Dubai: Yes, a degree in engineering, management or for that matter any field is a good investment as it can boost your career. But if you are planning to get an online degree from one of the above universities that you might have come across on Facebook, be forewarned.
Not only will you lose your hard-earned money and existing job, you could also end up in a UAE jail for fraud.
All these universities are fake and most, if not all, are operated by Pakistan-based IT-firm Axact from a call centre in Karachi.
Axact made headlines in 2015 after it emerged that it sold hundreds of thousands of bogus academic qualifications worldwide through 350-odd fictitious high schools and universities, making a staggering $51 million that year alone.
Roughly 70 per cent of its sales came from the Middle East, particularly the UAE where people paid between Dh50,000 and Dh150,000 for each certificate.
Following AXACT CEO’s arrest in Pakistan, the scam petered out, but since his release it has resurfaced.
Once again unsuspecting UAE residents are the main target. Axact is luring them by inundating their Facebook newsfeeds with advertisements of non-existent universities that claim their online courses are specifically for UAE residents.
“Get 80 per cent scholarship on your MBA programme in the UAE,” says one advert. Another urges them to enrol in leading US universities to get a raise. Then there are those which make offers like: “Best engineering degree in the UAE, Best part-time MBA”. All of them follow a similar predatory trajectory. No sooner do you comment on these posts than you get a message directing you to check your inbox where you are asked to provide your name and phone number.
Soon a telesales agent sitting in Pakistan calls you claiming he’s a university counsellor based in the US.
Bluff called out
To get to the bottom of the scam, this XPRESS journalist contacted one such university posing as an Indian PRO looking to major in Criminal Justice so that he could get a job in the judiciary at Dubai Courts.
Despite the ludicrous proposition, a man who identified himself as senior student counsellor James Carter of Silver Field University www.silverfielduniversity.education.com in California called within minutes from a US phone number. After exchanging pleasantries, counsellor Carter, got to business. In his fake American accent, he labouriously tried to convince this undercover journalist to enrol for the programme and register with the university by paying $700 online. “You will get an accredited masters degree by courier within 14 days,” he said.
However, professor Carter appeared ruffled when asked to name any four landmarks of California. He could not explain why the website of the ‘prestigious’ university was less than seven months old and why it’s domain registrant, a certain Kenneth Stone, was behind the domains of 67 other bogus universities. (See full list: https://bit.ly/2sYPxtc). Mr Carter also had no answer when asked about the faculty members on the website. A simple Google Reverse Image search revealed that pictures of the purported teaching staff were either stolen from other websites or taken from Shutterstock.