The A Team

We’ve spoken before about the appalling trade in fake degree certificates on eBay for as little as £6.95.

We decided to do some consumer research, ordering 2 fake degree certificates – a Masters in Astrophysics and Space Technology (just so I can say it’s not rocket science) and a PhD in Quantum Mechanics.

The certificates, complete with holograms would pass muster to the untrained eye.

That’s the problem with degree certificates; genuine ones have excellent security features to prevent fraud, but if an employer doesn’t know this, then a £7 fake may well be accepted, unless the employer checks with the awarding body. Asking the university is the only way to be certain.

The positive feedback scores and recommendations mount up as we try to put pressure on eBay to act. We report sellers through eBay’s reporting function, but with no response from them as yet.  As of today, there are over 25 listings for fake certificates.

The seller of the certificates we bought helpfully included a label with his name and address on the envelope. We have passed everything over to Trading Standards.

Today the University of Cambridge got on the case and have committed to pursuing eBay sellers of fake Cambridge certificates using eBay’s VeRO programme which protects intellectual property rights. We are right behind them and will help in any way we can.

Amazon, on the other hand have already stepped up. They monitor and take immediate action to remove fake certificates from their marketplace. They couldn’t be more helpful and we’re grateful to them for taking this seriously.

We like to think of them as The ‘A’ Team of online retailers.


A couple of months ago we were all giggling over reports that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs had issued a guide warning Russians of the dangers of selfies.

Last week we discovered another potential selfie risk after large numbers of photo tweets of graduates appeared posing with their degree certificates at ceremonies around the UK. To celebrate their graduates’ successes, these were frequently and innocently re-tweeted by their universities.

Once published and added to the eternal gallery of Google images these photos give anyone looking to make fake degree certificates the current designs for 2015, which they can then duplicate – logo, crest, signatory, stamps, holograms and forms of words.

We contacted every university’s social media team to advise them not to include certificates in their photo tweets and to advise their students not to do so either.

We’ve warned graduates before about publishing their degree certificates. But it’s worth restating in light of the numbers of sites selling fake certificates for as little as £6.95.

These sites rely on having access to real certificates in order for their fakes to pass muster with recruiters. None of us would upload a copy of our passport or driving licence, nor give out our bank details. We should regard our degree certificates as precious and private information to be guarded.

Greetings from Scamville

We are all wary of the African princes with millions just waiting in a bank account to be transferred to us and hit the ‘junk’ button immediately those emails arrive. But there’s a new game in degree fraud town with scam written all over it.

The target receives an email from an education recruitment agency ( in this case: ‘London Recruiters’) saying that they are eligible for a major scholarship for a top UK online university, which covers 95% of the tuition fees.

Instead of the £7,000 to £10,000, they can enrol for their MBA at Rutland University in Leicester for just £699. Yes, just £699*. They are urged to complete the application form with payment within the next 24 hours to secure the scholarship.

Delighted, they complete the application form, pay the £699 and begin their online assessments. Here’s what one victim said when they contacted us with concerns about Rutland’s legitimacy.

‘Things are actually going well and I have been taking online assessments as part of the online course until recently, I was told that I need to take a final assessment in order to participate with the “online convocation” and be able to receive my certificate and transcript of records…. That made me feel suspicious since it was never mentioned before regarding additional fees when taking final assessment…. I did the payment [another £250], although I was doubtful, and took the final examination. There was no online convocation that happened and upon emailing them several times, they said that there were some down servers and the online convocation is rescheduled.’

Rutland University shamelessly use the address of the real University of Leicester and name one of Leicester’s professors as their President.

On their website they claim:

  • We are one of the top employers in Leicester supporting more than 7000 jobs and injecting £50 million annually into the regional economy.
  • In the 2012 National Student Survey, 97% of Rutland students found their courses intellectually stimulating, compared to all other online universities.

This is entirely fictional.

They claim to be accredited by the British Distance Learning Association – a fictitious body.

Not surprisingly, the phone number on their website doesn’t work, nor the online chat. All communications are by email.

They can’t even SPELL scholarship (see above).

We have reported them to the authorities and we look forward to them being shut down. Unfortunately the victim has almost certainly lost their money and doesn’t have a recognised UK degree.

There have been a number of bogus sites advertising scholarships lately – potentially all from the same degree mill running a number of fake websites. Please don’t be taken in.

*As I type this, the voice in my head has switched to the Safestyle Windows guy.


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

There doesn’t appear to be any restrictions on the 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


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 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 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.