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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March, 2003, 12:19 GMT
Bogus degree sites shut down
Degree certificates
Bogus degrees fooled hundreds of employers
Several websites offering fake British degrees for up to 1,000 each have been closed down following a joint operation in the UK and US.

The certificates, from 14 made-up institutions, were used by hundreds of unqualified people, mainly in North America, to gain jobs in areas such as teaching, computing and childcare.

The operation, which employed 30 staff in Romania, targeted millions of people every day with circular e-mails.

Trading standards officers in Enfield, north London, worked with their US counterparts for four years before the US District Court ordered the closure of the sites.

Investigator Tony Allen said: "It was a difficult operation to crack. The problem was that the people sending out the e-mails weren't conning anyone.

'Worrying'

"Those people who bought the degrees knew exactly what they were doing. The complaints we received were actually from colleagues of those who got jobs by lying.

"It's worrying that they got into such important and responsible positions using the fake degrees."

Among the institutions created for the websites were the University of Palmers Green, the University of Wexford and Harrington University.

The operation, run by a man and a woman, both Israeli, was based at offices in Israel, Romania and the US. It is thought to have made millions of pounds.

The bogus institutions used a drop box in Green Lanes, London, as a postal address.

Under the Education Reform Act of 1988 it is an offence to supply a degree unless approved to do so by the Education Secretary.

Higher education minister Margaret Hodge said: "Many overseas organisations use the UK's name and higher education reputation to offer their own 'degrees' over the internet, so I welcome this action to clamp down on such operations.

"This demonstrates that action can be taken with the use of international co-operation. I take this matter very seriously."



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