In the ven diagram of Life, the Internet can be safely divided into three categories: 1) Porn; 2) Scams; and 3) Everything Else. Anyone with a wifi password knows this to be true and has known it since the dawn of the internet. Even in the late 90s, when email was new and exciting rather than irritating and panic-inducing, one would receive messages from people saying they were just dying to give you millions of pounds and all you had to do was write back.
Nigeria specialized in such financial scams, so much so that the country’s name has become synonymous with a kind of financial duplicity that preys on the weak-minded. (“Hello, I am a Nigerian Price Wantyomoneez, and I have a special offer for you…”). The fact that people would use the Internet to scam people anonymously is not shocking to me, but that people would wantonly divulge their financial details to someone in Nigeria really, really is. How could you not realize it? Do you really think an heir to a fortune needs a middle-aged British housewife to transfer funds? Really?
But gullibility is always pathetic in hindsight. The cruel part of these schemes is that they prey on people’s desperation. In a revelation that should shock no one, the New York Times recently broke a story about a Pakistani ‘software company’ that is really a highly lucrative front for the sale of fake degrees. The company, Axact (to be exact), founded by a man called Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, is the subject of a scathing, telling and embarrassing investigative piece that details how it mints money by selling degrees from Columbiana University and Barkley University to people willing to pay considerable sums of money to avoid school.
The FBI has implied that Axact is the largest scam of its kind in the world
Read the article. The scope and imagination of the deciept is breathtaking. The scam involved hundreds of fake websites for fake universities filled with fake pictures and fake courses that can deliever a very real-looking diploma. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars for a highschool degree to multiple thousands for a Ph.D diploma. One guy in the gulf apparently paid almost $400,000 in total for his fake diplomas. Someone should tell him that you’re probably likely to get a degree for donating that to a real university anyway.
The enterprising Mr. Shaikh has apparently been around for a while, and is on the cusp of launching a new TV network called ‘Bol’ (which in light of the NYT story might want to change its name to ‘chup’ for a bit). ‘Bol’ hasn’t hit TV yet but has been making waves for poaching stars from other TV channels by paying them a lot of money. Now we know where the money comes from. I didn’t know fake degrees were that lucrative, to be honest, but Axact apparently gives its employees all sorts of Google-like perks, including access to pools, yachts and comparatively high salaries, so the money must be rolling in. The only price is they willfully deceive people into paying more and more money for obviously fake stuff. Perhaps the most insidious allegation is that the employees keep blackmailing clients to pay more after the initial degree by scaring them about their fake degree. It’s a whole new form of abuse.
Axact’s money, and there is a lot of it, is wired around the world through a series of offshore accounts. The only reason the company has been able to survive here pretty much undetected for as long as it has is because Pakistan has about as much regulation as a carrot. (Well, unless you count YouTube and WordPress and other harmless things deemed “offensive” by the state, in which case we are trailblazers, nay pioneers of regulation…)
Even a cursory review of the things the NYT alleges shows that Axact is indeed a scam. Still, the company released a badly worded rebuttal (Columbiana School of Journalism?) basically badmouthing the writer but providing no real proof that the allegations are as “baseless” as they suggest. I would not want to be them right now. The article already names some sources that’ve used the services to get fake degrees in the U.S. and U.A.E., among other places, but what I’m waiting for is the really juicy news of who among our lawmakers used the company for their purposes. In general experience, an enterprise that makes this much money (seriously, we are talking tens of millions of dollars) does not go without attracting some kind of official attention/benediction.
The FBI has implied that this is the largest scam of its kind in the world. Let that sink in. The. Whole. World. That includes Nigeria and China. Ethical bankruptcy and moral corruption notwithstanding, that is impressive. The level of deception that the scheme required is huge, almost CIA-level huge; it needs forethought, planning, execution, coordination and, above all, imagination. You need to know how to exploit people’s weaknesses without ever having met them, avoid detection on an international level, instill confidence, and (considering there must have been many satisfied customers over the years) be fairly competent at forging international quality documents.
I suppose in some twisted, tragic way that is a testament to the ingenuity of the Pakistani people, and evidence of how well local companies can do if they just put their mind to it. It honestly saddens me that someone as obviously talented as Mr.Shaikh, who often reminds people that he grew up in a one-room family home, has channeled his energy into such a sordid enterprise. It’s a waste. Because the problem with being the Bill Gates of Scam Companies is that, at the end of it all, you’re still a scam.
Write to email@example.com and @fkantawala will give you an inheritance worth 100 million dollars tax free