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Degree duplicity

Fake diplomas are easy to buy online, but colleges are becoming more wary

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It's an old snake-oil sales pitch, but it's wrapped in new layers of technical sophistication and Internet marketing: the phony diploma. Cheap and real-looking, it's now backed up by a supporting cast of other ingenious fakes.

The state of the art in academic fakery includes not only diplomas, but fake transcripts and recommendation letters, bogus "verification services," even fake accrediting organizations - all apparently designed to make the degree look real to ... whom? An employer, an admissions officer?

That's not the intended use, according to websites that sell fake diplomas. All tout their products as novelties to be used only for making friends laugh. All disclaim responsibility for the ways their handiwork is used.

A random survey of a few websites found www.Diplomas ForLess.com selling "replacement" diplomas - $89 for a master's degree and an additional $80 for a transcript on "security paper." (If you want a cum laude on the transcript it costs another $25.)

In China, the website www.BackAlleyPress.com charges higher prices but touts the quality of its "novelty" transcripts.

Another site, www.DiplomaServices.com pitches quality, too, for products it states are "fake" and "not intended to be presented as legitimately earned documents."

But if someone tries to parlay these into a better job or a grad-school slot, he or she may deal with the likes of Eva-Angela Adan, dubbed by her peers "Madame Fraud" for her uncanny capacity to ferret out fakes.

A modern-day Miss Marple, Ms. Adan is one of a small army of education-credential evaluators nationwide. These professionals are increasingly being tapped by university admissions officers to spot fakes in the tsunami of applications and transcripts from overseas.

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