Sometimes it’s quite easy. You only have to enter certain shops in Gaborone and Francistown and see the cellphones they offer. I don’t think anyone truly believes that the “HiPhone” is really an Apple iPhone, despite their efforts of the Chinese manufacturers to make it look the part. Even if you’re tempted to overlook the name, the moment you hold the phone you realize it’s a incredibly cheap and nasty fake. The same goes for the fake Blackberry phones you can find. They’re obvious when you see or hold them.
I don’t think anyone can mistake fake DVDs for the real thing either. One of my kids recently told me that he’d been shown a film on DVD. He’d been lucky enough to see the new Steven Spielberg drama “War Horse”. That’s curious, I thought, that hasn’t even been released on DVD, it hasn’t even come to our cinemas yet. My suspicion that he’d been shown a pirated copy of the film was confirmed when he told me that the box said “War House”, not “War Horse”.
My biggest gripe with fakes is fake degrees from fake universities. This isn’t something harmless and innocent. I know of people here in Botswana who have obtained responsible, highly-paid jobs with large and respectable organizations as a result of claiming to have one of these fake degrees. One of them even has two of such degrees, each from a different fake online university. This person, who claims degrees from Ashwood “University” and Rochville “University” is a fraud. He deserves to be disciplined, fired and prosecuted, in that order.
The list of fake universities is a very long one. You can see a list of the currently popular ones on our blog but I thought it might be useful to list some of the clues that can help you identify a fake university. But why is this relevant to you? I think it’s important that everyone knows as much as possible about scams and scammers. It might be that you see a colleague with a degree, perhaps someone you are recruiting, or perhaps even your boss. It might even be that someone you know, a friend or relative proudly claims to have one. It might even be you that’s tempted to get one. It’s worth knowing how to spot a fake.
The biggest clue is the speed with which you can obtain the degree. I think we all know, don’t we, that it takes years to obtain a genuine degree. Nobody can get a degree in a matter of weeks. But that’s what these fake establishments offer. I chatted online with “an advisor” representing the fake “MUST University” about getting a degree in Nursing. I asked him “How soon can I get the degree?” and he answered “in 25 working days”. Isn’t that enough of a clue? Don’t we all know that no genuine degree can be obtained so quickly?
All I had to do to get this fake degree was give them US$ 1,700 using my credit or debit card. That’s the next clue. Money matters. Real universities will be open about what their degrees will cost but they won’t advertise how incredibly cheap they are and they certainly won’t negotiate if you claim you can’t afford their fees. A reader contacted me saying that he had also chatted online with Headway “University”, yet another fake. He told the advisor that “I don’t have money and the price kept going down like it was a flea market bargain session”. Real universities don’t behave like this.
Fake universities are also remarkably reluctant to name their teaching staff. As a comparison I looked at the web site of my old university, specifically the department I attended, and there is a huge list of the teaching and research staff, with pictures, email addresses, short academic profiles and precisely no secrecy. Try finding the name of a single lecturer at any of the fake ones and you’ll have trouble. That’s because they don’t exist.
Another common thing about them is that they are all entirely online, for obvious reasons. Of course there ARE genuine universities that operate online but there aren’t any that operate entirely online. Good examples of genuine distance-learning establishments include UNISA in South Africa and the Open University in the UK. Critically though both of these establishment still have a real, physical campus. There is a building you can visit containing real human beings. The fakes don’t, they’re no more than a call center, web site and email address.
Then there’s an ironic clue. Real universities are accredited and recognized by genuine accreditation bodies. Fake ones are not. Simple. However, do you ever see genuine universities shouting about their accreditation? The irony is that the fake universities are the ones who show their guilt by so loudly proclaiming that they’re accredited. Of course the accreditation bodies they claim have checked them out are fake themselves, set up by the same people who are running the fake university. Luckily there are various official web sites you can visit to find lists of genuine accreditation agencies and departments.
The single biggest clue that links all these fakes is that you don’t have to study to get one of their bogus degrees. You don’t have to do any real work, any studying, any essay-writing or research to get their silly piece of mass-produced paper. It’s all about the money, nothing more than that. Once you’ve sent them the money the degree is yours, that’s all there is to it.
My advise is to steer clear of fakes. Sooner or later you’ll realize you wasted your money. With a fake degree it might even be from a prison cell.
This week’s stars
- Fred and Moitse from Stuttafords at Game City for offering what a reader said was “one of the best customer service experiences I have had.”