Angels of the North

Last year we named and shamed Robert Gordon International University which was quickly shut down and last week Newcastle International University was red flagged by the real Newcastle University as a bogus university.

The website uses real photographs of Newcastle University including one showing students wearing their Newcastle University IDs, but was entirely fabricated.

The university raised the alarm and took action when an applicant tweeted a question about the institution.

The website asks potential students to hand over credit card details on the website to pay for courses. No genuine UK university would do this and students need to question it if they are asked for payments online for courses.

Many universities have international offices and overseas campuses and increasingly offer opportunities for distance learning. This kind of copy-cat website exploits the fact that international students may not be as familiar with UK universities as domestic applicants. They steal text and images from the real institution websites in an effort to extort monies. This is completely illegal and the websites can be shut down if the alarm is raised. Contact the degree fraud team at Hedd if you have any concerns or wish to report a website.

Our top tips for students to spot bogus universities:

If it’s not featured on the official Government list of degree awarding bodies it is not a valid UK university.

If it doesn’t have a .ac.uk web address it is not a valid UK university.

If it asks you to submit credit card or passport details on the website it is not a valid UK university.

If it uses American phrases; prices in US Dollars; poor grammar or spelling it is not a valid UK university

If the contact details don’t look right e.g. premium phone numbers, PO Box mailing addresses or personal email addresses like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo it is not a valid UK university.

If Google Street View for the campus shows you an empty shop front, industrial park or two-bedroomed semi-detached house in Suburbia it is not a valid UK university.

A Little Help from Our Friends

We are delighted to report more success shutting down bogus providers and grateful for the vigilance of our partners in Naric and in universities in spotting these pretenders and notifying us. Both perpetrators were using Ascension Islands .ac domains to mimic our real UK academic .ac.uk domains.

Hashford London University, using pictures of the glorious Coombe Abbey and gardens in Warwickshire as its campus, was reported by one of our UK universities for using text from their website. On closer inspection the website contained references to a number of UK universities despite having no connections with them. They also claimed an association with the Higher Education Academy who have confirmed to us that no such link exists.  The owners are based in Malaysia  and out of reach of UK law. They appear to have links with other defunct learning institutions.

Ridgeshire University of London claimed to be a private elearning institution but listed campus locations in the UK and had addresses and phone numbers for the Faroe islands and Aberdeen. Colleagues in Sweden reported this to us when one of its degree certificates came to them for verification. The certificate gives details of how to verify its authenticity on the university website, which worked when we tested it – another example of a website existing to back up paper credentials.

By the way, the name on the certificate was Happy – I suspect that’s not how the individual feels now they’ve been found out.

The websites are offline and the  details have been added to the bogus provider database on hedd.ac.uk

8 providers were reported to us in January for investigation so please check back here for progress.

Misdirection

Unlike with our friends over at McAllister University or International University Robert Gordon it’s not always straightforward dealing with bogus HE providers.

A bit like the dark web, there is a network of providers operating at the fringes, lurking in the shadows.

There are providers delivering qualifications that may be broadly categorised as ‘higher education’ even though they do not lead to the award of a UK degree.

This may be because the qualification is an award delivered by a UK campus of an institution that is based overseas, or because the qualification is below degree level e.g. a diploma or certificate. These complexities can give rise to confusion among potential students and some unscrupulous providers exploit this by not giving clear information on their websites about their status, nor the status of their courses and the qualifications they offer.

The Department for Education and HEDD receive enquiries from students who believe they are following courses leading to a recognised UK degree due to misinformation from providers. This is particularly common for distance learning or online provision.

If we believe the provider is deliberately misleading students we contact them to ask them to remove information from their website or clarify their status. After 30 days we add their details to the university look up service on HEDD to make it clear they are not recognised degree-awarding bodies.

We have had a number of websites contact us to complain about being so explicit about their status – even threatening us with legal action – but we stand firm.

When a student contacts us because their parents have spent thousands of pounds, remortgaged their house and made huge sacrifices to send them to a UK university, only to find out that it’s not accredited and they have spent their money for nothing, we know we are doing the right thing.

Bob’s Not Your Uncle

News of our work in dealing with bogus providers is spreading far and wide. We received a report from Iran that a UK university was selling fake diplomas for £200 via an office in Iran. At the same time Robert Gordon University reported a copycat website masquerading as them when the certificate above came through HEDD for verification. We joined up the dots.

Under our naming and shaming promise I give you International University Robert Gordon and the certificate for one of their latest ‘graduates’.

On the certificate is the name and student ID number – we have blanked it out. If you visit the website and key in the ID number you get an instant verification of the candidate’s credentials. 

robert gordon verification

Unfortunately for the applicant the employer contacted the real Robert Gordon University to verify it and the deceit was uncovered. Had they gone to the webpage above they could easily have been fooled into employing a fraudster.

Like many bogus websites the copycat uses a lot of information stolen from the real Robert Gordon University website and other pages from a genuine UK university in Yorkshire.

HEDD has acted swiftly, adding International University Robert Gordon to the bogus providers on the university look up service on HEDD and reported the site to Trading Standards, the National Crime Agency and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The website http://www.inturg.com has been suspended and the owners are being investigated.

The Sting

On the face of it The University of Northern New Jersey was a model bogus university. Happy to offer student places, assisting to process student visas and issue certificates and documents with no questions asked, no requirement to attend, no campus and no faculty staff.

94720654_News-University_of_Northern_New_Jersey-large_trans++eo_i_u9APj8RuoebjoAHt0k9u7HhRJvuo-ZLenGRumA

Educational brokers flocked to the site to register students and obtain visas – charging students thousands of dollars which enabled them to stay in the United States, knowing full well it was all a front.

What they didn’t know was that this bogus university was itself a fake. The US Department of Homeland Security set up the fake university website in 2013 to catch criminals engaged in student visa scams. Undercover agents posed as administrators dealing with the brokers and paying them commissions of between $1200 and $2000 to recruit ‘students’ in a 3 year sting operation. 21 individuals have now been arrested and over 1000 foreign nationals mostly from India and China face deportation.

All I can hear in my head is the theme tune to ‘The Sting’ and remembering the brilliance of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the movie. If Redford is available, I’m free.

McScam

It is common practice for bogus universities to use logos from professional and accreditation bodies on their websites to lend an air of authenticity, which unsuspecting applicants are unlikely to check.

Much of the time the accreditation bodies are as bogus as the universities, but occasionally the fake provider will use images from genuine bodies.

HEDD advises universities to be vigilant in monitoring their brand online to look for breaches of copyright or theft of intellectual property. The same advice goes to professional bodies.

The University of McAllister* has been reported to HEDD for using the logo of Universities UK – the professional body which represents UK universities. The site also claims to hold a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. Universities UK and The Royal Trust have both confirmed that they have no association with this provider.

They are in breach of a number of UK laws, including the use of the word ‘University’ which is a restricted and regulated term.

On closer inspection, their address in Darlington proves to be a quiet industrial estate, not a campus, and the phone and fax numbers are disconnected. The owner of the domain has a Glasgow address.

The McAllister certificate we have obtained says the individual studied for their McAllister degree at a college in Malaysia – which is also associated with Bransfield University – another bogus institution we have exposed through HEDD.

The key to the scam lies here:

The website has a verification service. Key in the student number from the certificate and the individual’s details come up on screen, including a date of birth, passport number, qualification, classification. The unsuspecting employer believes they have followed good practice and made a real check.

mcallister verification

*At the time of writing the website is live but we are working with the enforcement authorities to shut them down. If you can’t follow the link, we have been successful. Go us!

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.