Sunday, 16 February 2014

Be brave

Standing up for your rights isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes courage.

To be fair, most companies are fairly receptive to criticism. Nobody likes being criticized but a sensible, mature adult and a sensible, mature company will be smart enough to take it on the chin and deal with it.

However there are times when you need a bit more backbone, when you need to assert yourself more than normally.

I was taught at school that there’s only one way to deal with bullies. With courage. I know that’s easy to say but the alternative is to allow yourself to be a victim and it’s victims that bullies feed upon. It only takes a few people to stand up to them and bullies show themselves to be the cowards they really are.

Over the last few years one of the biggest, longest-running issues Consumer Watchdog has dealt with has been the surge of fake universities selling fake degrees for money. The names have varied but the idea has always been identical. Whether they call themselves Belford, Northern Port, Panworld, Headway, Corllins, Ashwood, Rochville, MUST, OLWA or McFord “university” it’s always the same thing. Hand over a few hundred US dollars and within days you’ll get a degree certificate in the post at the level and in the subject of your choice. Want a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate in Nursing, Law or Clinical Psychology? Just cough up a few hundred dollars and it’s yours. No essays, no dissertations and no exams are necessary.

Personally I’m not sure who I despise the most, the fake establishments selling these bogus qualifications or the people who buy them. Probably the latter. Let’s make this perfectly clear. If someone gets a job or a promotion, in fact any financial benefit by having a fake qualification, they’re a fraud. They’ve taken a job from a more deserving candidate who got his or her qualifications the hard way and they deserve to be fired and then have a charge of fraud laid against them with the Police. And then they deserve to serve prison time.

The fake degree industry is sophisticated. Many of the fakes that you find online and all of the ones mentioned earlier, are part of an “empire” of fakes operated from Pakistan by a guy called Salem Kureshi. He’s been forced to shut down some of them but it’s easy enough for him and his rivals to create new ones in moments.

The amount of money the people running these bogus establishments are making is clearly huge and they are very keen to protect themselves which is why they often adopt bullying approaches to defending their ill-gotten gains.

In 2012, following our exposure of the so-called Headway “university” we received an emailed letter, claiming to be from a law firm calling itself “Joyce and Nielsen” demanding that we retract our suggestion that Headway was a fake and threatening us with fire and brimstone if we failed to do so.

There were various curious things about the letter we received. It didn’t give an address. The English used on their web site was not what you would expect from a law firm based in an English-speaking country. The content of their web site had been largely copied from the web sites of two legitimate law firms, one in the USA, the other in the UK. Their “Managing Partner” didn’t seem to exist. They claimed to be members of a non-existent legal association. I could find no trace of them being a registered company. In short, this law firm didn’t really exist. The people behind Headway “university” were so troubled by being exposed that they had created a fake law firm to send fake threats about fake universities.

As you can imagine I ignored the fake threat and just posted the fake letter online for everyone to laugh at.

It didn’t stop there. A month later they set up an entirely fake web site and a blog that they called “Consumer Watchdog BW”. Both the web site and the blog stole comments we’d made about Headway and adjusted them to say the complete opposite. My comment “It's a fake university, that's for sure” was transformed into “It’s not a fake university, that’s for sure”. They’ve also posted fake comments from fake visitors to support their claims that Headway is genuine.

More recently they created another blog that specifically targeted me. This one was entitled “Truth About Richard Hariman” (no, they couldn’t spell my name correctly) and contained a single entry. This is what it said:
“Richard Hariman is a paid blogger. Who gets paid to publish and create different sort of blogs just to defame organizations. He charges $2000 for this service. His aim is just to confuse consumers to get the good and real things and education. Kindly do not publish his blogs and believe on him. He is a big big big liar.”

Frankly I wish I DID get paid $2,000 every time I blog. Given that so far I’ve written 1,105 entries on the Consumer Watchdog blog I’m owed more than P20 million. Please note that I want it in cash please?

The fact is that the people behind these fake universities are upset that people around the world are waking up to their scams and are talking about it. Better still, the people who bought fake qualifications from these people are also beginning to feel some anxiety about being exposed as frauds.

As a result they’re all becoming bullies and, like I was taught a school, the only way to respond to bullies is to remember one of the best quotes from Winston Churchill:
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
My message to the crooks running fake universities is simple.

We’ll never give in.

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