As it turns out, it’sÂ a really big problem. I mean, there’sÂ even a whole Wikipedia List of animals with fraudulent diplomas.
The topic of fakeÂ education got a lot of press earlier this year, thanks to the huge exposÃ© from The New York Times: “Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions.” It’s a massive, lucrativeÂ business,Â with phony high school diplomas starting at $350, and fraudulent doctoral degrees starting at $4000. From the NYT:
“Yet on closer examination, this picture shimmers like a mirage. The news reports are fabricated. The professors are paid actors. The university campuses exist only as stock photos on computer servers. The degrees have no true accreditation.
In fact, very little in this virtual academic realm,Â appearing to span at least 370 websites, is real â€” except for the tens of millions of dollars in estimated revenue it gleans each year from many thousands of people around the world, all paid to a secretive Pakistani software company.”
The reality is really kind of depressing, and it’s scary to think about how many people might be victimized by this without knowing any better: “Axactâ€™s main business has been to take the centuries-old scam of selling fake academic degrees and turn it into an Internet-era scheme on a global scale.”
The whole NYTÂ article is a must-read. The stories about well-intentioned people who were preyed upon is painful and sad:
“often the agents manipulate those seeking a real education, pushing them to enroll for coursework that never materializes, or assuring them that their life experiences are enough to earn them a diploma.
To boost profits, the sales agents often follow up with elaborate ruses, including impersonating American government officials, to persuade customers to buy expensive certifications or authentication documents.”
(The use of the CNN logo by way of fakeÂ iReportÂ reviews for scamming purposesÂ isÂ definitely something to be aware of).
This fake university website from Pixar isn’t try to sell fake degrees, at least.
The New York Times also publishedÂ a list,Â Tracking Axact’s Websites. The troubling part is, some of those websites look better than a lot of legitimate school websites I’ve seen.
Slate (“Will the Real Alice K. Colbert Please Stand Up?“) had some observations about the “faculty” from those school websitesÂ that shamefully used nothing more thanÂ easy-to-findÂ stock photography, while also relying on deceptive practices that the NYT notedÂ as snake oil formula ofÂ fake social media presences, aggressive online marketing and “calculatedly familiar-sounding names, likeÂ Barkley,Â ColumbianaÂ andÂ Mount Lincoln.”
While there are lots of credible online education options, I don’t know even know where to start to fix the rampant education fraud. TheÂ FTC (“These online high schools didnâ€™t make the grade“) published some information and guidelines, but it’s safe to assume that public awareness is far, far too low about the risks.
You canÂ listen to the Freakonomics podcast (“Freakonomics Goes to College“) here. It’s veryÂ good; the opening segment with the former FBI agent on degree millsÂ can be quite an eye-opener: