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Pakistani Company Allegedly Makes Millions Selling Fake University Diplomas

On its website, Pakistani company Axact calls itself the “World’s leading IT Company.” It claims to have ten “diverse business units” that offer over “23 world class products” to “prestigious clients worldwide.” It offers these clients services in the fields of software, application design, research, and education. But according to an investigative story by The New York Times, Axact actually makes its millions by selling fake high school diplomas and degrees!

The report suggests that Axact does sell some software as it claims to, but its main business is to “take the centuries-old scam of selling fake academic degrees and turn it into an Internet-era scheme on a global scale.” The company ostensibly designs websites for fake colleges with dubious names like ‘Barkley’, ‘Columbiana’, and ‘Mount Lincoln’, offering online ‘degrees’ in several subjects along with authentication certificates signed by Secretary of State John Kerry.

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A promotional video on one of these websites has a woman introduced the head of a law school say: “We host one of the most renowned faculty in the world. Come be a part of Newford University to soar the sky of excellence.” But on closer inspection, it turns out that the woman is actually a paid actor, as are all the other ‘professors’ who appear in other videos. The university campuses, in reality, are just stock photographs.

The Times further reported that former employees admitted to working around the clock as telephone sales agents at Axact’s headquarters. “The heart of Axact’s business is the sales team – young and well-educated Pakistanis – fluent in English or Arabic, who work the phones with customers who have been drawn in by the websites. They offer everything from high school diplomas for about $350, to doctoral degrees for $4,000 and above.”

“Sometimes they cater to customers who clearly understand that they are buying a shady instant degree for money,” the report said. “But often the agents manipulate those seeking a real education, pushing them to enroll for coursework that never materializes, or assuring them that their life experiences are enough to earn them a diploma. A nurse in Abu Dhabi, for instance, reportedly paid $60,000 for a medical degree that enabled her to get a promotion. A junior accountant wasn’t so fortunate – he spent $3,300 on an online master’s program, only to receive a low-priced tablet computer in the mail. He was later told that he needed to spend more money for certifications.

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“To boost profits, the sales agents often follow up with elaborate ruses, including impersonating American government officials, to persuade customers to buy expensive certifications or authentication documents,” The Times reported. “Revenues, estimated by former employees and fraud experts at several million dollars per month, are cycled through a network of offshore companies. All the while, Axact’s role as the owner of this fake education empire remains obscured by proxy Internet services, combative legal tactics, and a chronic lack of regulation in Pakistan.”

On the surface, the slick websites of these fictitious schools and universities are only linked by “superficial similarities” like toll-free American contact numbers, and familiar-sounding names. But a deeper inspection would reveal more clues, signalling to common ownership. The websites have identical graphics, and many of them link to the same accreditation bodies (also fictitious). There are technical similarities too: identical blocks of web code, and traffic routed through computer servers run by companies in Cyprus and Latvia.

“Hands down, this is probably the largest operation we’ve ever seen,” retired FBI agent Allen Ezell told The New York Times. “It’s a breathtaking scam.”

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Following the Times report on 17 May, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began inquiry into the allegations made by the newspaper. The agency’s cyber crime team has raided Axact’s Karachi and Islamabad offices, seized computers, questioned employees, and took a few of them into custody. The FIA team is reported to have found several blank degrees and a fake letterhead of the US State Department.

Axact, on its part, has published an online response denying all allegations and threatened legal action against The New York Times.

via New York Times

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