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.

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.

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.