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.