Italy's internet dottores risk jail

September 16, 2005

Italians are suckers for a title and, while contessa and principe may have fallen into disuse, a thirst for academic ones has made some Italians easy targets for internet scams.

Rome's consumer protection bureau reported last month that more than 100,000 of the city's inhabitants had received e-mails offering degrees, doctorates and masters costing between €100 and E4,000 (£67-£2,700). According to estimates made by the bureau, as many as 2,000 people took up the offer and gave their credit card details.

The offers come from obscure and possibly non-existent but distinguished-sounding institutions such as Berkley (not Berkeley) University, Walden University and Rochville University. All three count life experience as a substitute for formal studies, and all have e-mail addresses and telephone numbers but no postal address.

In Italy, where degrees have a specific status established by law and effective for jobs in the public sector and under national contracts and even for pension benefits, what would otherwise be a victimless scam could have serious consequences.

Sergio Scicchitano, Rome's mayoral delegate for consumer defence, said: "No crime is committed as long as the purchaser of an academic title keeps it at home to impress friends. But anyone using [one] to apply for a job in the civil service faces from six months to three years in prison."

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