February 8th, 2019
Diploma mills are here to stay as long as there is little or no regulation monitoring them and there is a demand for degrees which do not require classroom or online attendance, exams, research papers or thesis. Fake degrees are purchased from online sites offering an à la carte menu of “products” at a fraction of the cost of an actual earned academic degree. Their websites can range from the tacky, cluttered with advertisements to the sophisticated boasting a litany of institutional accreditations with equally fraudulent accrediting entities. Individuals visiting these sites can select a degree of their choice in their preferred major from the menu and even select their graduation date. They can order class rings, mugs, sweatshirts and other paraphernalia with the fake university’s emblem. At the strike of a few keys on the keyboard, and payment of fees with a credit card, they walk away with the promise of a Bachelor, Master, and even a Ph.D. As employers post job openings requiring degrees, and in most cases, advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Ph.D., the absence of an earned credential has driven many to willingly seek a diploma mill or fall prey to sales schemes and tactics that lure the naïve and unsuspecting consumer to purchase a degree they were promised from what they assumed to be a prestigious, though non-existent, university.
Earlier this week, we came across a question on an online quorum where a counselor at a local community college here in California was asking about a “university” a student at his college was considering transferring to because, and I quote, “he could get a bachelor’s quickly.” The college counselor could not find any information on the so-called university that cited its physical address in the Downtown Los Angeles area. A quick search on the Internet took me to the university’s website that was “under maintenance” and thanks to GooleMaps, found its campus to be a strip mall with a “For Lease” sign posted on the door. I warned the college counselor to advise his students against applying to this university as it was not regionally accredited and most likely a diploma mill.
And, just when we thought diploma mills are set up by nefarious entities, we recently learned that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had set up a fake university in Michigan to crack down on illicit operations allowing foreign citizens to stay in the U.S. illegally. The sting operation was to catch recruiters and others engaging in immigration fraud. Indictments were issued with charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit. Fighting fraud with fraud. To read more, click here
Clearly, there is a market for fake degrees. Where there is demand, there is supply. And it’s proven to be a very lucrative industry…a billion-dollar industry.
What is being done to protect against fraud when it comes to academic credentials?
We are beginning to hear about Blockchain technology being used as a platform to help combat against falsified diplomas and certificates. There are several companies offering Blockchain platform to address this issue. One that I read about recently is EchoLink Foundation that has designed the EKO Blockchain Platform with the goal to provide verified education, skill, and work experience information. To avoid tampering from third parties, EchoLink Foundation allows only approved educational, training, and other institutions access to enter their information. To read more, click here and for learn more about for more on how universities are adopting blockchain technology , click here.
There are many institutions and countries that have adopted digital platforms for the secure archival, verification and transmission of their academic credentials. Here’s a partial list of countries that have sprung into action by using technology to fight against fraud and protect credential integrity:
Republic of Georgia
The Business and Technology University in Tbilisi, Georgia has implemented an educational credential verification system using the blockchain technology powered by Emercoin. To learn more, click here
We just learned that the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Education and Science, (Rosobrnadzor) will implement blockchain technology in the country’s main graduation examination. To learn more, click here
Caribbean Examination Council:
In November 2018, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) started distributing blockchain-based certificates to “24,000 shortlisted candidates” to ensure a faster verification process of educational credentials. To learn more, click here
Fake degree from diploma mills is one problem, the other is falsification of academic documents from legitimate institutions. South Africa is taking steps to tackle fake degrees and its universities have the ability to verify qualifications through a fully-automated centralized online degree verification systems called MiE. To learn more, click here
In 2018, University of Basel started using blockchain technology to protect and verify academic credentials. It has partnered with the Center for Innovative Finance, a research group within the University of Basel which focuses on financial technology and another company called Proxeus. This partnership is intended to end reliance on traditional paper-transcripts and adopt a digital platform for the archiving and distribution of academic credentials. To learn more, click here
This is just a sample of countries and steps they’ve taken to protect against credential fraud. In future blogs, we will showcase other digital platforms set up by institutions, third party providers, and governments to protect against falsification of academic documents.
As technology progresses, so do the entities operating diploma mills. They are using sophisticated tools to reproduce believable documents. At the same time, institutions and some countries are taking measures to fight these mills by taking advantage of advances made in technology.
Is the blockchain platform for credential verification deemed effective? It’s too early to tell, but according to retired FBI Agent, Allen Ezell, “as long as everyone gets on board and participates, it may be practical towards the future. (Similar to a chain link fence, with electronic record keeping.) Also, keeping out just one rogue entity will also keep the ‘chain’ trustworthy.”
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.