Thursday, January 03, 2013

Buying a Verifiable Degree Online – Is It Legal?

A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from someone asking me if the website was legitimate or not. So I decided to check the site out and see what it was all about. I almost fell off my chair when I saw the load of hogwash on this site and the lies they are trying to sell, so I thought it would be a good idea, not only to discuss the content of this specific website, but also buying university degrees in general.

At first glance this website should already give you loads of warning signs. On the main page there is not only this cheesy image of a girl studying (no offence to the girl in the photo), but the site is poorly designed with several parts overlapping each other. If these guys were really serious about making a good impression they would have spent more time on the design of this website:

So they say their degrees are:
  • Reliable, legal and official: That would be a no-brainer. Who wants an unreliable, illegal and unofficial degree?
  • Secure: What does that mean? Will they send it to you in a fireproof safe?
  • Confidential: So does that mean you can't show your degree to anyone, because it is confidential?
  • Registered: Another no-brainer, what is the use of an unregistered degree, if there is such a thing anyway.
  • Recognised: Any degree can be recognised it all depends on by whom. It will bring you no joy if it is only recognised by the guy who will pay you $1 an hour.

On their main page they also have the following text in an image:

Now this is very odd, especially if you take into account the importance of having your website crawled by the search engines. Everyone wants to rank high on Google, Yahoo and Bing, but you can't do this if you put all your important keyword rich text in an image. They either do not now how to optimise their website for search engines or they do not want to be found by them. So lets take a look at what they are saying here. You can get a degree from ANY university worldwide, within DAYS! Well I can already tell you about a dozen universities who will never hand out degrees like candy. So this is just a downright lie. How in the world can something like this be legal and above board? As a matter of fact, I can't see how anyone in his/her right state of mind can believe in junk like this. I think you have a better chance of losing weight with one of those ridiculous weight-loss pills than getting a legal university degree through these guys.

Lets take a look at the first paragraph on their "About" page:

"We help you purchase a university degree online. You can get a university degree very quickly that is verifiable, legal, accredited, and registered. You don’t need to attend any college or university, don’t need to do any coursework or assignments, and pass any examination."  

No coursework, assignments or exams? That sounds too good to be true... wait a minute it is too good to be true. If it was really possible to obtain a verifiable, legal, accredited and registered university degree, just by paying a couple of bucks (okay, maybe a couple hundred), why is there still so many conventional universities in business where you actually study and write exams? Big names like Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, etc. would have been obsolete by now if this was for real.

At the bottom of the main page they also have the following "About Us" statement:

"For 20 years, continues its mission to help individuals build their dreams by providing degrees that are fast, authentic, verifiable. reliable, and 100% legitimate. With over 100 linkages to accredited universities worldwide, it gives hope to those who want to upgrade lifestyle, change career, build confidence, and create a better future"

Over 100 linkages to accredited universities worldwide? I thought you guys said I could get a degree from ANY university in the world? According to some sources on the web there are over 9,000 universities world-wide, so over 100 linkages is cutting it a bit short.

They also have a Reputation page where the picture becomes more clear about who these guys really are. According to this page, instant degrees review have said some nice things about them. Who is instant degrees review? Well, they link the text "instant degrees review" with the Wikipedia page for Bachelor of Fine Arts, so much for linking to the page of the reviewer. One interesting piece of text on this page is the following two sentences:

"The instant degrees review will also tell you that confidentiality is guaranteed by the institutions offering the instant degrees. It is also a legally binding on your part never to reveal the link between the institution providing you the instant degree and the name of the institution from which you graduate."

Right, so that is where the confidentiality part comes in. You are not allowed to say that you bought a degree from University ABC through Who in this world will ever be so dumb to buy a degree and then spill the beans about the source of the degree during a job interview. Someone as dumb as that should not even be allowed to buy a degree. By the way, what is a legally binding? Is it some sort of glue only sold by lawyers?

On their FAQ page you will find more inconsistencies about their services, for example:

Q: Do I have the right to know the name of the university where I got the accredited online degree?
A: Based on the confidential agreement with the university, we cannot release the name of the university or college to you. However, we guarantee that the degree is authentic, accredited, verifiable and legal. This is also to protect the privacy of our existing customers. We are 100% confident that our service is extremely secured.

Wait a minute, we just learned that you are not allowed to reveal the link between the institution providing the instant degree and the name of the institution from which you graduated, but how on earth can you do that if you don't even know from which university you graduated. Just imagine what your degree certificate will look like. "From the University of .... um... we can really say. This is to certify that .....". Yeah, that is going to help a lot to get that job you always wanted. Employers will never notice this, right?

Q: What makes you different from other university online degree services?
A: We had been in business for more than 20 years and we became online in 2000. Thousands of our customers had acquired their accredited online degree through us. We provide transcript, student records, reference letter, appreciation letter, acceptance letter and graduation letter. In addition, we can also offer lawyer certification and notarization (no lawyer will be that dumb if the paper is diploma mill). If you want, we can also provide graduation grown and hood for your graduation from our list of universities. We can also provide several public universities degree for you (extra fees may apply). Please check out if other providers can do this.

This is where the site starts to sound like a 419 scammer. Just read the answer again. We became online in 2000, who speaks like that? We provide transcript, sounds like some indigenous tribal leader. Why would you need a lawyer to certify and notarize an original, legitimate degree certificate, that is already adequately valid in its own right? If you need a lawyer to certify it, then there must be something wrong with it. "(no lawyer will be that dumb if the paper is diploma mill)", there they go with that tribal tone again. But they are right, no lawyer will be that dumb, only one who bought his/her law degree.

Last, but not least, they can provide your graduation grown (or perhaps hey meant gown) and hood that matches the colours of the so-called university where you apparently graduated. Why would you want something like this? The answer is simple, so that you can take a bunch of fake photos in your graduation gown and hood. Can't you see what these swindlers are doing, they are cooking up fake academic records. All these records do not matter anyway. Employers don't give a damn about your student records, acceptance, appreciation or any reference letter for that matter, they are only interested in your qualification and a valid, legitimate, original certificate to prove that you obtained it in an honest way. Do you really think your graduation gown is going to convince your employer that you deserve that promotion? For all we know you could have worn that gown in your high school Batman play.

On their Reasons To Get Degrees page, found under the Services section of the website, that makes no logical sense anyway, they also make the following claims:

  • Free verification? Isn't that the purpose of the official degree certificate issued by the university?
  • Perfect supporting documents: The cooked up stuff I mentioned earlier.
  • Not a diploma mill? According to Wikipedia a diploma mill "is an unaccredited higher education institution that offers bogus academic degrees and diplomas for a fee". This site fits that description perfectly.
  • You do not sell life experience degrees, but you make the following statement on the very same page: "To get instant degrees, people are required to sign a work experience declaration. Using a credit system, it is then converted into a degree. A network of legally established colleges and universities are involved in the process of issuing instant degrees and this service has grown massively over the last decade." So you just call it work experience, same difference.
  • Not a scam? Why would you want to make such a statement? If you offer honest and legitimate services there is no need to convince people that you are not a scam. It is normally a sign of a scam when people go to great lengths to convince you to the contrary.
  • No bad reputation and no negative news? Well, you don't have a good reputation or any positive news either. If they have been in the business for over 20 years, why haven't I heard about them before?

So what about ordering and payment options? On their Shipping and Payment FAQ page they have the following interesting questions and answers:

Q: What is your payment scheme?
A: We accept one-time fee only. We don’t ask for additional fees.

Anyone will expect to pay in advance to obtain a degree, so why the need for a question like this? Are they trying to tell us that this is Advance Fee Fraud?

Q: Where do you accept payments if we get your degree online?
A: We accept these payments from
  • Western Union
  • Alertpay (in special occasion)
Do I need to say any more. There is a reason why some pages sounded like a 419 scammer. Western Union is a very popular payment method used by scammers.

Q: Do you accept credit cards?
A: Yes, we do. If you get your degree online, it is even better to use your credit card for fast service.

That is the last thing you should do. Do you also get that sense of eagerness from these guys to get their hands on your credit card information?

When we move on to the ordering page itself, you will notice that it is not SSL encrypted. This means your personal and credit card information will be transmitted over an insecure connection. If this was really legitimate company, they would have gone through the trouble of purchasing an SSL certificate so that you can (1) verify that they are safe to buy from and (2) that your information will be encrypted during the transaction. It is very important to note, that being in the possession of a valid SSL certificate, does not make the vendor necessarily absolutely trustworthy, but the absence of one on a site where you need to enter sensitive information, tells you that they are not concerned about the safety of your information.

A hilarious part of the ordering page is the section where you can choose your grades to be shown on your academic transcripts. From an A+ to an F. Who would want to buy a degree with an F on all of the transcripts? I would rather study and aim for a C than paying money to get an F. The choice of grades do not affect the price of the degree, so whether you choose an A+ or an F, you still pay the same amount and that's perhaps the most ridiculous part of this site. So what about the price. According to their site an Honorary Doctorate degree, with all the fake transcripts, gown, hood, etc. will cost $1190. That is a lot of money for an F, but hey look on the bright side, the graduation cap comes in different sizes, so you are sure to find a cap that will fit.

The link to the Contact page is On any conventional website, you would have seen the word “contact” somewhere in that link, but this link has absolutely no connection to a contact page (most of the linking structure on this website makes no sense at all). So whoever designed this website... must be a retard. The contact page only has a simple contact form. There is not even an e-mail address and for a company, who has been in business for 20 years, I find it a bit odd that they do not have a physical address or a telephone number listed on this page. This means, they do not want to be found and what kind of people do not want to be found, the kind who wants to take your money and run away.

As expected the WHOIS information for this domain is protected by, so I had a feeling in my gut that it would have been a waste of time looking up the WHOIS information.

So we had a look at this website and I think it is clear that these people are a bunch of crooks. But what about buying university degrees in general. I think it is just unethical and dishonest. Don't you think it is unfair to hold the same title as someone else, who studied 5 years and paid thousands of dollars to obtain the degree through blood, sweat and tears, while you only had to pay $1190, did not even open a book and got your qualification within two weeks? Sure, $1190 is a lot of money, but it is nothing compared to the amount of money you need to complete a 5 year study course. Just imagine how poor the quality of our workforce would be if everyone could buy a degree, wouldn't that beat the whole purpose of a formal education. The whole idea behind a degree is not that piece of paper, but it is to educate yourself in a specific area and to lay a proper foundation so that you are qualified to follow a specific career. Of course nothing replaces experience, but without the education, you can't expect to get very far.

Apart from being dishonest and unethical, just think about the dangers of appointing unqualified people in important posts. Strangely enough, does not sell any medical, aviation, emergency service or military related degrees, but they do sell degrees in engineering, law and accounting. These are very professional fields of work, with a lot of responsibilities. Imagine a structural engineer with a purchased degree, assigned to the construction of 10 story building or a large bridge, or an accountant with a purchased degree assigned to the finances of a large corporation listed on the New York Stock Exchange. What about a lawyer with a purchased degree assigned to defend an innocent person accused of murder and facing the death penalty? Just think about the chaos if we let unqualified people do the jobs of people who took years of studies and experience to develop and hone their skills. And who said it all stops when you get your degree, most professional careers require continual professional development, to stay ahead of your game. How do you expect someone with a purchased degree to do continual professional development without the foundation of a proper education? It is practically impossible.

The reality is, people do buy fake degrees, unqualified people are placed in positions due to things like affirmative action and employment equity. In South Africa we have first hand experience of people who have the necessary qualifications (not really sure how they got them), but they can't do the job and even worse, people appointed in certain positions of responsibility without any formal education, but that is not the subject of this discussion. You can't honestly buy a degree, you have to earn it through hard work and perseverance. This is how it always was and how it always will be until the end of time, it is as simple as that.

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, analysers of security software and raising awareness about spam and malicious software.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

What's New at Cyber Top Cops?

First of all, may 2013 be a prosperous year for all of you. Yes, the holidays are coming to an end (for some the holidays already ended) and for most people it will be back to work and school very soon. Although I had a great vacation I also had a very busy one. In between the relaxation and quality time with family and friends, I also spent some time working on new projects here at Cyber Top Cops. I am really exited about these projects because I believe they will make us more effective in the battle against cyber crime. So lets take a look at what is new at Cyber Top Cops

Although this is not a new project, I have made some improvements to it. These improvements were mainly made behind the scenes, so you won't really notice anything different, but I have upgraded our scam example publishing tool which makes it possible for me to process scam examples quicker and easier.

This new project is a visible enhancement to the SHPAMEE Project. Although it is still in it's baby shoes, I believe this will add a lot of value to the spam examples we publish on our site in the future. The main idea behind this project was to get all the information collected about a cyber criminal during an investigation, out to the public. The main focus of this project is 419 scams at the moment, but the infrastructure of this project allows us to do much more than just 419 scammers. It is not really a project completely on its own, but it is rather tightly integrated into the SHPAMEE Project. At the bottom of each e-mail example you will see a heading “Related Cyber Criminal Profiles”. The system uses keywords from the e-mail example and searches the Cyber Criminal Profile database for cyber criminals that could possibly be related to the specific e-mail example on display. For an example of how this works, visit the following spam example page:

When you click on one of the profile links, it will take you to a profile page for that specific cyber criminal. It will highlight all similarities between the cyber criminal and the example page, in red, so that you can see why this cyber criminal was flagged as a related cyber criminal for that specific spam example.

In the spam example mentioned above you will find Mrs Kwesi Jane as the first related cyber criminal. At the bottom of the cyber criminal profile page you will find a cross reference back to the spam example and any other spam example the cyber criminal might be linked to, as well as a list of other cyber criminals related to the one on display. When you click on any of these related cyber criminal links, it will take you to the related cyber criminal's page where the similarities between the current cyber criminal and the related cyber criminal will be highlighted.

The database is almost non-existent, with only 4 active profiles at the moment. These 4 initial profiles were used to test the functionality of the system and now that the infrastructure is in place for more cyber criminal profiles, we can expand the database over time. A 419 scam example only tells you so much about the cyber criminal involved, but the new Cyber Criminal Profile system allows us to tell you so much more about a specific scam, not just about the main peanut in the packet, but also about everyone else involved in a scam (or at least every other alias used by a scammer). Who knows what kind of links this system will identify when we add more profiles to the database?

Most of my time went into this project. Over the years we have collected hundreds of malware samples, submitted by members of the public through our Malware Sample Upload Form as well as samples collected from spam e-mails and links reported through our Malware Site Report Form. But working through these samples and links was quite a tedious task, so I developed a system to make my life easier and at the same time provide feedback about the samples we have analysed so far. The malware sample information pages provide very basic information about the sample and which malware scanners you can use to remove it from your system, but I will add more information to these pages as time goes by.

This database is not just about a bunch of information pages. Visitors can also upload files to compare it to our database and if no match is not found, you can submit the sample for further analysis. I have also added an RSS feed, to keep interested parties up to date when we add new samples to our database. This feed can also be a great way for visitors to get some feedback about a malware sample submitted for analysis.

A lot of effort went into these projects and I really hope it will serve the Internet community well. I would like to see these projects as work in progress, because I am never done with them, every now and then I get an idea to expand or enhance a project or sometimes I just find a way to do the same thing, only better and more effective. But to make these projects more effective we need the help of the Internet community. We need you to report cyber crime!

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, analysers of security software and raising awareness about spam and malicious software.