ISLAMABAD – Another fake university, owned by Axact to steal money from students has been discovered by another American newspaper.
According to detail, Pakistani IT Company, Axact has tentacles in San Francisco. For years, one of its phony universities used a Market Street mail drop as its address.
“Must University” lived on the Internet until this month and proclaimed itself “the World’s Largest University,” with “campuses in almost 85 countries of the world” and 1,100 programs.
Detail shows that phony university’s site boasted not of graduates, but of applicants: “About 90,000+ have applied to Must University for a variety of online degree, diploma and certificate programs,” it claimed.
A bachelor’s degree cost $14,400 while a master’s could be had for $12,000, and a doctorate for $18,900.
Customers paid thousands of dollars for a “worthless piece of paper to hang on the wall,” said John Bear, a Bay Area expert in the business of online education who has known about Must for years and co-authored a book on the fake-degree industry.
Two people who said they were victimized by Must University — would-be students Albert Barnes of Baltimore and Samaa Almoussalli of London — each paid thousands to Must but received no instruction and no legitimate diploma in return. Another person, Deborah Guske of Rockford, Ill., said she was recruited by Must to teach online and was promised a fat paycheck. She spent weeks creating a video curriculum. But after handing it over, she never heard from Must again.
The three are among nine people who filed complaints about Must University with the Golden Gate division of the Better Business Bureau in Oakland. They said they chose the agency because it was closest to 548 Market St. in San Francisco — the address Must listed as its “administrative contact office” in the United States.
According to the report of San Francisco Chronicle It’s actually the address of Earth Class Mail, a mail-forwarding company. A letter to Must from The Chronicle was returned.
Must University was one of more than 300 websites with names like Barkley University and Columbiana University created to finance a shell software company called Axact, whose chief executive was charged in Pakistan in May with fraud, forgery, money laundering and illegal electronic money transfers, according to Pakistani law enforcement documents obtained by The Chronicle that outline the charges. Investigators call Must University and the other sites “fraudulent, non-existent, fictitious educational institutes pretending to be in (the) U.S.A.”
The connection between Axact and the lucrative business of fake diploma sales was revealed in May by the New York Times, prompting Pakistani investigators to raid Axact’s offices. They arrested five executives, seized computers and found hundreds of fake, blank degrees.
Barnes, the would-be student from Baltimore, said the online ad he saw in 2011 was enticing: “Advance Your Career in Architecture with MUST: The First Choice of Working Adults Across the Globe! First course absolutely FREE!”
“I paid them $3,000,” said Barnes, who at the time needed a handful of classes to complete a bachelor’s degree in architecture that he’d started in the 1990s.
But at 61, Barnes wanted a quick, cheap way to earn his remaining 30 credits online and was pleased that Must assured him it was accredited.
“I wanted my degree mainly so that I would have a bachelor’s of science degree,” said Barnes, who works in erosion and sediment control for the city of Baltimore. “If I had a B.S. that would move me into a higher pay grade.”
Barnes completed six classes. His transcript credits him with 24 — including human biology, world religions and ethics — and gives him a grade-point average of 3.88, or A-minus. On March 30, 2012, Barnes received a handsome diploma conferring a “Bachelors Degree in Architecture from Must University” and signed by the university president, whose signature is illegible.
Barnes was stunned when his boss denied his request for promotion, saying she could find no evidence that Must was an accredited university. When Barnes asked Must to send the proof, they billed him $900 for verification — a tactic the Pakistani investigators say Axact employees used to extort would-be students.
He didn’t pay. Instead, he contacted the Better Business Bureau in Oakland, which has his complaint on file. And he notified the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, which visited the school’s San Francisco address and discovered the mail drop.
Barnes said he did learn one thing from Must University: “If it appears too easy, it probably is not worth it.”
After the arrests of Axact employees in Pakistan, the toll-free phone numbers for Must and the other sites went to busy signals, and messages appeared announcing their “live chat” features were offline. The websites remained live until last week.
Bear, the diploma mill expert, said that most people used the sites to buy a diploma, although some — perhaps including Barnes and Almoussalli — were duped by the scam.
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