Bogus diplomas sold at an alarming degree

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (MCT) — Need a college degree to get ahead? Don’t want to attend classes to get it? Well, hop on the Internet and buy a fake transcript and diploma.

Phony diplomas are proliferating on the Web, leading to fears of academic fraud and a constant legal battle by universities to protect their good names.

Officials at Kansas State University, for example, recently instructed their trademark-licensing agent to send a cease-and-desist letter to a Web site that offered a fake Kansas State University diploma and transcript for $249.99. On any given day, the same thing could be happening at many other universities.

Various Web sites advertise the documents as “replacement” or “novelty” diplomas.

Disclaimers on some sites say the diplomas should not be used in place of authentic sheepskins. But education officials fear that the documents can lead to people pretending to have degrees or grades they did not earn.

“Diploma fraud is an enormous problem,” said Barmak Nassirian, the associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington. “Stuff is coming at us so fast that we can’t even gain awareness, let alone do anything about it.”

The Kansas City Star found at least 12 Web sites that claim to offer diplomas from legitimate U.S. institutions. One site brazenly boasts “10 years in the underground of counterfeiting documents.”

When universities learn of the sites – as Kansas State University officials learned from the Kansas City Star – they act to keep the phony diplomas out of circulation.

The site to which Kansas State University officials sent the letter shut down recently, but former FBI agent Allen Ezell said it is only a matter of time before another site takes its place.

Ezell, who spent more than a decade investigating fake colleges and fraudulent degrees, said the industry is worth millions of dollars and is growing.

“It’s whack-a-gopher,” Ezell said. “One goes down, another one comes up.”

Jeff Lanza, an agent in the Kansas City office of the FBI, said federal officials are aware of fake diploma services, but such white-collar crimes “are not the highest of priorities.”

“We don’t have any cases in this area,” Lanza said.

Local universities said they could not cite specific examples of people using phony degrees, but they know that diploma and academic fraud is a problem.

That is clear at Web sites such as, which before shutting down sold degrees from Kansas State University and other institutions. The site offered what it called the “finest quality replica diplomas in the world.” The design templates, ink and paper were “custom created according to the college or university you select,” the Web site said.

Officials with the company could not be reached for comment.

“These are things we need to follow up on,” said Duane Nellis, Kansas State’s provost. “But it’s hard, given the proliferation of things that are available on the Web.”

Kansas State University is a client of the Collegiate Licensing Co., a Georgia-based trademark-licensing firm that represents more than 150 colleges and universities. Jim Aronowitz, the associate general counsel at Collegiate Licensing, said his firm sends cease-and-desist letters to various businesses “multiple times a day.”

Aronowitz said that most of those businesses have nothing to do with fake degrees, and ones that sell phony diplomas typically remove Collegiate Licensing clients from their lists of available schools after the firm sends a threatening letter.

One Web site that offers degrees,, lists more than 200 colleges and universities. The site says its diplomas include “actual designs” from schools as varied as Ottawa University in Kansas, the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prices for replica college diplomas start at $184.95. Other products include high school diplomas and General Educational Development diplomas.

According to its Web site, PhonyDiploma is based in Richmond, Va. A person who answered the phone at the company declined to answer questions but suggested corresponding by e-mail. Officials with the Web site did not reply to several e-mails.

Elsewhere on the site is this disclaimer: “PhonyDiplomas and transcripts may only be used for entertainment purposes, for your records, or for replacement of a lost or damaged document. They are not real documents and cannot be used as real diplomas. PhonyDiplomas are not meant to be used for unlawful purposes or any other illegal uses. This means that they cannot be used to pass as real diplomas under any circumstance.”

Comparable disclaimers are found on other such Web sites, but some sites also offer an array of transcripts.

The transcripts available at, the site says, use the same kind of security paper that most colleges use. The transcripts also come with embossed seals, a registrar’s signature, or both. The price: $50 per semester.

Responding to a written query from the Kansas City Star, an official with Back Alley Press said in an e-mail: “We sell a lot of diplomas to people who have either lost their credential or want a second copy for their home and do not want to go through the long and hard efforts put forth by schools to replace them. The only thing our service provides is an easier way for them to get this.”

To Nassirian of the registrars association, the suggestion that these products are designed solely for novelty purposes or to replace lost diplomas is laughable.

“Don’t tell me they don’t know how people are using this stuff,” he said.

Besides, school officials say, alumni who lose their diplomas can get legitimate replacements directly from the institution.