Forged University Documents: Best Practice Tips

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Notaries be alert - forged University documents impact on you!

Forged University documents are a very real problem for the Notary in Australia.

As the Secretary of the Society of Notaries for the state of New South Wales, I have seen countless examples of dodgy University degrees.

The Society of Notaries of New South Wales Inc., (via its “Twilight Seminar” series) and other state based Societies, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), have embarked on a program to educate Notaries on the very real threat that we face – forged documents.  

The individual notary will at some stage be exposed to a forged document or a document that has been altered in some fashion.  

The wrong approach is to expect that this will never happen to you!

The salutary observation is that modern technology enables the relatively easy production of forgeries.  The ultimate detection of some forgeries only lies within the ability of specialist examiners.  

But there are things that the Notary can do.

Forged University documents and other educational documents are a real problem for the Notary in Australia as are forged identity documents.

An example of a fake university and degree that I saw in 2013 is this:

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Notaries should be vigilant about the documents they receive and where they come from remembering that:

Unlike their civil law colleagues, Australian notaries … hold a unique office of trust and fidelity.*        *Professor Peter Zablud, Notary Public, pg 25, Principles of Notarial Practice.

Notaries are providing a community service, its not glamorous but is much needed. 

The end user (the person who receives documents we Notarise) is almost always abroad.  For this very reason, Notaries are regularly asked to attest to the validity of educational documents (a university degree, academic transcript, or even school reports for children).  

The end user abroad relies on the assurances the Notary gives in our certificates about the varsity of the document, the person appearing before us to sign documents and their identity, among other things. This might be for employment purposes as a doctor, engineer, architect, security professional, teacher … and the list is endless.

With the advent of the internet there are regrettably scams involving fake educational documents being offered from fictitious Universities from everything from a Diploma to a Doctorate, in a matter of days!

A classic example can be gleaned from the internet where websites provide online degrees in dozens of disciplines and provide glowing endorsements including video testimonials.   Yet all this is pure fiction in the fabricated online world.

These fake institutions are power houses of forged documents raking in millions of dollars to either knowing or unsuspecting participants.  The Notary must be alert to fake universities and fake educational documents understanding that this is all ‘smoke and mirrors’.

Notaries should only deal with Australian educational documents and refer clients with foreign educational institutions back to their home country.  You should note that DFAT will:

 … no longer authenticate an educational document issued by a non-Australian educational institution, regardless of whether the document has been notarised by a Notary Public.   Members of the public must pursue authentication of foreign-issued [educational] documents through authorities in the country in question.

The point is, we as Notaries must make our own independent investigations with the educational institution to verify educational documents given to us by clients.  If we do not, there is a very real risk that the fake documents will be Notarised and therefore relied upon by the end user abroad.  This seriously affects the Notaries status of the “unique office of trust and fidelity”.

Fake university documents have been widely documented including here in this article by the New York Times  which I recommend that you read.

So, what should the Notary do?  Here are some practical best practice tips:

  1. Resist the client’s urgency to have the documents Notarised immediately ... follow best practice

  2. Carefully look at the documents before you do anything … if it looks fake, it probably is!

  3. Avoid dealing with foreign educational documents – the client should get their documents Notarised in their home country.

  4. Only deal with Australian educational documents where you as the Notary can easily verify their authenticity

  5. Verify with the Australian educational institution the status of the educational documents produced (fax or email the documents to them to verify)

  6. Your Notary certificate must clearly state the steps you have taken to verify the authenticity of the educational document.

Contact me for Notary Public services on + 61 (2) 9279 1100 or email justin@betarlawyers.com.au 

Justin Betar