Catawba College sends "cease and desist" letter over fake diplomas

Catawba College is taking action against a company forging its diplomas, following a FOX 46 investigation

"For our campus community, this is a serious matter," said Catawba College Dean of Students Jared Tice. "And we have sent this outfit a 'cease and desist' letter asking them to stop."

Our investigation last month showed how easy it is to buy real-looking fake degrees, letters of reference and course transcripts. FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant was able to easily purchase an "official" course transcript and a fake "nursing" diploma from a company called Diploma Makers. The counterfeit credentials bearing the name and address of Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. sold for around $300.

We found dozens of other companies, often referred to as diploma mills, cranking out phony degrees from made up universities along with counterfeit credentials from real schools, including many in the Carolinas. A FOX 46 investigation found the fake documents are often used to trick real employers. 

"It's worth launching an inquiry into it," said Rep. Alma Adams (D-Charlotte) in an interview in response to our report. "Especially now that it has been brought to the forefront."

Adams said requiring companies to stamp the word "novelty" on bogus degrees is an "excellent idea."

Catawba College officials say what we found is upsetting.

"Catawba College is very disappointed to see the deliberate fabrication of Catawba College diplomas and transcripts," said Tice. "Our students' Catawba experience simply cannot be duplicated overnight."

The Federal Trade Commission has shut down similar operations in 2015 and 2017 and issued tens of millions of dollars in fines.

"Unlike the scenario you're talking about, in these cases consumers were not part of the deception and weren't looking to purchase fake diplomas," said FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan. "Instead, the companies duped consumers into believing they were getting legitimate diplomas."

Kaplan would not say if the FTC plans to investigate the diploma companies FOX 46 found and shared with them.

"The FTC has gone after companies that sold fake documents to facilitate ID theft," said Kaplan. "And if we were to learn of similar operations, we would look into that. But we cannot comment on specific companies' practices."

Spotting a Diploma Mill

The FTC has a website dedicated to college degree scams and how to spot them. You can find that information here

Among the things to watch out for, according to the FTC, are:

  • Getting a degree without doing any work (avoid websites that advertise "no studying" or "no exams).
  • Avoid websites that sell degrees for "work or life experience" alone. 
  • Many diploma mills charge a flat fee for a degree. Legitimate colleges charge by credit, course or semester.
  • Earning a degree takes time. If an ad promises a degree in a few days, weeks or even months it's probably a scam. 
  • Some diploma mills use aggressive ad sales tactics. Legitimate institutions won't advertise through spam, pop-ups or high-pressure telemarketing calls.

Catawba College Statement

"Catawba College is very disappointed to see the deliberate fabrication of Catawba College diplomas and transcripts. The manufacturing of these false documents diminishes the significant work done by our students to earn their Catawba degree. When a Catawba degree is conferred, the diploma represents not only the academic achievement of our students, but the wealth of experiences, opportunities, and challenges inside and outside the classroom they have faced and overcame. Our students' Catawba experience simply cannot be duplicated overnight. For our campus community, this is a serious matter and we have sent this outfit a 'cease and desist' letter asking them to stop." - Jared Tice, Catawba College Dean of Students