Fake degrees for universities in Britain, America and Australia that are claimed to be verifiable with correct serial numbers and student IDs are being offered across Asia.
"Verifiable" degrees are said to be available from a dozen institutions. In Britain these include Brunel, Cambridge, Lancaster, Manchester and Staffordshire.
The scam claims to provide degrees for a total of seven universities in Britain, four in America and eight in Australia at prices ranging from $9,000 (£6,300) for a masters degree to $7,000 for a bachelor degree. The wider group of universities includes Harvard, Melbourne and Monash.
Online advertisements offering the degrees have been placed on Malaysian and Singaporean websites using email addresses linked to an Australian domain site, http://australia.edu.
Site administrator Kevin Ryall, who provides a range of online services for educators, alerted Australian universities when he discovered his free email service was being illegally used.
Mr Ryall received more than 1,000 queries from potential buyers of the fraudulent degrees. He said this suggested the business could be generating millions of dollars across Asia. He said that those involved might be hacking into university computer systems to add student names, IDs and qualifications, or had accomplices within the universities.
Mr Ryall noted that the offer did not include medical degrees, possibly because these are checked rigorously or because it could open the perpetrators to charges of complicity in the case of a fatal medical fraud.
Anyone inquiring about a fake degree is advised: "You need to let us know your current working experience and all relevant credentials. We will take care of the rest. Best of all, no tests, examinations, classes, books or interviews required. Confidentiality assured! Upon receiving your credentials, approval and acceptance, we will have your degree delivered to your doorstep within 21 days! Original certificate and transcript, all verifable (sic); all with valid serial number and student ID."
The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee said universities might establish an internet system that would allow secure and easy checks on university degrees.
The RMIT University in Melbourne has called in police to investigate. Melbourne, RMIT and the University of New South Wales were the only Australian universities where non-verifiable degrees were offered.