Burundi!

It seems the Ascension Islands .ac domain is not the only refuge of bogus universities. An old bogus site has taken up residence at www.bransfield.edu.bi

There doesn’t appear to be any restrictions on the .edu.bi domain – typically we’d expect only education providers based in Burundi to qualify to use it. Wikipedia suggests a ‘liberal policy about domain names’.

Spot the Difference

BU ESSEC

Copying information from a number of UK universities and a campus building picture from a French Business School (above), it offers an online verification service for its certificates. The entire site is a sham designed to support its ‘graduates’ and fool the employers they apply to.

It works too.

A quick look at LinkedIn Bransfield University alumni shows them working all over the globe with their Bachelors, MBAs and PhDs.

  • English co-ordinator at a Global International School in Saudi Arabia
  • Senior Analyst at Computacenter, Selangor, Malaysia
  • Saw Singulation Operation Module Engineer at Intel Technology, Kulim
  • IT Manager in rail and road transportation, Germany
  • Current Bransfield student working in Import and Export, Turkmenistan.
  • Marketing & Sales Manager at Design and Build Real Estate Co., Saudi Arabia

Naming and Shaming

As you know, we are carrying out work for the Government investigating bogus universities and adding them to the university look-up service on HEDD. It’s critical to be very clear about individual providers claiming to be UK universities.

We CAN say definitively whether institutions are or have ever been recognised degree-awarding bodies in the UK. The only way an individual can hold a recognised UK degree is from one of those bodies – either directly, or from a Listed Body whose degrees are validated by one of the Recognised Bodies. This is unequivocal. The list of current providers can be found on the Gov.uk website here. The university look-up service on HEDD also carries historical information to cover name changes, mergers, old universities and directs you to the current institution where records are kept for you to make an enquiry.

Since the Government announcement last month we have had lots of requests for a bogus universities list. BIS is keen to name and shame the culprits so we are working on it with a view to publishing shortly. We are also liaising with the appropriate enforcement agencies to shut down the websites and prosecute the perpetrators if possible. We will ‘out’ them here on the blog.

It’s important to distinguish between the completely bogus providers and those running private or alternative universities and colleges which are perfectly legitimate places of study, but whose degrees are not recognised UK degrees. If they claim to award UK degrees, we will advise them to remove the misleading information from their websites.  If they don’t remove it, we will highlight them on HEDD as not being degree-awarding bodies.

Today’s dish of the day is Warnswick University. Actually this isn’t new. it’s a reincarnation of our old friend Wolverhamton University – now defunct, thanks to us.

So how do we know it’s the same bad guys?

It has the same stolen information from the genuine University of Wolverhampton website and a service to verify its fake certificates – which, of course is its main purpose. A new header and a few new stock pictures can’t disguise it. Plus they have missed one of the references to Wolverhamton on the site*.

The site is owned by someone called Smart Boy in Uruguay, using a fictitious address and a gmail account. We won’t be able to trace it as it’s outside the UK, but we can at least make his deceit public.

*Now I could say where it is, but then they will amend it. Plus it might entertain you to look for it. There’s a Twix for the first reader to spot it.

Tales of Hoffman

It is heartening to see the courts toughening up on fraudsters presenting themselves with fake credentials. In two recent cases the judge has handed out jail sentences.

Remember our barrister friend Dennis O’Riordon? His looks like a lucky escape now after passing himself off as an Oxford Scholar and Harvard graduate. Although disqualified from the Bar, he escaped prosecution.

Not so for bogus barrister Monika Juneja (pictured above). She received a 14 month (suspended) sentence and 200 hour community service order at the Old Bailey. Starting with a forged degree certificate in 2000 and forging other letters and credentials, she became a local government lawyer with several councils and rose to be the lead member for planning at Guildford Borough Council. She was only found out when constituents began looking into her background after raising a number of complaints about her work identifying areas of land for development, not by her employers.

Josef Hoffman – (real name Joseph Valadakis) was jailed for four years after tricking people out of hundreds of thousands of pounds after posing as a doctor with a degree from the University of Cambridge and claiming to have led a research team at University College Hospital in London. He also claimed to have treated the Queen, Lord Sugar, Robbie Williams and went as far as to tell one ‘patient’ they had cancer. Even in court he persisted with his lies saying that he couldn’t discuss his treatments as he was bound by the Official Secrets Act. The judge didn’t hesitate to put him behind bars for fraud.

Valadakis aka Hoffman

 

For Pete’s Sake

We’ve had the frustrating situation of re-looking at the American University of London over the past couple of weeks after another complaint about them to the government.  We are still not being able to pursue them through Trading Standards nor through the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau as a bogus university, on a technicality.

They are very careful how they word their websites, how they register themselves in the UK (avoiding the word ‘university’ and using the acronym AUOL Online Ltd) and maintaining only a mailing address in London in the name of their licensee. American University of London Inc is registered in the West Indies, where UK laws can’t touch them.

However, tuition fees are paid into a UK bank in Beaconsfield, home to the university President Michael Nimier and Registrar Sonia Grimes. Although it now offers a mobile number and 0800 number for contact on the main website, one of their old domains for the website http://www.americanuniversity.com still carries the Beaconsfield phone number they were using.

If you remember, they were the subject of the Newsnight investigation in 2013. You can see the BBC report here and watch the video of the reporter getting Pete the dog his MBA. My angry open letter to Jeremy Paxman is here on the blog too. (I was more than a little cross)

It seems all we can do is keep highlighting the fact that they are NOTHING TO DO WITH the University of London, who hold the trademarks to that name. They DO NOT have the power to award recognised UK degrees and DO give out MBAs for money to any man and his dog – literally.

Let’s hope any innocent would-be students see this post on their Google results ahead of parting with £50 to apply for a course, or four figure sums for an unrecognised degree.

For the fraudsters happy to buy degrees, let’s hope employers see this post or check your ‘qualifications’ on HEDD before offering you that job.

Failing that we’ll set Pete on them.

Sold!

We’ve talked before about fake certificate sites selling fake degrees for as little as £30, but we’ve discovered an even cheaper way on eBay.

Sellers are offering certificates for just £6.95 including free postage. You can even get Nectar points.

The sellers have hundreds of transactions recorded and 5* feedback ratings praising the quality of the product, speed of service and so on. They think they can get away with it by stating that these are novelty items and not for fraudulent use.

Some are pretty obvious with scrolls, gothic lettering and highly decorated borders, but others stay very close to the style of genuine certificates, as you can see from the image above.

However by using the names of genuine education providers like Cambridge University and City and Guilds, sellers are breaching the providers’ copyright and trademarks and can be prosecuted.

For a few extra pounds you can order a hologram to add that extra touch of authenticity.

Personally I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Proffeser of Diplomas (sic). I’d be worried that my Bachelor of Arts might just turn out to be Batchelors.

batchelors

Government Cracks Down on Bogus Providers

Government launches service to combat fake universities

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and graduate careers expert, Prospects have launched a new service to reduce higher education fraud in England.

The service has been commissioned by BIS to proactively address issues concerning bogus institutions and the misuse of the word ‘university’ as well as to tackle the related area of degree fraud. It aims to reduce the burgeoning number of unaccredited institutions by increasing prosecutions through investigation and awareness-raising.

Bogus providers will be targeted by Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), Prospects’ degree verification service. Perpetrators found to be masquerading online as genuine with degree-awarding powers will be added to the database of bogus institutions. HEDD will investigate who owns the websites and where they are hosted, liaise with Trading Standards and other enforcement bodies, including those overseas, to prosecute and force closure. A HEDD fraudline (0845 077 1968) has been set up for advice or to report dubious organisations.

From July a toolkit will be available to support genuine UK HE providers who find themselves victims of copycat websites. An awareness campaign will provide clearer guidance on the surrounding issues.

Jo Johnson, Universities and Science Minister announcing the project at the Going Global 2015 Conference in London said:

“We have appointed Prospects to help us expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance.

Such action is in the interests of all legitimate providers and genuine students because it will help protect the reputation of the UK as a provider of high-quality education.”

 Since HEDD launched four years ago, awareness of the risks of degree fraud is increasing and employers are becoming more vigilant. In March 2014 HEDD processed 2023 enquiries, for the same period this year it handled 2315 checks, marking a 14% increase.

Jayne Rowley, Business Services Director who runs HEDD at Prospects said:

“Degree fraud is a serious problem; in the first quarter of this year alone we added 42 bogus institutions to the database and there are thousands of fake degree certificates in circulation. While HEDD has made it easier to verify whether an institution is genuine, the extent of the service ended there. We now have the structure in place to investigate and report fake university providers to the relevant authorities”.

“It’s easy to see why people would be tricked into thinking they could get a genuine degree from these websites. On the surface they appear credible; they use the word ‘university’ in their title and many imitate legitimate sites with all of the information you’d expect from study guides to lecturers’ words of welcome and student testimonials. Innocent applicants can be duped out of thousands of pounds to end up with a worthless piece of parchment with a fancy seal. From our investigations we’ve also found that what have been described as ‘campuses’ are actually just mailing addresses or virtual offices and ‘course work’ can amount to no more than listing your skills based on life experience or specifying the degree you want, for as little as £30. If you are offered a degree for little effort and a minimal fee, you have to question its legitimacy.”   

Sheikh Down

The International New York Times recently published a story following a long investigation into an alleged network of diploma mills and bogus websites controlled by Pakistani software company Axact.

I’d recommend it as an Diploma Mills 101 course in how to scam the world.

This is degree fraud on a global scale with 370 websites cited by the New York Times as being part of the operation and individuals being duped out of multi-millions of dollars and pounds by unscrupulous and clever operators.

Until now the company has been able to hide and slide away from prosecution using fall guys to take the rap. But at last it seems they have run out of lives.

The BBC has full details here.

Axact’s CEO Shoaib Sheikh and his deputy Waqas Atiq, were taken into custody after a raid at their Karachi office last week. Officials said hundreds of thousands of blank degree forms, student cards and authentication documents were found.

We will follow the story with interest. if you want to know more about the alleged fake universities there’s a list here. Most have American- or British-sounding names and the sites have convincing testimonials and videos from smiling academics, students and alumni. The universities are endorsed by equally fake accreditation bodies and verification services to back up their fake credentials and fool employers.

Jo Johnson, UK Minister for Universities and Science announced this week that we here at Prospects have been commissioned to proactively seek out bogus providers and shut them down. Watch this space to see us going all Liam Neeson over the next few months.