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.
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:
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.
Then I saw this (notice the username).
Then as I scrolled all the way down I saw this;
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?