Category Archives: credentialevaluation

Detecting Fake University Degrees in a Digital World

In 2019, the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE) hosted its annual symposium discussing the digital retention and transmission of academic documents.  An issue that was of great concern then and continues to be today is how do we maintain credential evaluation standards in a world that is rapidly digitizing? How do we ensure credential integrity? How do we detect fraudulent documents in an age where digital technology is used by hackers and forgers with tech expertise to falsify and issue counterfeit documents, tap into university databases, create degrees and diplomas that appear flawless and authentic?

The title of the 2019 AICE Los Angeles Symposium was “The future is digital…are you? Effectively using technology while maintaining credential evaluation standards” which is timely today given the rapid adoption of digital platforms to offer online courses and transmitting official transcripts during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The goal of the symposium was to seek digital solutions that promote data security and protection as we move toward a paper-free environment.

This week’s blog is a re-posting of one we had shared in 2019, an informative and insightful piece written by our European colleagues Stig Arne SkjervenDirector of Foreign Education in NOKUT and President of the ENIC Bureau in the European Network of Information Centers, a frequent contributor to ACE-Global.Blog, and Linda J Børresen, Senior Legal Advisor in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). The authors demonstrate steps being taken in Europe to combat fake diplomas in today’s digital world. This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of University World News and is shared in this blog with permission from Mr. Skjerven and Ms. Børresen.

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), will be hosting a free webinar on June 10, 2020 on fake online courses and diploma mills. To register, please click here.

We invite you to share your thoughts, experience, and questions in the comments section. Thank you.


Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

 

By Stig Arne Skjerven and Linda J. Børresen

Using fake diplomas in order to get ahead is not a new phenomenon. As long as there is competition for jobs and admission to higher education, there will be people who are willing to take such shortcuts.

Articles in University World News often report new cases, the most recent on fake Scottish degrees. Over the summer in the United Kingdom, there was an article published in The Guardian in which the UK’s official service for verifying degrees, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), urged new graduates who take selfies with their new degrees not to share the images on social media to avoid fueling the multimillion-pound trade in fake degrees.

 What are fake diplomas?

Generally speaking, there are three categories of fake diplomas. The first category is typically a diploma that seems to be issued by an accredited institution, but the diploma is in fact produced illegally. The person who bought the document has never studied at the institution in question.

The second category comprises diplomas that are issued by accredited institutions, but the holder of the diploma has altered the information in the document, most commonly the grades.

The third and last category includes fake diplomas issued by diploma mills (fake universities). Diploma mills grant ‘degrees’ to people who pay for this service, but do not offer any educational training.

Fake diplomas can finance serious crime

The consequences of using fake diplomas are dire, ranging from wrongful job hires to illicit access to regulated professions. The latter can pose a danger to people and society, most obviously in the health, engineering and financial professions.

Just as worryingly, the income from sales of fake diplomas often finances serious crime. The court case in Norway following the terrorist attack on 22 July 2011 is a clear illustration. During the trial, the defendant admitted that he partly financed his terror operation by selling fake diplomas through the establishment of an internet site called Diplomaservice.com. Its revenue was nearly US$500,000, which was laundered in Antigua and subsequently used to finance his illicit activities.

How can we deal with fake diplomas?

In Norway, NOKUT is the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC center whose task it is to recognize foreign higher education qualifications in accordance with the Lisbon Recognition Convention. In order to combat the problem with fake diplomas, NOKUT has developed several tools, such as rigid documentation requirements and thorough quality assurance.

Verification is crucial and all diplomas are verified from certain countries, either by the issuing higher education institutions or by the ministry of education in that particular country. Equally important, NOKUT’s experienced credential evaluators are fluent in many languages and possess unique knowledge about various educational systems, enabling them to track logical inconsistencies in the applicants’ educational backgrounds.

Since 2003, 120 people have been reported to the police for using fake diplomas. This comes in addition to the number of cases that are reported by Norwegian higher education institutions and other competent authorities. NOKUT, as the ENIC-NARIC center, cooperates well with Norwegian law enforcement. Many of the reported cases have resulted in convictions, normally two to three weeks of unconditional imprisonment.

Most of these convictions are for regular falsified diplomas, but convictions for using documents from diploma mills are increasing.

The Council of Europe’s ETINED Platform

The ETINED Platform is a network of specialists appointed by member states of the Council of Europe and states party to the European Cultural Convention (50 states). The purpose of ETINED is to build a culture of ethics, transparency and integrity in and through education.

One aspect of this is combating fraud and corruption, including fraudulent qualifications. In this part of the project, cooperation between the ENIC and NARIC networks, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education(EQAR) have been established.

Suggestions for changes to the subsidiary text to the Lisbon Recognition Convention are being considered. An example is the establishment of a database with a list of criteria that students should look for when checking qualifications proposed by an institution.

FRAUDOC – An Erasmus+ project

All over Europe, significant efforts have been made to detect fraudulent documents. Recently, an Erasmus+ funded project, FRAUDOC, led by the Italian ENIC-NARIC CIMEA, launched guidelines on diploma mills and documents fraud for credential evaluators. The guidelines give an overview of the phenomenon, but they also provide tools and recommendations on how fraudulent documents can be detected.

The same group has also launched a handbook for credential evaluators with information about verification databases and other suggestions that should help credential evaluators in their daily work.

The future is digital

Routines developed by ENIC-NARIC centers are helpful for combating the use of fake documents. However, even in the world of recognition and credential evaluation it is true that the future is digital – soon, most diplomas will be digitally accessible in secure systems which will guarantee documents’ authenticity.

Norway has digitalized all diplomas that have been issued by Norwegian institutions, with a few exceptions, in an online portal called Vitnemålsportalen. Graduates can provide secure and time-limited access to their data to an employer through an electronic link. This procedure ensures the authenticity of the documents and is a safe and cost-effective way for an employer to verify someone’s credentials.

Other systems, at varying stages of development, are in operation in AustraliaBelgium (Flanders), ChinaEstoniaFranceIndiaMexicothe NetherlandsNew ZealandRomania, the Russian FederationSouth Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The network of EMREX aims to further connect and enhance student data portability and provide student data globally. EMREX empowers individuals to manage their student data and to transfer credentials securely to employers, institutions and more.

Fake diplomas will continue to pose a threat to higher education institutions, employers and recognition authorities in the years to come. However, recent initiatives involving digital diplomas in secure databases may be one of the most promising ways to combat false diplomas in the future.

Stig Arne Skjerven is the Director of Foreign Education in NOKUT and President of the ENIC Bureau in the European Network of Information Centres.

Linda J Børresen is Senior Legal Advisor in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). 

 

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA.  ACEI is a full-service company providing complete and integrated services in the areas of international education research, credential evaluation, and translation. ACEI’s Global Consulting Group®, offers expertise in the following specialties: Media and Branding, Global Pathways, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to interested institutions and organizations around the globe. www.acei-global.org

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Dispatches from Mar Vista, Los Angeles, CA during COVID-19 Lockdown

Witten by: Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

By the time this blog is posted, it will be day 44 since Los Angeles county issued its shelter in place order. The skies have never been clearer and traffic on the infamous 405 Freeway is almost nonexistent. The air is sweet, yes, I never expected to use the word “sweet” in connection with Los Angeles air quality. The city seems calm, and like the rest of the world our planet is taking a deep breath as we shelter in place.

On March 19th, as soon as our city’s mayor made the shelter in place announcement, I instructed my team at the ACEI headquarters to pack up their essentials as we would be working remotely from home.  We weren’t caught off guard or surprised by this news.  A month prior to the lock-down order, our COO had ordered laptops for all our in-house team in preparation and anticipation of just this scenario. The next day, like clockwork, we were all online and in communication with our international applicants and institutional clients. Applications for evaluation were being processed via our online portal and academic documents were being received digitally from institutions and recognized platforms. Twice a week, I visit the office with one other member of our team, mindful of keeping our socially recommended distance of 6 feet, which is easy to do in our spacious loft workspace.

The ACEI team is working harder than ever, responding to queries from our applicants from around the world via our online chat, emails and phone. We hold daily video chats as our end of day wrap-up. We try to keep the humor in our uncertain world by playing around with the background imagery of our video chat platform.  Our COO prefers a lush landscape of rolling hills, while the rest of our crew including myself, seem to be partial to space inspired motifs, which is something new for me as I’m not a SciFi fan. But it seems that images of futuristic cities and galaxies far far away are befitting of the current surreal state of our world.

As soon as the world and us went into collective lockdown, we knew that we were going to experience all levels of emotions, from anxiety, to panic, fear, anger, frustration, euphoria, exhaustion, malaise, serenity, denial, and back to panic and uncertainty. Immediately, we decided to start hosting a free weekly webcast we named “Mindful Minutes with ACEI.” We set these webcasts as a safe virtual place for our coworkers, colleagues, friends and family to join to share their stories, how they were coping and what they were feeling. We invited guest speakers who offered insights and techniques we could practice in our daily lives to return to a place of inner peace, no matter how fleeting.

My first week of working at home, something I hadn’t done since I founded ACEI in 1994 from my one-bedroom apartment, was challenging as I was having a difficult time situating myself in a place I could call my home office.  Finally, I joined my husband, also working from home, and equally divided the dining table as his and hers offices. We have been very mindful of our invisible boundaries and have had zero border skirmishes.  It is strange though how life can do a 360 and I find myself in a similar situation as the day I started ACEI, that is; working from home, though now I have a team of loyal and dedicated employees whom I’m responsible for and who look to me for guidance, moral support and hope.

I do keep my daily routine. I wake up early as before, shower, get dressed, meditate, have breakfast and step into my “office” formerly the dining room, and start the “work” day. I go for long walks in the afternoons after I step away from my “office,” and take a 20-minute nap. The daily mini naps have been a godsend.

I mentioned this earlier, and it needs to be said again, that exhaustion seems to be the common denominator amongst everyone I speak with and those who attend our webcasts and the comments I see on social media. We are being pushed to self-reflect and one thing that is becoming clear is that the uncertainty we feel today has always been with us, except now we have the time to truly understand its full meaning. Call it an existential crisis, which it is. We are each experiencing an existential crisis and we are experiencing it together and at different intervals and levels. We are grasping for answers and looking hard into the future attempting to make predictions, if not guesses as to what to expect once we emerge from our extended lockdowns. A friend likened this to the cocoon from which a butterfly will finally emerge.

I’m also hearing from many who are being hard on themselves for not maximizing their time in quarantine by being more productive, like cleaning out the garage, their closets, painting and doing home renovations (something my husband, bless his heart, has volunteered himself to do each weekend), learning a language or musical instrument or starting a new side job. I was reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by a friend’s comment on Facebook recently which is worth revisiting, especially now during a global pandemic. Humans, as we know, have basic needs which appear on the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid and these are food, water, shelter, sleep, etc. If these needs are met, then the next level on the pyramid is safety and security. If we feel safe and secure in our current environment, then we can move up the pyramid and embrace love and a sense of belonging which then takes us to the next level on the pyramid at the very top, which is is self-actualization.

In the midst of a pandemic, we cannot expect to ascend the pyramid and self-actualize when we are mainly dwelling in the basement of Maslow’s pyramid. People are still searching for toilet paper, for goodness sake! At this moment in time we need to take a deep breath and know that every day we are here counts. Every breath we take counts. Are we eating, drinking water, getting a few hours of sleep? These are major triumphs. An exercise my husband and I practice at the end of the day is we ask each other: “So what where your wins today?” I always start by saying that I woke up feeling healthy. I consider this a big win. We need to ease up on ourselves and be extra gentle and abundantly gracious with ourselves. We will get through this, somehow or another. And right now, getting through is absolutely okay.

 Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the founder, President and CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI).

 

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA.  ACEI is a full-service company providing complete and integrated services in-house in the areas of international education research, credential evaluation, and translation. ACEI’s Global Consulting Group®, offers expertise in the following specialties: Media and Branding, Global Pathways, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to interested institutions and organizations around the globe. www.acei-global.org

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AXACT, Karachi, Pakistan- ‘World’s Largest Diploma Mill’ [Now the ‘Crest Tower DHA-Criminal Enterprise’].

ACEI: In this week’s blog post, our guest contributor, Allen Ezell, offers an update on Axact, the fake diploma company, which The New York Times exposed in May 2015. Unfortunately, as Allen demonstrates, Axact is back in business and morphed into a number of new companies. Caveat Emptor!

Written by: Allen Ezell 

Axact (Private) Ltd., Karachi, Pakistan, ceased existing in about January 2020. The Axact main office building is now the Crest Tower DHA (Defense Housing Authority) [Pakistan Army]. This is cosmetic only!!  While ‘Axact’ was changing its name on the front of their building (cosmetic only), their employees inside never left their desks nor stopped selling fake degrees. As its employees sit in their cubes selling diplomas on both old and new fake schools, along with other scams, the name of their employer was being changed on their building ID cards. The game always remains the same! The old ‘Axact’ is now 7-10 new companies, with about two companies ‘call centers’ operating on each floor.

‘Axact’ is typical of fraudsters—it changes its colors (game) to blend in with its surroundings.  The same is true today in the era of corona virus, social distances, and bans on groups of people congregating together. ‘Axact’ has increased its ‘Online Education’ business to accommodate the millions of students, who because of the pandemic, can no longer attend their traditional brick and mortar schools, now turn to the Internet. The students are looking for accredited online courses they can take back to their schools when this crisis is over—instead, they  encounter ‘Axact’!!

Just to give you an idea of the numbers Axact is dealing with, here’s a quick snapshot:

  • 5,000 student inquiries per month with about 40% ‘enrollment.”
  • Monthly gross revenue is close to $2,000,000.
  • As a sales incentive, a $10,000 bonus is being offered when there has been $1,000,000 in sales for a single school.

‘Axact’ has about 900 employees at their Karachi and Islamabad call centers working mainly on their ‘fake classes’ scheme. They advertise via pop ups and banners in social media including  facebook. They lure their victims through ‘spider web’ type sites by type of profession, or field of interest, such as www.gulfonlineeducation.comwww.onlineengineeringguide.com,  and  www.onlinedegreeprofs.com.

Responding to these sites will probably lead the caller to the Karachi call centers and the school of their dreams which can provide the needed online classes. But it’s all smoke and mirrors! These persons impersonating university officials sell transcripts for the non-existent classes at $4,000+ each, then later offer the buyer ‘legalization’ at additional costs. It is a merry-go-round which continues until your pockets are empty!

In addition, ‘Axact” employees are also involved in other traditional telephone  scams such as lower mortgage loan interest rate, home improvements, home security and anything else which will generate revenue for the boss, Shoaib Ahmed Sheikh, his CFO Adeel Arshad, and their newest manager in charge of all daily operations, Akash Ramchandani. With all the publicity Axact has received over the past five years, Sheikh, now a convicted felon, although wealthy, is probably an outcast in much of their society. So what has he really gained?

Apparently, the ‘rule of law’ does not exist in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan! I have notified Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, the Pakistan Ambassador to the United States of America, Washington, D.C., in detail about ‘Axact.” I even told him the number of fake degrees sold to Pakistan citizens, and to the residents of the District of Columbia, and the nearby States of Virginia and Maryland, but to no avail. Again, Caveat Emptor!!

I will be co-presenting a webinar on “How to Detect Fake Online Programs and Schools” with ACEI’s President, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, on June 10th.  Save the date and contact ACEI at acei@acei-global.org , for information on registering for the webinar.

Be aware and be careful.

    Allen Ezell, FBI Agent (Retired), Education Consultant – Allen Ezell founded and was the head of the FBI’s DipScam diploma-mill task force. He is also the author of Counterfeit Diplomas and Transcripts and Accreditation Mills.


ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

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.

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