Imposter degrees being sold online
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2003
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 01:06
Rather than spend $50,000 and four years to get a college diploma, some people are turning to Web sites which offer authentic-looking diplomas for only a few hundred dollars.
While most people purchase these diplomas for their own personal use, some try to pass them off as real. Employers and colleges across the world sometimes find it difficult to recognize fake diplomas and transcripts.
"Usually it's a potential employer calling about the records," said Lee Watkins, who works in the Office of the Registrar.
"They usually have some reason to question, or to confirm," she said. "We do have a Web site for verifying degrees and past enrollment. A lot of times, the employer sends us diplomas and transcripts they receive."
One site, www.backalleypress .com, offers fake diplomas and transcripts for more than 1,000 universities across the world.
Most companies selling fake diplomas claim the products are novelty items.
Bob Lucas, owner of Boxfreeconcepts.com, said some customers ask if they can use the degrees on applications for college or for jobs.
"All of our products have but one purpose -- entertainment. They are unmistakably novelty items," Lucas said. "Whether anyone has ever tried to pass off a degree from our 'St. Cunnilingus College' or one signed by our omnipresent college president, 'Les N. Toomy, Jr,' I can't say. But, I'd tend to doubt it."
Unlike many other Web sites that sell fake diplomas, Boxfreeconcepts.com makes up fictional colleges. Most of the colleges, such as "Ninth Try University" and "Upstairs on the Right University," are obviously made-up.
Some Web sites go to extremes to try to make their documents look authentic.
The Backalleypress.com Web site says, "The paper we use is the same kind of security paper that is used by many schools and universities. The reason that schools use this paper is so that employer or officials can identify forgeries when it is tampered with. Now that we print on the same kind of paper, no one will notice."
Another company which says its products are for novelty purposes, Cooldegree.com, recently added a verification service for those who purchase fake diplomas.
The Web site asks, "How many times have you seen your perfect job advertised and then discovered you don't have the degree it requires? How many times have you considered buying a fake degree but weren't really sure if you could pull it off? Our verification service is the answer to everyone's dilemma."
Cooldegree.com also tells customers that because federal law prohibits the verification of educational documents by phone or e-mail, the company will answer calls and then fax the transcripts to the college or employer that requested them.
Most colleges in the United States now require all transcripts be sent directly from another institution, rather than from an individual. The change has made it much more difficult to pass off fake diplomas as real.
"Some of them look very realistic, close to what we would do," Watkins said. "Almost always there's something we can identify as different. Some are totally different, and we can identify at a glance that they're not ours.
"Recently we've gotten a lot more of them," she said. "I don't know if it's because more people are in the job market, or if employers are more careful in checking. We used to get three or four a year, now we're getting a dozen."
The cost of the diplomas varies, depending on the Web site and how authentic the document looks. Boxfreeconcepts.com allows the user to create the document online and print it out for free.
Companies which offer watermarks and other official seals charge much more. It costs $75 to join Fakedegrees.com, while a doctoral degree from Backalleypress.com will cost either $300 or $630, depending on whether a set of custom transcripts comes with the degree. Backalleypress.com also offers transcripts for about $50 per semester.
Ohio State does not seek legal action against people who use false diplomas and transcripts, partially because it is difficult to determine who made the fake, Watkins said.
The registrar's office takes precautionary measures when someone is caught using a fake diploma.
"If it's someone who has attended OSU, we will put a hold on their transcripts -- we will only send them to third parties," Watkins said. "If it's someone who never attended OSU, we let the Board of Trustees know in case someone tries to get a replacement diploma."