Regulators of Australian higher education providers say they are working with Chinese Ministry of Education to investigate and apprehend the gang behind a sophisticated forgery business. The gang charges up to $6,500 for fake tertiary qualifications and offers to lodge the credentials in the Chinese Educational Qualifications database.

‘Overseas Students Assistant HD’, offered forgeries of various qualifications from 42 Australian universities and 53 TAFEs. They boasted the fakes were indistinguishable from the real diplomas.

All higher education providers have been contacted by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to ensure they are aware of the breach in integrity. They have been asked to remain vigilant and double-check the security protecting student information.

The Overseas Students Assistant HD website was taken down on Tuesday.

Xinhua, China’s official government new service, ran the swtory on Wednesday. The article then spread through Chinese social media like wildfire, with many micro-blogger sites condemning the fraud.

Those found and convicted of the activity face serious penalties.

A government official, for instance, who is found to be accepting bribes could find him or herself behnd bars for 5 to 10 years.

“But if you start getting into government databases and falsifying information,” Said Vivienne Bath, Professor of Chinese and international business law at Sydney University, “you could potentially end up with a state secrets offence; which would not be very nice at all.

In short, there are various legal ways they could get at you if they decided they wanted to.”

On Friday the Australian reported a number of similar websites to the Overseas Students Assistance HD. GWDiploma8 and Documents Cetre were reported to offer the same services.

Verify, an employment background verification service, estimates that around 11 per cent of all qualifications turn out to be fraudulent.

But this number, according to Verify chief Hosay Mangal, is rising significantly.

“There’s a portion of falsified qualifications obtained from degree mills, where they are directly bought, and there’s tat awkward situation where a candidate insists it’s authentic and the institutions don’t have it on record,’ said Ms Hosay Mangal.

The fake qualifications were used mostly to access positions that didn’t require too much specialised knowledge. Possessing the document was enough on its own put the applicant ahead of their competitors.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on Monday that, “The Government is committed to assuring the reputation of Australian higher education and vocational education and training for both domestic and international markets.”

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