I was alerted by Dr. Free-Ride in her "Adventures in Ethics and Science" blog to the BBC uncovering a scam university in England, the "Irish International University". It seems that this outfit has been in operation for seven years, enabling young people from developing countries who pay the tuition to enter the UK.
They are awarded "credit" for all sorts of activities, and awarded their diplomas in impressive ceremonies in rooms rented at the University of Oxford and Cambridge. The IIU is of course accredited - but by an organization that appears to belong to the president as well, and is not actually recognized by any governmental bodies (besides the tax office and the post office, one assumes) in the UK.
This demonstrates the problem of who accredits the accreditation officials. And demonstrates that people desperate for (Western) degrees, but especially people from developing countries, are willing to pay for their certificates.
The IIU even offers an online form for verifying the graduates. This is a simple PHP script, and they explain clearly the structure of the student numbers: 4 digits. The second one I tried was a hit, and I obtained the name, photo, passport number, course program and "graduation year". I suppose this is so that employers can "verify" the degrees. And my, the pictures are grand, with robes and all.
What a find for identity thieves - during a rather long-winded session in which I had WLAN access I determined that the student numbers are assigned sequentially between 2000 and 2462, starting again at 4349 and running to 5145. Extremely primitive programming, I was not locked out upon trying sequential numbers.
Continuing on I chose Hans J. Kempe, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. I chose him because his picture looked so strange, sort of a handyman playing dressup. And indeed, a quick Google search turns him up: he's a tool and die maker, who has amassed titles and jobs that sound very grand. I stumbled over his degree as a "Doctor of Naturopathy". What on earth is that?
Googling again I find Canyon College, a college in Idaho that lets you register online and get degrees in all sorts of fields. The page states, of course, that "Enrollment not available to Idaho residents". Checking Google maps, we find the street address has 2 houses, across from the Vallivue school. How do they get all these programs into these two houses?
What is Naturopathy? This seems to be some sort of quackery, according to Quackwatch. Oh, and this is the Clayton College the esteemed Mr. Kempe has his named degree from. All of the others are degrees without names of the institutions.
These fake "universities" seem to be all over the place. How does a student find a reputable institution? How do employers or other universities find out if the degrees presented are reputable?
Update: More links about fake universities: