Would you pay $800 for a degree?

A 3-year undergraduate course for a UK university costs £9,25o. So for just shy of £30k you can walk away with that diploma paper and a big smile on your face. 

Now, as I am one of those who has “invested” in myself, one of my classmates and I thought let’s take a look at how our diploma will look like. So a quick search on google images led us to a discovery.

You can buy just about any diploma online. There is a website called fakediplomamall.com and their database of diplomas is HUGE.

At first glance the website looks suspect. It’s a bit messy and it’s hard to navigate. There’s hundreds of them. Every university you could imagine. From Milwaukee to Kuala Lumpur, they’re all there.

Each university has a small about section giving detailed information on the university and it’s campus, the ones I checked out I had been lifted from official university websites.

However, the descriptions also had a huge array of key words and phrases to maximise any chance of SEO but none of it makes any sense when read. 

This left me puzzled. I genuinely could not believe that a site like this could be operational let alone functioning and making profit.

The transaction process requires 50% payment before design then the rest of payment after it’s ready to ship. Nowhere in the websites does it state any pricing structure.

There’s an email, and a WhatsApp Number as contact. It’s too tempting not to try and understand more about this website so I took my shot, and wrote from a non university email with some questions that I hope won’t raise too much suspicion. 

email to fake diploma website

I sent the email and then went back to the website where I saw a WeChat barcode. WeChat is pretty much the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, it has over 1 billion users monthly.

I had some suspicion that this website was perhaps ran in China due to seeing some mandarin text in parts of the website. I also ran the country code of the WhatsApp number and sure enough, China.

Whats even more interesting is that next to this barcode, there’s this:

fake diploma mall additional service

I saw “passport” & “visa” and realised that this could go way above just a fake degree, this service could be producing fraudulent passports.

So, while I waited for the reply, I got in contact with the other most important party in this situation; the university. I wanted to know who dealt with the diplomas and certificates at my university, London South Bank. 

This would be able to give me some kind of reference when looking at how legit the fake diploma looks and act as a kind of benchmark. 

I got in touch with Martin who works at my universities degree and administration office, I hoped he would be able to clarify a few things, mainly I wanted to know if the administration office had any clue this existed.

I got a reply from the website. He asked me for which university and after my reply he hit me up with the price. $800 for a “98% accurate” degree paper.  This included a tracked and signed UPS delivery. The website shows the samples obviously watermarked but you can see the details down to the wax seal.

I googled how much it was to get one of these seals to see how easy this step of the forgery was. It turns out you can pick up a custom one for £7 on Etsy. A tiny fraction of that $800 dollars. 

As I waited for the reply from the university I did some more digging and stumbled on another website called buy diploma online. They seem like a USA based site and are more above board.

In their FAQ section they clear up the forgery issue by saying:

“Our products are for Novelty purpose only. We won’t do anything that violates the law.”

They say it’s common for a fake degree to be used as a joke from some made up University. I can imagine the scenario, a group of uni mates getting together and thinking that A first class honours at the “University of Being a Legend” would be a good gift.

This website also gives some information on the actual production. They say that they won’t use any copyright but stye do use the best possible materials to ensure a real feeling end product.

“Often makers of fake diplomas source the paper or parchment from the same suppliers who supply paper or parchment to major universities or colleges. This definitely ensures that the fake diplomas are of the same quality standards as the original diploma.”

This makes sense when thinking about fake diploma mall and their extensive collection of samples. 

“Technically, neither making nor buying a fake diploma is in any way illegal.  The companies that operate selling fake diplomas are doing so for novelty purposes only. “

So as far I can understand, this particular website with prices displayed and a wide range of products they say are for “novelty use” such as for prop-use in films or jokes. Their prices don’t seem to go over $110 dollars, they have been around since 1998 and clear up most FAQ’s quite well.

In the case of the original website I found “fake diploma mall” isn’t quite so clear, their website is very messy and nowhere near as professional as this one. 

This is leading me to believe that their intentions are not so innocent. 

Putting myself in the consumers shoes, i began to look at any reviews I could find for fake diploma mall. 

First I saw this.

review of fake diploma mall

Then I saw this (notice the username).

review of fake diploma mall

Then as I scrolled all the way down I saw this;

fake diploma mall review

 

Just as I saw this an e-mail came through to tell me that all they services are priced at $800. So that includes a passport and visa service. Crazy.

I needed to know what organisations are in place to stop these kind of websites and see how big of a problem this industry is.

I get an e-mail from the university. I got a reply from Martin, the team leader of the conferments and student archives team.

“We do see attempts to present forged award certificates, but these documents are usually poor imitations of our degree certificates. Even when we do come across ‘good’ forgeries, they usually stand out to us. It is that 2% difference that makes all the difference!”

Martin also told me that there are certain security features which can not be replicated. And this is what makes all the difference.

He also drew my attention towards the Higher Education Degree Datacheck or “Hedd”. This was started back in 2011 to fight this exact issue. 

They have been funded by the government’s higher education investment plan and now provide hundreds of universities and employers with a degree checking services to help cut down on forgeries.

The only way to verify their authenticity is to check with the issuing institution or Hedd. Presenting this documentation as genuine in job applications constitutes fraud by misrepresentation and can lead to prosecution resulting in prison sentences of up to ten years.

They also say that over the last few years there have been an increase in forgeries. And that none of these are legal. 

Martin also told me the university receives over 5000 requests for legit checks on degrees from screening agencies. Most of them are fine but a few forged examples pop up.

The fake degree market has been around for a while.

Back in 2018 the BBC revealed a huge trade of fake degrees from Pakistan which had been sold to thousands of uk nationals. 

The case here though is different. The Universities revealed in the BBC report are actually fake universities.

By that I mean, they don’t exist, never have and probably never will. They are completely fabricated for the pure intentions of making money. 

The full BBC report can be found here. Although it’s not the same case as my investigation it’s useful to know that the industry of forged documents has a big impact. 

Unfortunately, my investigation didn’t come with an unlimited budget so I didn’t really fancy paying for a $800 fake diploma that might never arrive just to run a legit check on it.

This investigation also began to ask moral questions. The document forging in itself is illegal. Obtaining one and attempting to use is also against the law. 

The fraudulent document market has revealed itself to me as nothing more than a money scam. There is no justification for buying a fake as we know they get checked and are detectable amongst real ones.

It’s clear that the sole purposes of these websites is to take advantage of vulnerable people who are desperate for a degree but can’t afford one. Or even the kids who failed and are desperate to impress their parents with that diploma.

I answered all the questions I wanted to know. But in writing this, I found a bigger question that isn’t so simple to pin down:

Who is more at blame here?  those making and distributing the fake degrees or those wanting to buy and use them?

 

 

 

 

 

Revolution Season: Protests continue worldwide

Over the last few weeks protests have been erupting around the world. Many are saying that the protests were sparked after the people of Hong Kong began their fight against legislation that would permit their extradition to mainland China. The protests had over a million people on the streets, since then it has caused a tsunami around the globe 

video by Callum, https://www.instagram.com/bloke.blog/ 

The Catalan people have once again taken to the streets last week. This came after the Spanish government found that the original 2017 Catalan referendum for independence was in fact an illegal process. They tried 12 independence leaders and sentenced 9 with charges such as sedition and miss-use of public funds. The general strike has lead to rioting, according to local paper El Periodico De Catalunya, 77 people were injured Catalunya has been fighting for independence for over 150 years, new generations are raised with the idea of independence. 

“I fight for my grandma who died waiting to see a doctor at a public hospital” Photo – Yasna Mussa

Chile. Violent unrest has manifested across the country. So far a staggering 5000 people have been detained, and 19 have died. The capital of Santiago has been turned upside down, roadblocks, fires and riots have been breaking out over the last week. Chilean police has also been accused of using brute force by the public. They have been seen using several large water canonns and even began firing shots at protesters. ‘Los Chilenos” are fighting for huge change, they are asking the government to escape their systematic inequality and reform their socio-economic system. President Sebastian Piñeira has announced planned reforms to calm the storm, the people are still not convinced as riots carry on for the 5th day. 

“La Paz” Bolivia’s capital, literally translates to “The Peace” Photo – Bruno Sgarzini

Neighbouring country Bolivia is also currently protesting amid confusion regarding their election results. The first set of results were released only two hours after the polling stations closed on Sunday. The results meant that Carlos Mesa, who is challenging Evo Morales for presidency, would make it through to a second round of votes. The website with the votes results stopped being updated and no second round of votes would be needed for Morales to remain in office. Mesa said “those results that are part of a shameful, consummated fraud that is putting Bolivian society in a situation of unnecessary tension.” Morales has is being accused of overstaying his welcome. Bolivian people are demanding change, capital of La Paz took to streets to fight the alleged fraud. Clashes continue out between protesters and police 

“God” unites Muslims and Christians in Tripoli. Photo – Omar El Imadi

The Lebanese revolution as it’s being called, initiated after mismanaged fires engulfed the mountainside. After this, Saad Hariri’s government announced a proposal of new taxes to be imposed, causing the biggest and longest revolution to date. Their fight is against institutionalised corruption that has been on going for decades. Despite a huge government debt of $86 billion, ministers salaries have annually increased 7.5% for the last decade, meanwhile the minimum living wage has been stagnant since 2012. The worldwide Lebanese community are demanding the governments resignation. Protests have been taking place in London, Montreal and 40 other cities across the globe. Unlike the violence in South America; food, transport and medication is being supplied free for protesters. There are also food stands and street cleaning groups being organised by locals. The ‘tax intifada’ reaches it’s 7th day, it’s being now more than ever being seen as a sign of hope for the Lebanese people. 

Deforestation rises for the first time in a decade

For over half a century the Amazon rainforest has fallen victim to deforestation. It produces over 20% of the oxygen in the world. In 2018 the rate of deforestation rose for the first time in a decade.

INPE, Brazil’s leading force in special research projects, has said that in the years 2017-18 Brazil lost a total area of 7,900km². A staggering 41% above the official target.

This came after president Jair Bolsonaros’s new Brazilian government merged the agricultural and environmental ministries in order to cut costs. In result, the influence of the environmental agency has weakened. Meaning that it’s now easier to pass laws that support agriculture, even if they have a negative environmental impact.

Bolsonaro also pledged to cap fines on destroying rainforest areas. However, fines that are due from before 2008 won’t need to be paid. This came as a surprise; the years 1994-2004 were the worst years for deforestation ever on record.

 

Brazil’s deforestation detection system: SAD, noticed a 24% increase in forest loss from August 2018 to march this year. This was labeled ‘legal’ deforestation. It’s certain that the government would’ve known about this.

The demand for Brazil’s natural products is ever-growing. In order to maintain it’s economic growth, it’s clear why the government would encourage this scale of farming. Brazil remains one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Two of Brazil’s biggest exports are soya beans and meat. They contribute a total of $46.8 Billion a year to its economy, a total of 20% of total exports. With this comes serious environmental cost, as both soya and cattle farming require several acres to yield.

There are also other factors contributing to Amazonian destruction. The illegal logging industry is still active. Often linked to drug and arms trafficking; in the last year, police filed a total of 823 criminal charges against logging-related offenses.

Greenpeace Brazil has warned against the severity of deforestation. They say that the rainforest is essential to balance the greenhouse emissions in South America. There is also worries as the worlds extreme level of oil consumption continues. Many areas of the forests are being lost in hopes that crude mining explorations may be a success.

Hydroelectric projects have left huge areas of the Amazon flooded. As well as this, plants are built to power the cattle and soy farms as well as industrial mines. The Brazillian government has already planned to build several more dams in the next 20 years.

Brazil’s ever-expanding road network has also taken its toll on the rainforest. In it’s bid to maintain economic growth, roads and train networks have been built to help with logistics the surging demand for its natural resources.

Brazil is growing. But it’s diverse rainforest is doing the opposite. The question now is are they able to find a sustainable rate of farming and serious efforts to re-plant and cultivate?

VT and Radio Workbook

Week 1 

  • First introduction to VT Packages  
  • Learned how to book out equipment  
  • Getting used to using iPods and exporting media 

Week 2  

  • Health and safety forms 
  • Safe practice training 
  • GV’s and filming practice with VT group 
  • Premier pro introduction 

Week 3 

  • Group training for voice with Vanessa 
  • First time learning about radio etiquette.  

Week 4 

  • Beginning of research 
  • Learned how to perform and film piece to camera 
  • Had some more radio training and podcast tips  
  • Also learned about story angles and how crucial they can be for a good story. 
  • Prep for site visit next week 

Week 5  

  • Visited parliament to film a VT on Brexit protests 
  • First time filming at a large event 
  • Helped us find our feet and learn more about the best ways to go about approaching scenarios. 
  • Also learned the proper procedure of renting equipment 

Week 6 

  • First attempt at editing a full vt 
  • Got to grips with the editing software first hand  
  • Beginning to understand sound levels 
  • Started to look at how to make a vt transition seamlessly. 

Week 7 

  • vowed VT’s in class and discussed angles and what shots make it more interesting to watch for viewers 
  • Did some work on interviewing, learned techniques and placement in front of the camera. 
  • Filmed vox pope around uni as practice for our finals vt’s 

Week 8 

  • Viewed more VT’s in class and further discussion on how to get the perfect VT. 
  • Began looking at possible stories for both radio and video packages. 
  • Met as a group to discuss what we would like to film and what we think would make a good vt. 

Week 9 

  • Recap on how to submit vt and what to do in order to gain top marks 
  • Began planning for a radio interview and vox pops 
  • Script writing for radio complete  
  • Booked out equipment for VT Filming 

Week 10 

  • Recorded radio script and began editing 
  • Arranged to meet the interviewee 

Week 11 

  • Filmed final VT using the criteria and the tutorials we had to try and achieve the best possible. Filming techniques included, piece to camera, close up, vox pop alternations. 
  • Putting files on a shared workspace so all team members and editor could access. 

Week 12 

  • Reviewed final submissions 
  • Re-edited and checked both VT and radio packages. 
  • Met with the group to write final sheet  
  • Submitted both packages to Moodle with supporting documents. 

Brexit Blog: Filming at Parliament

On Tuesday the we visited parliament to film VT’s on the never ending topic of Brexit. It was a lovely day, clear skies and nice sunshine, so with this a lot of people were out to play.

Union jacks, big red signs reading ‘betreyal’ , and the EU stars were the common sights outside the houses. The protest wasn’t huge but it had a presence. Cars would drive past and beep, even the occasional “BREXIT!!” scream from a window.

We first started by shooting some still shots on a tripod as we thought this would make a good background to the voiceover we had planned. Then we walked about the area looking for a pontential interviewee.

eventually we found the perfect candidate, political satire artist Kaya Mar. Originalluy from germany he has been in the uk for over 30 years and knows alot of individuals who could be afected first hand by the brexit backlash.

A lot of time could’ve been saved with appropriate planning, however, we were very happy with the outcome of our interview. A shot-by-shot plan would’ve come in handy in helping with editing and could’ve made everything a bit easier.

But it all came together easily enough and the footage only took us a couple of hours to gather. It was a good exercise and i wouldnt shy away from doing a VT again, maybe about something a little less mundane than brexit.

Help From Harford : Claims and Statistics

Voted 2017’s word of the year, the phrase’Fake News’ is now everywhere and with this people are beginning to question what they are being told more. Statistical claims are a huge opportunity for readers to consume fake news.

Tim Harford has said that people should observe their feelings toward a claim more, as this helps us understand if we really believe it to be true or not because we can’t change the way we feel. I can understand where he is coming from, as I’m sure most people have a gut feeling.

Harford says that the problem is solved by realizing that we have biases and we need to be aware. He also says that we need to get to the bottom of what a claim actually means.

Does it have any detail? does it use relevant data? observation and analysis of claims is the best way to process statistics and claims. A google search could be the thing that’s stopping us from knowing the truth behind a claim, so don’t be shy to open up safari.

On the whole Tim Harford encourages us to be more critical when reading statistics, data and claims. He says to ask yourself what’s been left out and understand what the back story is.

These points seem fairly obvious but in the rush of today’s world where nobody has time for anything, taking time to think about a claim could be the difference between you sharing fake news or not.

After listening to him, Tim Harford’s advice has really come to light when earlier this week I was presented with a statistic on Facebook’s relationship with its users.

It claimed that there are 30,000 people employed last year to help tackle the fake news problem it faces. I Hardly believed this and not to my surprise the claim actually included staff that was employed work for Facebook in all sectors of the company.

Harford’s advice boils down to encouraging us to take a step back and analyze what we are looking at but not to put our feelings aside.

The Hollywood Truth

Informationisbeautiful.net has completed a new set of research data that has analyzed how ‘true’ those big ‘based on a true story’ blockbusters really are.

The truth behind Hollywood 'true stories'.
Colour coded graph on informationsbeautiful.net. The pink is false information used in the films and the blue is the factual truth.

The data is broken down into scenes on each film, being color-coded on how true the events actually are. We can click on each scene to show the reason behind their analysis. providing facts that either stem from historical information or from the book the films are based on.

If there is some kind of truth behind the scenes the data also shows this and takes it into account when giving a final percentage on how true the film as a whole is.

The problem with this data is that there are many more false scenes than I expected. Films can serious shape perception of historical events for some individuals. In some way the films with a low percentage of true scenes could be seen as fake news.

Our understanding of what actually happened can be altered after watching films. We tend to trust those 5 words that pop up before the opening credits a little too much.

The data presented is a testament to how Hollywood is capable of constructing a political and social history designed specifically for public viewing.

Christian Marclay: ‘The Clock’ at the Tate modern

‘ TH:EC:LO:CK ‘ The entrance to the immersive cinema showing the film.

The clock is an installation created in 2010 by artist Christian Marclay. In essence it is a 24 hour montage of video footage from films and television. It has been critically acclaimed fro some time now and when it came to my doorstep I was sure to go see it.

The film tells the time.  The footage selected either has a clock showing the time or someone speaking about the time. Each clip is about 30 seconds to a minute long. When my watch read 4:47 so did the clock on the screen and the character speaking about it. The film moves with time and we are along for the journey.

Marclay was been able to keep my interest for two hours, and it would’ve been more if the Tate closed later. The clips seemed to flow effortlessly. He sometimes used the same film at a later time and this made me feel less distant from the film as I was already familiar with some of these characters. 

The film was shown in a huge projected cinema screen with extremely comfortable sofas. I sunk in and took in the film as much as I could. It’s on show until the 20th of January. Unfortunately there are no more 24hr showings of the piece, however I will definitely be returning at other times to see some of what I missed.

 

Waterloo fountain keeping passengers hydrated

Waterloo became the second train station in London to install a drinking water fountain. Following in Charring Cross’ footsteps Waterloo now provides customers with free drinking water.

It can be found on the balcony above the main area on the station opposite the entrances to platforms 1&2 in-between The Cabin and Carluccio’s. 

The drinking water station allows passengers to fill up their water bottles. This is in the bid that it will reduce waste and encourage them to re use bottles they have already purchased, this is also a huge way of saving commuters money.

Network Rail says it plans to install further drinking stations in London stations ” Keeping your hydration on track” 

Visualising through VR

Photo courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory

The 11 ideas chosen by the knight foundation all have potential to change the way we consume news. The one with most opportunity is ‘Dataverses: Information Visualization into VR Storytelling’ by The Outliers Collective. Their idea proposes the use of videos and sound to make the viewer feel immersed in the scene that they are watching.  

This could allow for viewers to be more sensitive with subjects such as war, famine and other natural or man-made disasters. The technology would allow a better understanding of circumstances that most readers would never experience otherwise. This could also be used to evoke empathy to viewers, which could be beneficial for fundraisers or awareness videos that could outline the suffering or struggle of others. 

There are a few pitfalls of this idea. The most prominent one being that some users may find it too immersive and it could take a negative effect on their mental health if they are not prepared for such emotional content. However, there could be a warning screen before the experience starts to alert viewers that they might find some content distressing.