Fake diplomas are easy to buy online, but colleges are becoming more wary
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Then again, maybe they will. Adan, after 24 years in the business, has seen it all, from Wite-Out used over one student's name and another typed over it to differences in type fonts, or letters floating slightly above the rest of a line of type. She's seen an MBA degree from Kabul University in Afghanistan that looked real - except the school did not offer business degrees the year the diploma was ostensibly granted.Skip to next paragraph
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"We used to say fake documents were probably less than 1 percent of the total applications we see," she says. "Other credential evaluators and I believe it's up to 3 percent and maybe even 5 percent" of applications.
Such percentages may sound puny, but admissions people worry about them. If a single imposter gains admission, not only can it affect a school's reputation, but the underprepared student often becomes a problem for professors, classmates, and often immigration authorities.
"If out of 1,000 applications you admit 30 bad students [whose fake credentials slipped past], it could be devastating," says Sandy Gault, associate director of international admissions at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. "It doesn't take a very hard look at them to realize that even one can create a big loss in time, quality, and money."
Homeland security is an issue, too. The federal government is relying on universities as its first line of defense in detecting fraudulent documents. When a university accepts a student, the student is issued an I-20 document that he or she presents to the US consulate to get a student visa.
Muriel Zhou works for Engineering Credential Evaluation International, a nonprofit organization that evaluates engineering credentials for universities and states.
"If we have people get into our system with forged academic credentials, they can hurt us in any way they want," she says. "We haven't caught any terrorists yet who have forged an academic document. But we definitely need to look every way to protect our country."
"Order the best fake degrees today!" That's the sales pitch from www.Diploma Services.com, which offers fake diplomas, fake transcripts, and even a "verification service" to reassure anyone suspicious enough to check up on your phony degree.
So I did. Since my days as a freshman, I have wanted to be a nuclear engineer. I might have been one, too, except cruel fate made my mind impervious to the intricacies of calculus. A college calc class I bombed put a swift end to those dreams and shot me off in a different direction.
Now, 25 years later, I'm thinking nuclear engineers make a lot more than journalists, right?
For my career change, I had at first planned to order from Diploma Services. But quite frankly, I needed an even cheaper degree.
On www.DiplomasForLess.com, I found credentials so dirt cheap even my editor was willing to sign off on the cost of my new no-fuss, no-sweat, university degree. No grueling classes or agonizing over a masters thesis for me.
I had my choice of master's-degree diplomas and an official-looking transcript in nuclear engineering from any of dozens of real schools. I liked the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and MIT - good schools all. I decided on Michigan.
The website let me pick the size of diploma and even the type of paper I wanted my transcript printed on. I chose "authentic university security paper" for no extra charge. (I took a pass on the link to the $149 verification service. I can sign up later.)
Now, for the big decision: Do I want to graduate cum laude? Why not? Just click the right box and a check mark appears.
Hold it. Graduating at the top will cost an extra $25.00. I think I'll just select a 3.24 average - pretty good, but not overreaching.
In truth, I have my doubts whether this diploma and transcript would fool some or even any of the education-credential evaluators I have interviewed. Still, I have a funny feeling that potential employers might not be as tough.
Just $159 bought me a diploma suitable for framing and a transcript, too - even though the diploma was a bachelor's, not a master's, and the transcript misspelled master's thesis as "these."
As might be expected, the University of Michigan isn't too keen on this. "We ask these sites to take us off their list - and some comply, but they just keep popping up," says Daniel Sharphorn, the university's deputy general counsel.