A Case of Massive Online Degree Fraud?

Software company under investigation in Pakistan after media exposé

On Monday, an explosive report in the New York Times exposed a Pakistani software company that has been allegedly making millions on fake, “U.S.-style” college degrees complete with bogus websites, certificates, testimonials, videos and other elements to support the enterprise. On Tuesday, law enforcement officials responded with a raid on Axact, the company in Karachi where the alleged scheme was orchestrated.

According to the NYT article, the fraud is on a sweeping scale. More than 370 websites tout college degrees with Western-sounding names, like “Newford University” and “Columbiana University,” with costs ranging from $350 for a high school diploma to $4,000 for a doctoral degree. It all adds up to “tens of millions of dollars,” the article reports, for the software company.

In the follow-up to Monday’s exposé, the Times reported on Tuesday that there has been a raid on Axact’s offices in Pakistan. The article states:

On Tuesday, investigators from the corporate crimes unit of the Federal Investigation Agency visited Axact’s headquarters in Karachi, as well as smaller offices in Islamabad, the capital, and Rawalpindi, seizing computers and taking in at least 24 people for questioning, several Pakistani law enforcement officials said.

No one had yet been arrested on any formal charges, and the company is denying all accusations of fraud. In fact, an odd twist to the story is that the company is planning to launch a new television network called Bol in the coming months. Company officials are reportedly pointing the finger back at the New York Times, claiming the investigation is all a scheme (together with other media organizations) to interfere with the launch of Bol.

The case rests with Pakistani investigators now, who apparently feel that the accusations, if true, could reflect poorly on the country and its business climate. The NYT reports:

In its statement, the Interior Ministry said that investigators would determine whether Axact “is involved in any such illegal work which can tarnish the good image of the country in the world.”

Whatever the case may be, the web and marketing material to support the “educational network” appear very sophisticated. On Columbiana University’s website, for example, a slick front page design tells visitors that “195 adjunct and core faculty members combine their expert competencies to produce the finest graduates,” and the site also touts a “global alumni network” and “burgeoning presence in 126 countries.”

Perhaps most interesting is a link to look “Inside the Campus” – which leads to a page that describes all the virtues of learning in a virtual environment through online classes. However, it appears to give an impression that there is an actual, physical campus:

A portion of a screenshot from Columbiana University's website

A portion of a screenshot from Columbiana University's website

Take a few minutes and check out the links below to learn more about University Housing. Be sure to visit the Future Student section of the website to learn how to apply for the online degree programs and explore the advantages and benefits to living on campus.

The problem – there are no links below that text that refer to any kind of “university housing,” nor can any be found.

In cases of alleged fraud, we often see that where there is smoke, there is fire. It seems apparent that some type of deception is taking place, and cases like this perfectly illustrate why thorough background checks on employees that include education history are absolutely essential. At CRI Group, our experts are trained to look closely at any degrees claimed by job candidates, both to verify that they were actually earned – and to verify the legitimacy of the college or university. In the case of anyone claiming a degree from a school in Axact’s network, our background screening would quickly determine they were not an accredited college or university.

It is the kind of information that any employer should want to know.