How to Spot a Fake: Avoiding Degree Mill Scams


The New York Times recently wrote an article [2] exposing an alleged degree mill empire run by Axact, a well-known and respected company in Pakistan with over 2,000 employees. While most people seeking these online degrees were aware that they were purchasing fakes, a few were reportedly duped into paying thousands of dollars for degrees from websites with purposefully misleading names like Barkley University and Columbiana University. Whether knowingly or not, the use of fake diplomas can have serious consequences for those caught presenting them as legitimate credentials.

Since the NYT article went to press on May 17, five Axact executives have been arrested by Pakistani authorities and most of the company’s 370 fake university websites have gone offline. But there are hundreds, possibly thousands of others still operating.

In a global society in which employers and institutions of higher education seek talent from around the world, it is critical that we effectively authenticate degrees and create safeguards to eliminate the use of these fraudulent credentials. We should not accept credentials simply because they seem to be from a legitimate university. The key to fighting diploma mills and the use of fraudulent degrees is to verify all credentials earned in the U.S. or in a foreign country before accepting them as authentic.

The following steps [3] go a long way in determining the authenticity of academic credentials, whether earned in the United States or abroad:

1. Determine that the institution awarding the degree actually exists by checking with relevant accrediting agencies and the ministry/department of education in the country in which the institution is based. Each country has its own regulations and governing agencies that oversee secondary and higher education institutions. You can use those resources to verify that the institution is recognized in its home country.

2. Even if the institution does exist and is recognized, check to see if the school offers the degree and program of study indicated on the documents.

3. Be certain that the timeline of a student’s educational background matches with the credentials being evaluated. For example, a student should have earned a secondary school degree before being admitted into an undergraduate program. You should also be sure to check the applicant’s age against the graduation date to make sure those details add up.

4. Verify the authenticity of the credential in question. This can be achieved through a document verification request or by requiring that documents be sent directly from the awarding institution or the relevant issuing authority.

By understanding how to effectively verify credentials, academic institutions and employers can mitigate risk, recruit applicants with confidence and ensure that qualified candidates receive the recognition and acceptance they deserve.

Additional Resources to Obtain Authentic International Credentials