'Staggering' trade of diploma mills revealed

BBC Radio 4’s File on Four program investigation found a “staggering” trade in worthless diploma mill degrees from Axact, a Pakistani firm claiming to be the “world’s largest IT company” that operated a network of hundreds of fake online universities.

Buyers include NHS consultants, nurses and a large defense contractor. One British buyer spent almost £500,000 on bogus documents. A consultant in paediatric emergency medicine, who bought a “master of science in health care technology”, claimed it was an “utter surprise” when the BBC told him it was fake.

In 2015, Axact sold more than 215,000 fake qualifications globally, through approximately 350 fictitious high schools and universities, making $51m (£37.5m) that year alone. Following an investigation in 2015 (which we wrote about here), Axact was shut down by Pakistani law enforcement. However, the Pakistani investigation ground to a halt amid claims of government corruption and Axact resumed their fraudulent business of selling fake diplomas.

Action Fraud, the UK’s national cybercrime reporting center, said it did not have the power to close fake Axact websites but instead had to provide evidence to domain registries and registrars, which could take months. The Department for Education said it was taking “decisive action to crack down on degree fraud” that “cheats genuine learners”.

As reported several times on this blog, the diploma mill problem is a significant one. Diploma mill providers that sell worthless degrees without requiring academic achievement make an estimated $200 million annually, according to College Choice. In fact, a 2011 report from Verifile Accredibase suggested a 20% year-over-year growth of mills in the US. That growth doesn’t appear to be stemming.

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