As we have cataloged this week on CreditUnions.com, Internet fraud is frequent and, at times, impossible to prevent. Fraud occurs across industries, and educated consumers can learn to spot malicious intent when they see it.
The BBC published an investigation in October in which it secured a Master in Business Administration degree for a £4,500 fee from an unaccredited university that was located in London but incorporated on the island of St. Kitts in the West Indies. The American University of London (AUOL) offers degrees in exchange for a fee, a completed application, a CV, photocopies of previous qualifications, and a photograph of the applicant. No additional course work required.
BBC submitted a one-page CV for a fictitious management consultant and South London resident. The CV of “Pete Smith” included 15 years of work experience and an undergraduate degree from a university in London. According to the article:
Four days after sending in the application, AUOL sent "Pete" an e-mail saying that his application for a degree based on previous experience had been successful and that once the university had received his £4,500 fee, he would be registered as an MBA graduate within about two weeks.
When [BBC] Newsnight's reporter telephoned to check whether "Pete" would be required to submit any work, a university representative said:
"No, no, apparently the APEL [Accreditation of Previous Experiential Learning] board awarded him the full degree immediately based on his qualification and his professional experience, so he doesn't have to do any courses."
As it turns out, Pete Smith is a dog living in the Battersea Dogs’ Home. The BBC fabricated his background and qualifications. The fact AUOL granted Pete the degree so easily calls into question the validity of the claim on its website: “If your intention is to ‘buy’ a degree, beware! This university is not and has never been a degree mill and we will instantly reject such applications.”
The BBC investigation found the issue extends beyond Pete. On professional social networking sites, hundreds of senior executives and other professionals tout their qualifications from AUOL and publically represent themselves as the holders of a degree that has little legitimate value. According to the BBC, “the university has claimed to be recognised by three different American institutions, but these institutions are themselves unofficial and unrecognised.” The AUOL itself has been blacklisted in five U.S. states.
Despite its claims, AUOL practices a form of deceptive Internet fraud. The AUOL accepts money in exchange for MBAs and other graduate degrees it says are recognized by employers and universities when, in fact, they are not. That many professionals fall for AUOL and other Internet scams underlines the need for improved fraud awareness at the individual level.
Credit unions can help their members achieve such improved awareness. As the trusted financial partner and protector of members’ money, credit unions have a duty to educate members on some of the dangers and best practices for financial transactions on the Internet. The Internet is flush with financial opportunities that look legitimate but are not. Help keep member safe from these scams through outreach programs in newsletters, Internet protection programs, and other resources. For curious members, credit unions can point them to excellent online resource centers created by the NCUA and OnGuard Online.