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Reed College’s entire website was recently copied and replicated, but with the fictitious name “University of Redwood.” The Wall Street Journal reports, “Officials at Reed suspect the site is part of a scheme to collect application fees from prospective students in Hong Kong and Asia.” Presumably, scammers could simply collect a fee and then issue a rejection letter several weeks later.

Spoofed websites are generally created in order to phish for consumers’ personal information, or to accept credit card payments for products or services that will never be delivered.

In the case of the nonexistent University of Redwood, it’s entirely possible the website served as the front for a diploma mill.

Diploma mills were born alongside legitimate, accredited online universities. Diploma mills issue degrees that can be used to fraudulently obtain employment, promotions, raises, or bonuses. They can also be used as fake identification, to gain employment under an invented name, impersonate a licensed professional, or use fake documents to obtain a genuine ID with fraudulent information.

Diploma mills model themselves after accredited institutions, right down to the .edu web address. They may even incorporate part of an existing university’s name or logo into their own, or mimic an Ivy League school’s color scheme or website design.

Just like a legitimate school, a diploma mill may actually require students to purchase books, do homework, and take tests. Unlike a legitimate school, the diploma school may make passing a foregone conclusion. In many cases, students can simply purchase a diploma, no questions asked. Many of these organizations are nothing more than glorified print shops.

Before plunking down a dime on any learning institution, do your research. There are websites that publicly expose diploma mills, and the U.S. Department of Education recommends that you consult their database as well as additional sources of qualitative information.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses identity theft for the National Speakers Association. (Disclosures)

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ROBERT SICILIANO, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com is fiercely committed to informing, educating, and empowering Americans so they can be protected from violence and crime in the physical and virtual worlds. His "tell it like it is" style is sought after by major media outlets, executives in the C-Suite of leading corporations, meeting planners, and community leaders to get the straight talk they need to stay safe in a world in which physical and virtual crime is commonplace. Siciliano is accessible, real, professional, and ready to weigh in and comment at a moment's notice on breaking news.

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