Degrees for sale on the Internet

February 28, 1997

An Internet service is selling fake degree certificates for Pounds 70 each. From his website Peter Quinn offers those "who have never had a chance at a university or college education" a choice of A-level certificates and degree certificates from any institution in any subject which, he promises, will be "accepted on face value as the genuine article".

Sheffield University has con-firmed that an applicant with Mr Quinn as a referee had gained a place on the strength of a forged A-level certificate. Academic registrar Mary Holding said:"The student is no longer with us. The certificates I've seen are very realistic. The resource implications of scrutinising every certificate are enormous."

Mr Quinn lists "some of the most popular degrees you might wish to go for". Cheques should be payable to P. L. Quinn and sent to a Liverpool address.

Merseyside, Durham and Sheffield police are looking into the situation and "trying to track Mr Quinn down". But they are unclear whether the service is illegal. A Merseyside spokeswoman said: "We were made aware two or three years ago of this man who had taken out magazine adverts offering university certificates but he claimed they were purely for fun and he was not found to be committing an offence. Police are now aware he is doing the same on the Internet and are investigating further."

She warned that "anyone stupid enough to apply for such a certificate and use it to get a job or a university place" could be charged with pecuniary advantage by deception.

Mr Quinn has been using at least two separate web service providers. One, Total Web, disabled his site after "being made aware of its nature" on Wednesday. The Department for Education and Employment said the advert might breach the Education Reform Act of 1988 but it was seeking more details.

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