought for anything from a few hundred dollars to $4,000.

All it takes is a brief online chat and a quick face-to-face exchange to buy a fake degree.

And what The New Paper on Sunday uncovered has caught the universities here by surprise. All said that they weren't aware of counterfeit local degrees being sold here.

The counterfeiters, who are based in Singapore and China, offer to sell the fake degrees on popular Internet forums.

One seller exposed by The New Paper on Sunday said that the buyers are usually foreign nationals, mostly from China, who are returning to their home countries.

He advertises his services on forums frequented by foreign nationals.

Others run sophisticated websites offering an array of counterfeiting services such as fake degrees, transcripts and identification documents.

Some, including two sites based in Shenzhen and Shanghai, offer a comprehensive list of fake degrees and diplomas from local institutions, including NUS, NTU, SMU, SIM University, Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS)and Temasek Polytechnic.

To make their activities more difficult to track, most vendors restrict correspondence with customers to instant messaging on QQ, an instant messenger program commonly used in China.

After a brief online conversation, prospective customers need only to arrange a mutually convenient time to meet the vendor to pay a deposit, or send payment via bank transfer.

When the fake degree is ready, customers meet the vendor again to pay the balance and get the degree. Alternatively, they can opt to receive the fake degree by post.

The cost of a fake degree can range from $300 to $4,000. A set of fake transcripts from local universities is also available for an additional $700.

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China-based websites

Those who prefer faceless transactions can also buy fake degrees from local varsities from China- based websites.

All a customer has to do is send a QQ message to a customer service officer who will facilitate the transaction. The New Paper on Sunday sent a message to a Shanghai-based vendor selling fake degrees from an array of universities, including those from NUS, NTU and SMU.

A representative responded, saying a typical degree would cost about 2,600 yuan ($540).

The representative added that additional products, including fake transcripts, authorisation documents and identification documents, were also available for purchase.

Authorisation documents are usually issued by the country of study, acknowledging that an individual has genuinely completed an academic programme.

A comprehensive package, including a degree, transcripts and authorisation documents, is available online for about $1,200, including shipping.

The customer must pay a 30 per cent deposit and provide the company with information including his name, sex, course of study, type of degree desired and place of birth.

Fake degrees can be manufactured by online vendors in as little as two days.

To keep transactions confidential, most vendors pledge to destroy all evidence of correspondence once a transaction is completed.

A write-up on one such website read: "We promise to erase all chat logs and e-mails once a transaction is over.We are in this business just to earn some money, and are not interested in the personal information of our customers.

"Even if we keep this information, it is rubbish to us.We have no use for it."

The rampant use of fake degrees in job applications has led to Chinese authorities tightening regulation son the use of foreign degrees for job applications, according to Chinese media reports.

To have a foreign degree recognised in China, prospective applicants must produce both the original degree, a photocopy and transcripts, identification documents, and evidence of having been in the country of study during the relevant time period.

They must also produce a document issued by the country of study, specifying the start and end date of the course and a brief description of it.

Mr Joshua Yim, chief executive officer of Achieve Group, a staffing and recruitment company, believes that the value of local university degrees is increasing - even for foreign job-seekers.

He told The New Paper on Sunday: "Singapore has established a brand name for itself as an education hub, and local universities have gained recognition among many foreigners, especially those from the Asia-Pacific region."

He added that local employers also prize degrees from local universities because of the academic rigour of their programmes.

Mr Paul Heng, owner of human resource firm Next Career Consulting, added that Singapore's good reputation in the global market makes degrees from local universities well-regarded, especially for jobs in finance.

In Singapore, prospective employers can contact the respective universities directly to verify the authenticity of a degree used by a candidate in a job application.

It is illegal to buy or manufacture a counterfeit degree in Singapore, lawyer Adrian Wee told The New Paper on Sunday.

He said, however, that it may not be illegal in cases where the fake degrees are manufactured in another country.

He added: "However, if the degrees are being imported with the knowledge that they will be used to cheat, then the individuals importing them would be abetting this cheating."

He referred to section 417 of the Penal Code, which states that those convicted of cheating can be punished with up to three years' jail, a fine, or both.

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More offenders caught

Even so, foreigners caught using fake degrees in Singapore are on the rise.

In 2008, a China national working in Singapore as an engineer was fined $13,000 for using a fake degree, The traits Times reported.

The year before, an Indian national was fined $6,000 and jailed two weeks for using a passport bearing his cousin's name, and for buying a fake botany degree.

More than 400 foreigners were caught in 2007 for lying to the Manpower Ministry (MOM) in their work pass applications, a four-fold increase from the 97 cases in 2005.

MOM did not give a breakdown, but it was reported that most are believed to have used fake or forged qualifications to apply for employment passes and S-passes.

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This article was first published in The New Paper.

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