Mar 5, 2012

Singapore - Fake degrees for sale

The online advertisements offering fake certificates from private education institutions (PEIs) in Singapore scream with promises.

Promises such as the quality of the fake certs and how they can help buyers secure jobs here and abroad.

Touting their services as "reliable", "fast" and "safe", the sellers claimed to offer counterfeit certificates from up to 10 PEIs here.

The institutions included the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), Curtin Singapore, Kaplan Singapore, Informatics and the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

The advertisements are aimed at Chinese nationals who failed to get their desired grades here and fear being unable to apply for jobs when they return to China.

Some of the advertisements said in Chinese: "Believe in us, believe in yourself! We can help you solve your problems."

When The New Paper contacted eight of the PEIs, five said it was the first time they had heard of online counterfeiters targeting their institutions.

Two of them have since filed police reports on this matter, with MDIS confirming it was one of the two.

Its spokesman told TNP that the school's management takes "a serious view" of the matter.

"We will not hesitate to institute legal action against the person(s) involved," he said.

A police spokesman confirmed the report and that investigations are ongoing.

TNP was alerted to the advertisements that have been circulating since last November on at least four local Chinese forums here by a concerned member of the public.

Recruiting agents

Some of the advertisements even promised the ability to create not only certificates but also postgraduate degrees from universities in the UK, Canada and other countries.

Other advertisements said the sellers are recruiting agents and urged people to contact them via QQ, an instant messaging software popular in China.

It is not known who the sellers are. But based on three of the profiles TNP found on QQ, they include men and women who claim to be based in Singapore.

One male seller, who lists his age as 37 on his QQ profile, claims to have graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The most updated post by a seller was last Saturday. In it, he said he had a 24-hour hotline and was "professional".

TNP tried to contact the sellers, but our calls and messages went unanswered.

Channel NewsAsia's report last Friday said some of the certificates were going for as much as $10,000.

That report also said that while the sellers were able to produce certificates for any course, the most popular courses were business management and tourism.

This is not the first time fake education certificates have surfaced in Singapore.

Two years ago, TNP broke the story of fake degrees from National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University (SMU) and NTU being sold here.

At that time, the counterfeiters were found to be based in Singapore and China, and the fake degrees were available for from a few hundred dollars to $4,000.

Several of the PEIs contacted over the last two days were surprised by the sellers' audacity and said they had been unaware until TNP informed them.

The spokesman for Informatics said the sellers were "unethical".

A spokesman for Kaplan Singapore said: "We are surprised by the boldness of these illegal sales tactics.

"(Despite the) strict regulations in Singapore, there are still people willing to take the risk of such illegal dealings."

Many of the PEIs contacted by TNP said there are ways to tell an authentic certificate from their institutions from a fake one.

But some were nevertheless concerned about the impact of bogus certs on the private education industry here as well as Singapore's reputation as a provider of quality education.


Mr Er Kwong Wah, executive director of the East Asia Institute of Management (EASB), said: "We do not relish such activities, as fake certificates using any PEI's name will be detrimental to the good standing of the private education industry."

Many of the PEIs whose certificates were advertised on the online forums said they have reported this matter to the Council for Private Education (CPE), a statutory board which regulates the private education sector.

CPE's spokesman said it viewed the matter "seriously".

"The selling of fake degrees is a matter of cheating and forgery and a crime under the Penal Code," the spokesman added.

"The CPE has advised the PEIs affected to make police reports. The CPE will also extend its assistance to the police in their investigations."

Some PEIs have either started or completed their own internal investigations.

Mr Er said EASB's internal inquiry concluded that "none of our staff was involved in providing such certificates, and that our internal processes in the preparation and production of certificates were not compromised".

He added that EASB's principal has also spoken to all the students to impress upon them that the use of fake certificates is criminal for both buyers and sellers.

Kaplan Singapore's spokesman agreed, adding: "We are concerned for students, especially those who fall for such traps as an easy way out, which ultimately may hurt their career and future."

Real certs have security features

The Chinese embassy faxed to the East Asia Institute of Management (EASB) three certificates for its authentication last year.

EASB's executive director, Mr Er Kwong Wah, said the school checked the names of the students against its records and confirmed that no such certificates were issued.

"We accordingly informed the Chinese embassy that we had not issued these three certificates and we could not authenticate the documents," he said.

He explained that each EASB certificate has a security number and only the school can verify the authenticity of the documents.

"Our certificate is of non-standard size and carries a special watermark that is difficult to copy."

Other PEIs here that The New Paper spoke to said their certificates also have distinct characteristics.

Kaplan Singapore certificates come sealed with a hologram, which marks the authenticity of its certificates.

Kaplan's university partners also have in place their own measures which authenticate their certificates in the form of watermarks and other markings.

Kaplan also keeps records of its students, together with their programme details and codes.

This is also done by PSB Academy, whose spokesman said: "Our certificates are issued with serial numbers tagged to each graduand's name and the programme which they had graduated from.

"The list of graduands are reviewed and approved by the examination board before the certificates are issued."

The spokesman added that PSB's certificates in partnership with the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) come with the CIE strip that is "authentic and not easily duplicated".

Check it

In any case, employers can always check on the validity of a PSB certificate with the school, he said.

The same goes with Curtin Singapore.

Said its pro vice-chancellor, Professor John Neilson: "The authenticity of a Curtin award certificate can be confirmed by contacting the Curtin University Graduations Office or by checking against the school's Online Award Verification Service."

In light of the latest incidents of fake certificates being peddled online, MDIS' spokesman said: "We want to assure all MDIS students that all certificates issued from MDIS are genuine."

Bryna Sim | The New Paper

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