This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-03-269R
entitled 'Purchases of Degrees from Diploma Mills' which was released 
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United States General Accounting Office: 

November 21, 2002: 

The Honorable Susan M. Collins: 
Ranking Minority Member: 
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: 
Committee on Governmental Affairs: 
United States Senate: 

Subject: Purchases of Degrees from Diploma Mills: 

Dear Senator Collins: 

This report responds to your request that we investigate issues 
concerning the proliferation of diploma mills, which sell bogus 
academic degrees based upon “life experience” or substandard or 
negligible academic work. Specifically, you asked that the Office of 
Special Investigations, acting in an undercover capacity, demonstrate 
how easy it is to purchase a degree from a diploma mill. You also asked 
us to identify and interview individuals who have purchased degrees 
from diploma mills and determine whether those individuals have used 
their bogus degrees to increase income, defraud employers, or gain 
positions of public trust. We briefed your office on our investigative 
findings. This report summarizes those findings and includes documents 
referenced in that briefing. 

We conducted our investigation from May 14, 2001, through May 8, 2002, 
in accordance with investigative standards established by the 
President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency. We searched the 
Internet and identified Degrees-R-Us as a diploma mill. Posing as an 
individual working in the biology and medical technology field, our 
investigator purchased a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, as well as a
1-year “degree verification service” from Degrees-R-Us. In addition, we 
obtained a list of individuals who have purchased degrees from Degrees-
R-Us and interviewed several of them to determine how they have used 
their degrees. We also obtained a list of entities that the Oregon 
State Office of Degree Authorization has identified as diploma mills 
and enlisted the assistance of a government-sponsored Internet job 
recruitment Web site to identify individuals who have listed degrees 
from diploma mills on their résumés. We then conducted interviews with 
several individuals who held positions of trust and responsibility in 
order to determine whether they used their diploma mill degrees to 
obtain their positions, increase their earning potential, or defraud 

In summary, we purchased a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a 
Master of Science degree in Medical Technology from Degrees-R-Us, a 
diploma mill. Based on the lack of candid responses during our 
interviews with individuals who purchased degrees from Degrees-R-Us, we 
were not able to determine whether they benefited financially or 
otherwise from the bogus degrees. However, our review of résumés and 
subsequent interviews with individuals who purchased degrees from other
diploma mills established that these individuals intended to benefit 
from their bogus degrees and in some cases might have benefited from 
them. As a result of our investigation, we referred Degrees-R-Us to 
both the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Postal Service for 
further investigation. 

Purchase of Degrees from Degrees-R-Us: 

After identifying Degrees-R-Us as a diploma mill, we held numerous 
discussions in an undercover capacity with its owner. Posing as Susan 
M. Collins, we first contacted Degrees-R-Us to obtain information 
regarding the steps to follow in purchasing degrees. Following those 
instructions, we successfully purchased a Bachelor of Science degree in 
Biology dated June 13, 1975, and a Master of Science degree in Medical 
Technology dated June 10, 1988, in the name of Susan M. Collins. The 
degrees were awarded by Lexington University, a nonexistent institution 
purportedly located in Middletown, New York. Pursuant to Degrees-R-Us’s 
request, we provided the names and telephone numbers of individuals who 
could provide references and vouch for Ms. Collins’ job experience in 
biology and medical technology. However, Degrees-R-Us did not contact 
any of our references. We paid $1,515 to Degrees-R-Us for the “premium 
package” (enc. I). The package included two diplomas from Lexington 
University (enc. II), honors distinctions, and a telephone degree 
verification service that could be accessed by potential employers 
wishing to verify information regarding the school transcripts and 
degrees purportedly conferred (enc. III). 

To test the degree verification service, we posed as a potential 
employer of Ms. Collins. An individual associated with Degrees-R-Us 
confirmed that Ms. Collins had been awarded a bachelor’s and a master’s 
degree from Lexington University. 

Lack of Candor Prevented Determination Regarding How Individuals May
Have Benefited from Bogus Degrees: 

We also obtained a list of individuals who purchased degrees from 
Degrees-R-Us and attempted to interview them. The individuals we 
interviewed were not candid in discussing why they purchased the 
degrees or how they used them. 

At the time of our investigation, the Oregon State Office of Degree 
Authorization identified 43 institutions as diploma mills or 
unaccredited institutions. To determine the reason for which the 
degrees had been purchased, we requested that a government-sponsored 
Internet résumé repository query its database to determine if any 
résumés it contained listed degrees from entities identified by the 
state of Oregon as diploma mills. We received a database of more than 
1,200 résumés that included degrees from 14 of the 43 diploma mills. 

We then reviewed each résumé to determine if the job applicant held a 
position of trust and responsibility. Based on our review, we concluded 
that approximately 200 individuals held such positions. Of these, we 
interviewed four individuals who had purchased degrees from entities 
listed on the state of Oregon’s diploma mill list. 

Based on our review of the résumés and interviews with the four 
individuals, we believe that these individuals intended to use the 
bogus degrees to benefit financially or defraud employers. In this 
regard, each résumé listed the degrees, and the individuals disclosed 
to us that they purchased the degrees either to enhance their résumé or 
to be considered for certain positions. 

Referral of Degrees-R-Us to the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Postal

After purchasing the degrees from Degrees-R-Us and testing its degree 
verification service, we interviewed the firm’s owner. We learned that 
the owner is a disbarred attorney who resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, and 
who runs the business out of his home using the Internet and relying on 
mail drops and toll-free numbers. The owner told us that he has sold 
approximately 100 degrees since starting his business approximately 2 
years ago. He explained that he started the business after viewing a 
television exposé about the prosecution of a diploma mill operator and 
deciding that he could more successfully operate a diploma mill. 
Notwithstanding the company’s degree verification service, the owner 
claimed that he sells the degrees for “self esteem purposes” and not to 
satisfy employment requirements. The owner admitted that although 
“candidates” are required to provide references vouching for their 
experience, he does not verify such experience because he assumes that 
his customers are honest people. 

We referred this matter to both the Federal Trade Commission and the 
U.S. Postal Service for further investigation. 

As agreed with your office, unless you announce its contents earlier, 
we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after its 
date. At that time, we will send copies of this report to interested 
congressional committees. The report will also be available at no 
charge on the GAO Web site at [hyperlink,]. If you 
have questions about the investigation, please contact Acting Assistant 
Director Andrew O’Connell at (202) 512-7449 or Senior Special Agent 
Robyn D. Stewart at (202) 512-7475. 

Sincerely yours, 

Signed by: 

Robert J. Cramer: 
Managing Director: 
Office of Special Investigations: 


Enclosure I: 

University Services: 
Phone: 1-877-272-6353: 

October 4, 2001: 

Ms. Susan M. Collins: 
4201 Wilson Blvd., Apt. #110-317": 
Arlington, Virginia 22203: 

Re: Lexington University: 

Dear Ms. Collins: 

Enclosed please find the following: 

1) Bachelor of Science in Biology, dated June 13, 1975 - diploma. 
2) Transcripts for a Bachelor's Degree in Biology with a GPA of 3.8. 
3) Master of Science in Medical Technology, dated June 10, 1988.
4) Dean's List Certificates for all 8 semesters on your Bachelor's 
5) Envelopes from Lexington University. 

You also ordered the Premium Program where your records can be viewed 
at the web site. 

To see your record, at the University web site:
1) Go to 
2) Scroll down page until you get to Alumni and click on it. 
3) At the top of this page click where it says 'click here' and when 
the password box pops up type in your case sensitive password:
Your Password is: smcollins (all small letters). 

You also ordered the Premier Program where your records can be verified 
at the Registrar's Office. The telephone numbers to the Registrar's 
Office for Lexington University are: 1-800-942-1895 and the New York 
Exchange Number 845-344-6238. 

We appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you. Should you need 
any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. 


Signed by: 

Karen M. Whitley: 
Customer Service: 


[End of enclosure] 

Enclosure II: 

This enclosure contains copies of the following: 

* A Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology; 

* A Master of Science Degree in Medial Technology. 

Both are issued in the name of Susan M. Collins from Lexington 

[End of enclosure] 

Enclosure III: 

This enclosure contains an official academic transcript for Susan M. 
Collins and a transcript guide, both issued by Lexington University. 

[End of enclosure] 

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