Scan of LinkedIn shows online diploma mill credentials still in widespread use

FAKE COLLEGE DEGREES WIDESPREAD ON liNKEDINWe recently wrote about how to watch out for bogus online degree programs. Now we're going to have a little fun. In the list below, we have linked the names of each of these bogus ivory towers to one of a number of sources saying it's a diploma or degree mill, or unaccredited:

We're going to use these questionable alma maters to do a little cross-referencing with LinkedIn, a well-known professional social networking site where people post all the types of information they include on resumes. Hardly scientific, but hey, we didn't tell these folks to put their phony diplomas up there.

First, Almeda University, also known as Almeda International University. This ivory tower of blather once awarded a degree to a dog in Albany, N.Y. Almeda also awarded two degrees to Alexis Bechtel, named to a top consumer protection post for Pennsylvania's public utility and now starting her first week of work.

Two Naples, Fla. cops fired in 2006 for putting Almeda degrees on their resumes in hopes of promotion were reinstated in September. "Why we had to jump through the hoops that we did for the last few years is beyond me," one of the cops, Sgt. Joe Popka, told the Naples News, not particularly contritely. "The only place it's going to live is on the Internet, I suppose," he told the paper. Still, a LinkedIn search shows 23 people citing Almeda on their credentials, including the managing director of a leading hotel in Shanghai, China.

Sometimes you'll stumble on someone whom you think should know better -- or maybe that's the point. Amstead University claims 12 graduates on LinkedIn, including a president of a Dallas, Texas-based company, a vice-president of an Atlanta-based company, and a human resources recruiter in Reno, Nevada, whose current job is reviewing resumes.

Then there's Belford University, which appears on as many as 500 resumes in LinkedIn, including a New York-based director of human resources, a CEO in the pharmaceutical industry, and, apparently, to more than one soldier stationed in Iraq who thought a Belford degree was useful.

Less famous than Belford, though operated by the same people, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, is Rochville University. Almost as many LinkedIn profiles, 475, claim Rochville degrees. Belford and Rochville also advertise heavily on the Web. For instance, this site, blind-registered to a private proxy service, mentions the Naples cops and their Almeda degrees above a poorly camouflaged ad for Rochville. In 2005, a New Jersey cop sued two of his colleagues after he got passed over for promotion. The two cops had degrees from Rochville.

It seems not even notoriety makes much difference to some people. The bogus St. Regis University, which made the national news after 11 Georgia teachers got caught with degrees, was shut down in 2005 when a U.S. Secret Service agent baited it into issuing him three undergraduate and advanced degrees in chemistry and environmental engineering for $1,277. It's still named on 27 LinkedIn resumes, and eight more as "Saint Regis" spelled out, confusion which no doubt has been something of a curse over the years for graduates of Jesuit-run Regis University in Denver.

Those Georgia teachers had their state licenses revoked. But in many cases, degree fakers faced fewer consequences than you might think. In 2005-2006, 16 Sacramento, Calif., firefighters got raises based on bogus degrees from Rochville, Almeda and one other degree mill. Not much happened, and they got to keep the money they'd been paid before being caught.

Clearly there's something more at stake here than the public trust -- national security, for instance. A surprising number of people caught sporting diploma-mill diplomas work in or with important domains like education, the military, and the government, according to this investigation and this list, which documents almost 10,000 people who spent $7.3 million on their bogus credentials. Found sporting degrees on LinkedIn from Williamstown University, along with 25 other people, are an aerospace engineer for a leading defense contractor and an IT "compliance manager" at a pharmaceutical company . Do you want someone who's using a fake degree working on making prescription drugs or designing space defense systems or teaching your kids?

Next time we'll take a look at how big this industry really is, how it can proliferate due to legal loopholes and weaknesses, and some more degree programs you've seen on the Internet that may not be worth your time.
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