DABBLING in fake degrees is a multi-million dollar business.
In the US, these fake-degree scams - a US$500 million ($700 m) industry - are considered threats to national security, the Digital Life section of The Straits Times reported in January last year.
In China, over 600,000 people have fake higher education certificates, the state-run Chinese media said in 2000.
Earlier this month, The Straits Times reported that 215 people were prosecuted in South Korea for faking diplomas or using forged documents to secure better jobs or positions.
Does Singapore have much to worry about, especially with our drive to attract more foreign talent and our ambition to be an education hub?
About 12 to 16 per cent of Singaporean job applicants are not entirely truthful on their curriculum vitae (CV), estimated First Advantage, a United States-based firm specialising in resume detective work.
That is better than the 18 to 20 per cent across the Asia-Pacific region, said the company, according to a report in The Straits Times last June.
The recruitment company, which does risk mitigation and business solutions such as insurance fraud investigations, has a branch office here.
The number of people caught for lying about their employment records has also gone up.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it caught 413 people who lied to get employment passes and S-Passes from January to September last year.
These were for offences related to false declaration of salary, submitting forged documents or illegal employment/deployment.
In 2006, 374 people were caught for these offences, a big increase over the 97 in 2005.
In the US, a May 2004 audit revealed that 463 employees in the federal government had phony academic papers. Some were high-ranking officials in sensitive positions with top security level clearance, hence the security concerns.
But Singapore has seen only six reported cases of degree fraud in the last 10 years.
The Consumers Association of Singapore said it had two cases regarding fake degrees and diplomas last year. There were no such cases in 2006.
Recruitment firms contacted by The New Paper said that faking degrees was rare here primarily because of our small population.
Executive recruitment firm Garner International said it encountered two cases of degree fraud here a few years ago. The two applicants had applied for account manager and sales executive positions.
Consultant Ritu Chaudhari said: 'Over here, everybody knows everyone so it's easier to get caught. If you lie about your degree, someone will pop out and say it's a fake sooner or later.'
She said that for foreign employees, MOM is stringent with its checks.
Mr David Ang, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said fake degrees are uncommon here, partly because our education system offers many opportunities for different groups of people.
But he said it wouldn't be surprising if such cases rise with more foreign talent coming here.
Mr Paul Heng, the founder of NeXT Career Consulting, also cited Singapore's small population base as a reason for the lower incidence of such cases.
'Once you're found out, your whole career is gone,' he said. 'We do checks on our applicants but usually on their employment history. We only check their educational certificates if it's a university we're unsure of.'
As for institutions awarding fake degrees here, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said it received only a few such complaints last year.
These institutions were not recognised in their home countries, said the ministry.
Lying about certificates is usually more common in developing countries, said Mr Victor Lai, assistant vice-president of job-search firm Joshua Consulting Group.
In Singapore and Hong Kong, such cases occur in about one in every 100candidates while in China, it could be one in 25, he said.
'It all depends on the mindset of the people. If you do think long-term about the consequences, you wouldn't resort to lying about your degree.
'But if your short-term goal is to just get a job, then you'll resort to getting fake certificates,' added Mr Lai.
Usually, those vying for junior positions are more prone to such deceit, because senior executives have reputations to uphold, and are more likely to hold degrees.
Mr Lai said he has not handled a single case of fake certification in his 10 years in the industry.
He said his company does not usually check the authenticity of every certificate.
Added Mr Lai: 'But if during an interview, a candidate has problems answering our questions, especially technical ones, then we'll question his academic background and do deeper reference checks.'
This article was first published in The New Paper on Feb 27, 2008