XPRESS report’s onine version making headlines on a Pakistani news channel Image Credit: Screen grab

DUBAI: Last week’s XPRESS expose on Axact telesales agents impersonating UAE government officials to extort money from bogus degree holders has kicked up a storm in Pakistan. Alarmed by revelations made by XPRESS and a BBC report on the multi-billion dollar scandal, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, has taken suo-motu notice of the matter.

Nisar has directed Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to submit a report on the issue by January 29. “Our heads hang in shame due to Axact scandal... the scandal has maligned Pakistan globally. Cases pertaining to it are pending in the courts. The Director General of FIA should submit a detailed report of the case,” he said. Nisar said that if the news was true, then one should be prepared to deal with the scandal, but if it was incorrect, then it was Pakistan’s job to defend itself as the scam is sullying the country’s name in the global arena.

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XPRESS first published an investigative report on the fake online degree racket on June 5, 2014 but withheld Axact’s name for legal reasons. In May 2015, New York Times named Axact in its report, Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions which described how the software company was earning millions of dollars by selling fake degrees of over 350 non-existent online universities. Days later, FIA raided Axact’s offices in Karachi and Islamabad and arrested several employees including CEO Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh.

Subsequent XPRESS reports showed the extent of the scam. The latest one detailed how Axact telesales agents were using impersonation and blackmail to coerce fake degree holders into giving thousands of dirhams as legalisation fees for their certificates.

Since the call centre agents use caller ID spoofing which allows them to mimic any phone number – complete with area code - recipients are deceived into believing that the calls are legitimate.

A South African expat who acquired a fake degree said he was shocked when a man claiming to be a Dubai Police officer called, asking him to remit $5,000 to a university towards legalising fee or face action.

As it turned out, the call was made from Pakistan using caller spoofing.

Former Axact staff Yasir Jamshaid said the company’s clients in other countries were getting similar calls.

According to an estimate, over 200,000 people in 197 countries, including the UAE paid up to Dh100,000 for professional online courses from non-existent universities propped up by Axact on the internet.