FROM THE YEAR 2005
The matter came to my attention after an East European tourist named Ivan was offered a job as an English language teacher in Thailand, even though he had no teaching qualifications. Ivan later met a fellow “teacher”– an Irish steel worker – who told him that it was possible to obtain college degrees at nearby Khao San Road, and that this had been suggested by a job agency to fulfill its “requirements”.
A subsequent enquiry conducted by myself confirmed that fake documents are indeed openly advertised and sold in no fewer than three locations along Khao San Road. The first attempt to take photographs of the sellers and the handwritten advertisements failed because as soon as they spotted a person with a camera, they quickly packed and walked away. They did not return until the photographer had left. A second attempt using a more clandestine method was successful, however, and photos of the signs were taken.
Ivan made his purchase from a Miss Sompong because she was friendly, talkative and obviously anxious to make a deal. He asked her for some samples and was brought to the basement of a nearby building where she unlocked a metal box that contained an album with at least 50 blackand- white sample copies of certificates from universities and institutions in Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Ivan was quite surprised to see so many titles.
He decided on the University of Texas and the University of London, as well as TEFL International USA. After some bargaining, Miss Sompong agreed to sell all three certificates for 4,000 baht. Sompong then asked him to write his name on each certificate, and as he came from an East European formerly communist country, Ivan decided to make a little joke by writing on each copy the name of the now-deceased founder of the Bolsheviks and the first communist leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir I. Lenin.
He paid a 3,000 baht deposit. Sompong then made a call from her mobile telephone and told him that the documents would be ready within two hours.
When Ivan returned, the three certificates in a plastic cover were there along with copies. He paid the 1,000 baht balance and then Sompong became even more talkative and “confessed” to exporting fake documents to clients all over the world. She assured him he could order from her as well. She then wrote her name and phone number on a piece of paper and added that a Japanese customer had just ordered from her.
The sellers of fake documents are well aware, as are the agencies providing English teachers, that many foreigners who want to teach in Thailand think they have no choice but to buy the fake document in order to “satisfy” the agency. They spend 3,500 baht per document in order to land a teaching job which pays upwards of 26,000 baht a month.
“However, the fact that they will find out after losing money is that the agency will accept any foreigner without any certificate, and in some instances even without presenting a passport,” Ivan said. By the way, the sellers operate about 200 metres from a local police station.
Behind the story:
It was really shocking to see so many hucksters offering counterfeit degrees, diplomas and many types of identification cards on Khao San Road. The sellers are more afraid of foreigners taking their photos than the police. One told me this is because the police can do nothing against them, but the media, especially foreign media, could stir the Thai authorities into taking action against them.
After making inquiries on the matter with various police units, I was told that the damaged party (in such cases the institution or agency that issues the legitimate documents) must make a complaint with them before they can start an investigation. However, if a complaint is made, say by the University of London, then police can only seize certificates claiming to be issued from that particular university and no other documents.
Considering the time and man-power needed to seize only one document (or ID) of many, I couldn’t find anyone willing to do the case.
Therefore, I decided to shine the light of publicity on the situation in hopes the local authorities would be pressured by foreign media and embassies and do something. Ivan volunteered for the job of ordering three diplomas. I paid for the documents with my own money. The seller obviously couldn’t have cared less whether Ivan had ever attended a university or even if he was using his real name.