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So I was reading this article in New York Times about Axact, a Pakistan-based Company that seems to be in the business of selling fake diplomas.

The case of Axact is also not some small operation involving diplomas with just one or a couple of (perhaps) easily recognizable names of educational institutes.

Above article states that:

Their websites, glossy and assured, offer online degrees in dozens of disciplines, like nursing and civil engineering. There are glowing endorsements on the CNN iReport website, enthusiastic video testimonials, and State Department authentication certificates bearing the signature of Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We host one of the most renowned faculty in the world,” boasts a woman introduced in one promotional video as the head of a law school. “Come be a part of Newford University to soar the sky of excellence.”

Yet on closer examination, this picture shimmers like a mirage. The news reports are fabricated. The professors are paid actors. The university campuses exist only as stock photos on computer servers. The degrees have no true accreditation.

In fact, very little in this virtual academic realm, appearing to span at least 370 websites, is real

This other article at New York Times, titled "Tracking Axact’s Websites" lists 132 fake universities and 16 different accreditation bodies that are referenced by Axact.

Names of some of the accreditation bodies that they use according to above article:

  • Accreditation Bureau of Online Education and Training
  • Association for Accreditation of Business Schools and Programs
  • European Accreditation Board for Online Education
  • European Accreditation Council for Online Learning
  • Global Accreditation Board for Distance Learning
  • Global Doctorate Council
  • Gulf Accreditation Council
  • Gulf Bureau of Higher Education

Some of the names of their "universities" are below:

  • Ashbery University
  • Barkley University
  • Baycity University
  • Branton University
  • Brooksville University
  • Cambell State University
  • Camp Lake University
  • Chapel University
  • Johnstown University
  • Kennedy University
  • Kingsbridge University
  • Pittsford University
  • Port Jefferson University
  • Queen City University
  • Queens Bay University
  • Western Valley Central University
  • Wiley University
  • Wilford University

Above universities sport what looks like professionally made websites, such as the one below for Barkley University:

enter image description here

Considering the scale of this operation, what can a company reasonably do to determine if a candidate has a fake diploma?

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    Diplomas are just something nice to have on your wall. What you really pay for is a database entry at your school that shows what degree you got and when. If an employer wants to see if you really graduated from your school they will contact your school. – greggle138 May 18 '15 at 22:55
  • How often do companies actually check diplomas/degrees, anyway? Certainly it's not been my experience: first job was the result of an internship transitioning to full time after graduation, all the later ones either personal recommendations, or because of work that I'd done which happened to be something the employer wanted. – jamesqf May 19 '15 at 6:09
  • Buyers of fake diplomas are mostly being scammed rather than succeeding in scamming others. This story says more about the reporters' lack of Clue than about Axact's competence. – keshlam May 19 '15 at 13:19
  • Also worth noting that the "quality" of the institution doesn't mean much about the quality of the candidate anyway. If the person across the table from you knows their stuff, and has a "diploma" because you require one, do you really care where it came from? – Allen Gould May 19 '15 at 17:44
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I haven't had a prospective employer ask me to produce a diploma in several decades. Companies will usually check your diploma claims by directly querying the university that you claim that you got a degree from. I am a Columbia alumn and if someone produced a Columbia diploma, I couldn't tell the genuine article from a fake by looking at it. That some Columbia diploma doesn't look like mine, that's meaningless - It's not as if universities don't change the format of their diplomas from time to time. It's a lot more straightforward and almost totally foolproof to just check with the university.

Checking that a post-secondary institution is legitimate is not hard, at least in the US. The Higher Learning Commission, which accredits Columbia College of Columbia University, is one of the six regional institutional accreditors in the US. You simply find what state the alleged institution of higher learning is, you go on the appropriate institutional accreditor's website and you check the name of the alleged institution against their list of accredited institutions. Having said that, HRs of small companies and of startups probably don't know how to check - It took me one hour to work out how to check, but not everyone is like me.

This does not mean that these small companies and startups are defenseless. They are sensitive to poor performance and if they don't catch up to someone's bogus education credentials, they will catch up to that someone's poor performance either at the interview or on the job. And job candidates should know better than to play mind games with a fully staffed HR's like Walmart's or Goldman Sachs'

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    That does not really answer the question (even though it's the accepted answer.). As far as I understand, the diplomas are not technically fake, they were really issued by the institution they name. The institution/university itself is the fake, which may indeed be harder to spot. – sleske May 19 '15 at 8:50
  • No problem, and good edit. And kudos for the degree - I don't think anyone would call Columbia a diploma mill. – sleske May 19 '15 at 11:09
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    @sleske If Columbia is a diploma mill, then it is a diploma mill from Hell :) My mom sold me on going back to the Columbia School of Engineering for a Masters on the notion that it was a great place to meet women my age. Thirty years later, I am slowly coming around to the conclusion that my tiger mom outwitted me - I haven't reached it yet. Even though she is gone, I am still too scared of her :) – Vietnhi Phuvan May 19 '15 at 11:20
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If it's a school you've never heard of, first step is to check their accreditation. If they aren't recognized by some trusted third party, it almost doesn't matter if they're just a diploma mill or not.

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Yes, in general it can indeed be hard to check whether a diploma was issued by a "real" college/university or not. However, there are several simple ways to mitigate this

  • As keshlam pointed out, most countries have accreditation organizations (often run by the government). For example, the Stiftung zur Akkreditierung von Studiengängen in Deutschland in Germany, or the University Grants Commission in India. If they do not recognize the university, that's a big warning sign.
  • Just looking at the website and doing some quick Google searches will probably reveal a lot. For example, the website of Barkley University mentioned does indeed look extremely glossy (almost too glossy for a university), but if you drill down, cracks start to appear. If you look at the page of a specific major, such as the page for computer science there's lots or marketing speak, but almost no substance like research topics or teaching details. Also, the faculty members only have master's degrees, and clicking them gives you a 404.

Finally, a diploma is no guarantee for qualification for a specific job anyway, just an indication. If you have a thorough interview with a candidate (possibly with a phone screen first), I doubt someone clueless would manage to slip through.

Also note that it is possible (though difficult) to get a "real" diploma from a "real" university and still not be very qualified. So just listen well during the interview, and as they say, trust but verify.

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The presence of diploma mills and the fact that some people lie on their resume has forced many companies to use a 3rd party to conduct some level of reference check. They go beyond calling the applicants list of references.

Regarding diplomas they will be checking for existence of the school and checking that they offer the major. They know the difference between a real institution, a institution that provides very little knowledge/training for their students; and ones that exist only on paper. They might even ask for a official transcript if they think the candidate may be lying about receiving a degree from a real school. Some of thee firms can also check degree from other countries.

I have run into several companies that are required by their customer to do this level of checking using a 3rd company. The customer was burned by contracting companies inflating the background and experience of their employees so they could charge higher rates. the customer wanted proof that they were being sent people with the stated levels of experience. This even resulted in situations where employees with a long history with the company, and with security clearances needed to be evaluated by a 3rd company prior to starting work for that customer.

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  • I remember doing some research on this for a friend a few years ago. The higher end of these fake schools will provide transcripts on request. – Myles May 19 '15 at 22:13

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