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.

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.”   

Dear Mr Paxman

AUOL

(click on the picture to enlarge it)

Dear Mr Paxman,

You could have saved yourself a lot of time last night on your bogus university story if you had just gone to HEDD and looked up the American University of London. In a matter of seconds you would have seen that it is not a valid UK degree-awarding body.  Passing on to viewers the valuable information that you can look up all valid UK degree- awarding bodies, past and present on HEDD would have been helpful too – particularly to the individuals on social networking sites proudly citing their AUOL qualifications. According to the BBC coverage today, at least one of them has had a rethink and removed it from his CV. 

I wonder how many others have also done so?

 

 

New way to spot fake UK degrees

We’ve just updated our series of tips on How to Spot a Fake UK Degree.

Based on a recent case we’ve handled, we’ve added the following tip to the list:

University Name

In a recent case we handled, an enquiry returned “Not Verified”. The client, as per our normal procedure, sent us the candidate’s award certificate.

The certificate was purported to be offered by “Manchester University”.

However, this is not a valid university title. The correct university title is the “University of Manchester”. This was a dead give-away that the certificate was not awarded from the University of Manchester, nor is it a UK degree.

Always check how the university’s name appears on the certificate with what the official university refers to itself as.

There is a big difference between hiring someone from Manchester University (bogus) and someone from The University of Manchester (real)!

How to spot a fake UK degree certificate

We recently discussed some tips on how to spot a fake UK university. The issue of fake degrees is a bigger concern than that of fake universities because fake degrees, typically, purport to be awarded from a legitimate institution and forgeries are often excellent in their quality and attention to detail.

What are the tell-tale signs?

In HEDD’s life we have received numerous examples of fake degree certificates. Although some have purported to be awarded from non-existent universities, such as “Chelsea University” (which has never been a degree-awarding body in the UK), the most worrying is when certificates appear to be awarded by legitimate universities.

Fake degree certificates are often of high quality and with excellent attention to detail. Upon first inspection, they are convincing enough to fool someone who doesn’t know what to look out for.

However, there are certain tell-tale signs which will give you some certainty in determining if a degree is fake.

Verification Returns Negative

The biggest tell-tale sign that a degree certificate might be fake is if you have run an enquiry with the institution on the student and this has turned up negative. Usually this is because the information supplied to the university is not enough to allow them to trace the candidate – but very occasionally the candidate is fraudulent and their certificate is a fake.  Sometimes the certificates are so convincing that agencies or employers involved in the verification process believe that the verification result is wrong rather than the certificate.

If a negative response is provided by HEDD, this is the first red flag concerning the legitimacy of the candidate and their award. Given a certificate, we will investigate all such cases and in some instances certificates have turned out to be fake!

Spelling Mistakes on the Certificate

Carefully check the spelling and grammar of a certificate: Is it all correct?

A UK University would not risk its reputation by allowing grammatical and spelling mistakes on a certificate or official transcript.

However, those who craft fake certificates clearly don’t mind. We have seen many spelling mistakes, for example “certified ture copy” (as opposed to “true copy”) or sutdent (as opposed to student).

Terminology Borrowed from Other Education Systems

You should also consider the terminology used.

In one recent certificate we reviewed, there was reference made to the “Dean’s list”. The Dean’s list is an American university concept, not a UK university concept. You would not find reference to a Dean’s List on a UK degree certificate.  In addition, instead of start date they used “Matriculation Date”. This is not common wording on a UK degree certificate. Similarly, using season names like “Winter” and “Fall” to describe semesters is American, not UK, terminology.

One final example of terminology was the use of “summa cum laude”, which translates as “with highest distinction”.

In the UK, instead of “cum laude”, we would normally use “Honours degree”, or “with Honours”.

Certificate Language

Historically, some UK universities have awarded certificates which are written entirely in Latin.

Contemporary certificates, especially those awarded in the last 10 years, are very unlikely to be written in Latin. The practice of UK universities awarding certificates in Latin is no longer current practice.

Although up until recently, some UK universities have offered Latinised degrees as a memento of study, they are not considered a valid degree without the corresponding English degree certificate. Only the originally-awarded certificate is acceptable.

If you do receive a degree certificate which is entirely in Latin and purports to be from a UK university, consider carefully when the degree was awarded. If it claims to be a recent award (within the last 10 years) then it is likely to be either not authentic or a memento of study.

Who’s the Registrar?

On many occasions, a fake Registrar is provided.

A simple check is to enquire who the Registrar was when the degree was awarded. If the name on the certificate does not match the Registrar at the time, then you can tell you’ve got a fake!

University Name

In a recent case we handled, an enquiry returned “Not Verified”. The client, as per our normal procedure, sent us the candidate’s award certificate.

The certificate was purported to be offered by “Manchester University”.

However, this is not the correct university title. The correct university title is the “University of Manchester”. The university title was incorrect and this was a dead give-away that the certificate was not awarded from the University of Manchester, nor is it a valid UK degree.

Always check that the university’s name appearing on the certificate matches what the official university refers to itself as.

Conclusion

There are a few broad messages here that you should take away:

  1. There are some convincing fake universities and certificates. Always check that the candidate is legitimate!
  2. Always put things in context – Is the wording that which a UK university would use?
  3. Are there any spelling mistakes? These are TELL TALE signs of a fake certificate
  4. Do the names match university officials who were appointed at the time of the award?

The Name of the Game

We’re in the Guardian Online today. Check out the piece here.

In brief, there are proposals from BIS to relax the red tape governing the use of certain words in company names etc. Unfortunately one of the words under consideration is ‘university’.

There are already enough fake universities around to cause concern, and currently they can be prosecuted for using the name ‘university’. Making it easier for them is not something we want to contemplate.

BIS are looking for responses to the consultation paper by next week, so if you want to have your say, go to Red Tape Challenge and make your views known.

How to spot a fake UK university

Universities in the United Kingdom have a high reputation of academic excellence. It is no wonder then that ne’er do wells would want to utilise that reputation for their own ends. The UK is home to hundreds of awarding institutions. How do you tell what’s a real UK university and what is not?

In the United Kingdom, the Education Reform Act [1] makes it an offence to claim to offer UK degrees (the title of Bachelor, Master, or Doctor)  without the authority to do so.

When considering UK study or verification a UK qualification, the first port of call is to determine whether that institution is a legitimate degree awarding body. For an institution to award UK degrees, it must either be a recognised body (which has degree awarding powers in its own right) or a listed body (who issues degrees through a recognised body).

Are they on the list?

The first port of call would be to search in the HEDD University Lookup Service for the institution at our home page. Our institution list contains all the recognised bodies in the UK, antecedent institutions, some listed bodies, and some bogus institutions.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills also provides lists of recognised and listed bodies within the UK which could be your second port of call. These lists are complete but do not contain antecedent institutions or bogus institutions [2].

What if the institution you are looking to study at or verify from does not appear on these lists? Does that mean it is not a legitimate institution?

Not necessarily and this is because institutions come and go – it could be an old institution or a relatively new one. Recently for example, the University of South Wales is a newly created university which resulted from a merger between Glamorgan University and Newport University [3]. As a result, Newport and Glamorgan will disappear from the BIS list, but they were still legitimate degree awarding bodies in the UK and degrees awarded by them will always be legitimate.

There are some tell-tale signs that should ring alarm bells. One of them is that they do not appear on official recognised or listed body lists. Here are some of the others:

Using the .ac domain name

The top-level domain for the Ascension Islands is “.ac” and what this means is that when you type the address into your web-browser, the suffix will be .ac (example http://www.fakeuniversity.ac).

Many bogus institutions are registered with a .ac address because the Ascension Islands does not put any restrictions on using the .ac domain name.

The reason this is a problem is that the top-level domain used by legitimate educational institutions in the uk is .ac.uk. The .ac.uk domain is tightly regulated and registration is only open to those who have a legitimate reason to use this. Naturally, being an illegitimate degree awarding body is not a legitimate reason to use the .ac.uk domain.

As such, a good indicator that an institution is legitimate is that they have a .ac.uk domain. Any other domain, especially .ac, but also .com, .net, .org, etc, might indicate that something isn’t quite right.

Using fake names and addresses

Many bogus institutions will use fake names or addresses. This plays on the idea that nobody is actually going to check these details.

Our recommendation is to check their bricks and mortar address on Google Maps and ask yourself “Does this look like a university?”. Our experience with looking at the physical address of these institutions is they are either not real addresses or for private residences more suited to housing a small family rather than an institution with UK university status.

One bogus institution listed their address as Galway, Dublin. Galway and Dublin are two cities which are hundreds of miles apart. It does not make sense.

Where there is a suspicion the certificate is fake, it is worth checking the names on the certificate. This includes the registrar who, we find, either does not exist or was not the registrar at the time when the award was purported to be granted.

Poor English

Aesthetically, many of the sites look like they could be legitimate institutions. However, if you look closely at the spelling and grammar you will notice that it is unlikely the author passed their GCSE English. Spelling and grammar are not high on the priorities for illegitimate institutions.

This may be that the sites are designed to target those whose first language is not English. These kinds of mistakes might be missed by a non-native speaker, but they are a dead giveaway for us.

One particular website spelled “Registry” as “Regestry”. Fake certificates often contain spelling mistakes, such as “postgraduate sutdent” or “certified ture copy”.

Promises of Education without Study

The biggest giveaway is a promise of education without study. In the UK, the scope to receive any honour – Bachelor, Master, or Doctor – without study or supervised research is very limited.

As such, any institution which, as a matter of course, claims to offer awards without study is undoubtedly illegitimate.


1. Education Reform Act 1988: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/40/section/214

2. BIS Recognised Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-recognised-bodies
BIS Listed Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-listed-bodies.

3. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/university-south-wales-launches-today-2582465#.UWbU81nRWSc.twitter