Fake degrees sneak into nation

2010-04-06 02:14

The news last November of a foreign bellboy-turned-profesor who forged his degree spurred some universities to confirm the credentials of their staff. But still, it is easy for fake degrees to slip past, especially if an international phone call isn`t made.
Hector Manuel Ramos, Jr. taught at Konkuk University in Seoul for two years until he was arrested by police on charges of forged documents. He worked as a bellhop in a New York hotel before he bought forged degrees in Thailand, one purporting to be from Columbia University and the other from Central Michigan University, according to police.
Some institutions, including Korea University, check the authenticity of degrees from overseas universities and also ask for an academic transcript which they believe is harder to counterfeit.
However, most institutes nationwide interviewed by The Korea Herald said they do not confirm the profiles of their employees.
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"We require foreign teachers to submit an original degree certificate, but we don`t check whether it is real or not," said a principal of an institute in Busan who wished to remain anonymous.
A phone call to the university alumni association distinguishes the fraudster from the genuine article. But making an international call can be "such a hassle." "It usually takes three or four days to get answers. We haven`t heard from some schools yet (even after two months)," said an official of Korea University, who also asked not to be identified.
Also, immigration authorities issue visas with little verification of degrees. "As the documents are from overseas, it is likely that they are falsified ones," said an immigration officer, who identified himself by his family name Kim.
In principle, an original certificate should be submitted to the office, but often it is returned to the owner right away after being photocopied. In some cases, the photocopy alone is accepted.
Although an immigration office may have a special method of spotting forgeries, it is harder to work with a photocopy, and some fakes are better than the authentic article. "Counterfeiting techniques could be better than ours," said another immigration official in the southeastern city of Ulsan.
Officials complain of a lack of personnel to detect scams. "A policeman takes care of about 4,000 people while I have to pay attention to 10,000 foreigners," said Kim.
"We cannot detect all fakes 100 percent. The best thing we can do is reduce errors," he added.
In a society which highly values degrees, not only foreigners but also Koreans are tempted to have fake degrees. Last October, the police caught a ring which counterfeited documents such as degrees from prestigious universities and transcripts of academic records.
Companies do not attempt to screen hundreds of certificates of new employees; instead they warn that a fraudster will be sacked when discovered.
Last year, lawmaker Lee Sang-rak had to step down and was sentenced to one year for his deception over his graduation from high school. "His forgery was, in a nutshell, to survive," wrote culture critic Jin Jung-kwon in his column. "For him, high school graduation is a minimum qualification for living as a human in Korea," stated Jin.
(hjjin@heraldcorp.com)

By Jin Hyun-joo

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