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This is what's referred to as "Diploma Mill" spam. If it sounds shady, that's because it is. In fact it's 100% illegal to sell fake diplomas, and more importantly it's a crime to represent yourself as having earned such a degree when applying for work.
The spam operation works like this:
- A sponsor handles the printing and shipping of the fake diplomas.
- Sponsor contacts spammers / mailers in the hopes of drumming up leads
- Spammer sends a message to millions of recipients (who probably, like me, don't want them)
- Inevitably one or two of them call the number, which is a voicemail prompt which reads as follows (for the number above, anyway - it varies):
Thank you for calling the university degree program. After the tone, please leave your name and two telephone numbers. One where you can be reached during the daytime hours and one for evenings.
Please do speak clearly after the tone. One of the registrars will be in touch with you shortly. Thank you and have a nice day.
From there, the spammer provides your voicemail response to the diploma sponsor. Lately that process has become a bit more labor intensive for the spammer, since (of course) so many people DON'T want to be contacted regarding this so-called "offer." As a result, several angry recipients of these emails have left voicemails in the hopes of tracking down who is behind them. This leads to issues for the spammer, who previously used to just hand over the voicemails only to be told by a pissed-off diploma sponsor that 4 out of 5 of the calls were angry complaints, or legitimate sounding responses that led to an angry person at the other end of the phone when it came time to reel them in.
So now the spammers have to filter out the complainers from the legitimate people who want to illegally purchase their fake diplomas.
You'll notice that they word the voicemail in such a way as to indicate that you're undergoing some University-style admissions process. In reality this is, as one might expect, a purely commercial process. You want the piece of paper. They want your money. No background check takes place. No school transcripts of any sort are required. All you need is a credit card and an address to ship the phony diploma to. And you're done.
The hazards involved with this flatly illegal practice should be obvious to anyone. Would you trust any new doctor with a diploma on their wall if you were aware that any percentage of real people actively spend their money on these documents? Would you trust a new hire in any field if they presented you with this document as evidence of their expertise? Would you trust a contractor to make any repairs or modifications to your property if they claimed to have a degree or diploma claiming their excellence at what they do?
This kind of fraudulent representation has already happened, and led to some horrifying consequences. In 2003 one Laurence Perry was convicted of manslaughter. He took an 8 year old girl off her insulin and she died. Later, it was discovered that he represented himself with fake medical degrees. That's an old story, so in all likelihood he's out of jail by now.
A similar story unfolded as recently as a week ago, when "Doctor" John Curran was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering, after he "treated" 18 year old Taylor Alves in 2002 for terminal ovarian cancer. He basically ruined her life, which was already in jeopardy after such a crushing diagnosis. He's behind bars for 12 years.
Certainly it's not only medical degrees or MBA's which are on offer from these operations.
The sponsors behind these illegal documents treat it as though it's any other product. One member of bulkerforum.biz (among numerous others) who goes by the name of "Princess" is clearly very experienced in this field. She posted the following back in October of 2007, and apparently generated quite a bit of interest:
Topic: Mailers needed
Joined: 15 Sep 2006
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 2:24 pm
Post subject: Mailers needed
for those who do not already know :)
I Sponsor a University program.
I am looking for more mailers to join our mailing group because my program is expanding.
A leads related program.
Pay starts at $18 to $20 depending on volume, for a good lead.
Q: What is a good lead?
A: A person who responds to your non URL adds who calls the phone number and leaves his contact information with a working phone number. It's so simple just too good to be true.
I use a non URL add that works through an email voice mail system, there is a phone number in our adds.
Only USA or Canada leads needed.
A qualified Mailer should be able to generate at least 10-20 good leads per day.
12 leads *$20 = 240$ USD a day
The conversion our good mailers have, is 70% good leads and about 30% bad. They make from $500 to $1500 weekly.
Payments, sent weekly via Bank Wire or WU.
I have a very good relationship with all our mailers and treat them well because I recognize that they are the fuel that helps run my business.
Please look me up and we can discuss this further.
You can contact me on ICQ # 338-284-118
Cute. "Princess" Dianna wants to sell us fake degrees.
She continued to push this promotion several more times right through November 2007.
Note the specificity of what constitutes a "good lead". No websites, period. This is probably due to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of sponsors such as Craig and Alton Poe, back in December 2004. You can read a brief description of their conviction here. The story itself is quite entertaining not only because it involves lowlife criminal spammers going to jail, but also because of how it came to the attention of the Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General:
Colby Nolan (pictured, left) is probably the first animal to hold this distinction -- an executive MBA from a university.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert isn't amused, since Colby is a pet cat and a Texas-based online college allegedly gave the feline a degree for $399.
Pappert's office used the pet cat to investigate an alleged scheme designed to promote and sell bogus online academic degrees.
The main reason it was so easy to prosecute them and send them to jail is because they gathered their so-called "diploma leads" via easy to identify websites. Diploma sponsors couldn't ignore this and so they adopted a variety of alternate methods of generating the leads, most notably via throwaway voicemail phone numbers.
None of this makes the practice any more legal, or any more legitimate. If you attempt to use a fake document to gain employment, that's a crime. in the United States: It's a federal offence. Several states have begun cracking down on these illicit operations, and more than half of the states in the US have specific laws on the books regarding the sale of these documents, or the use of them as personal documentation.
As with most other types of spam-related crime, this is generally considered a variety of fraud.
In the case of the Poe brothers, they also generated fake grades transcripts, which is a further federal offence.
As with most other products promoted via illegal spammers: you should avoid these at all costs. Princess said it herself: "It's so simple just too good to be true."
There is a fantastic blog which tracks illegal diploma mills called (appropriately) diplomamillnews.blogspot.com. Definitely worth a read.
One can only hope that spammers convicted of this type of fraud end up being represented by lawyers with similar "credentials."
SiL / IKS / concerned citizen