The executive of a Pakistani company was charged in a US federal court on Wednesday for his part in an alleged $140 million ‘fake-diploma mill’ scheme, the latest step in a global crackdown touched off by arrests in Pakistan last year.
Umair Hamid, 30, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scam that impacted tens of thousands of consumers.
Hamid, an executive at software firm Axact, was arrested on Monday, according to a statement by Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara. He was produced in a federal court in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, the following day.
According to a press release issued by the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, “Axact promoted and claimed to have an affiliation with approximately 350 fictitious high schools and universities, which Axact advertised online to consumers as genuine schools.
During certain time periods since 2014, Axact received approximately 5,000 phone calls per day from individuals seeking to purchase Axact products or enroll in educational institutions supposedly affiliated with Axact.
When consumers asked where the schools were located, sales representatives were instructed to give fictitious addresses.”
Hamid’s lawyer could not be immediately identified. An email sent to Axact seeking comment bounced back.
According to court documents, Hamid stands accused of defrauding customers by managing and operating online companies that falsely claimed to be educational institutions, among other charges. He has been identified in the complaint as Axact’s “Assistant Vice President of International Relations”.
US authorities have accused Hamid of directing websites of so-called ‘schools’ to falsely represent that consumers who ‘enrolled’ with these schools by paying tuition fees would receive online instruction and coursework, and to sell false academic ‘accreditations’ in exchange for additional fees.
The accusations extend to cover false representations by these schools that they had been certified or accredited by various educational organisations, and for falsely representing that degrees issued by these schools were valid and accepted by employers, including in the US.
Pakistan had asked US authorities last year to help it investigate Axact, which had been suspected of earning millions of dollars from the sale of bogus university degrees online.
Hamid resumed selling fake diplomas, duping US consumers into paying upfront fees to enroll in fake high schools and colleges even after Pakistani authorities shut Axact down in May 2015, according to Bharara’s statement.
“Hamid allegedly took hefty upfront fees from young men and women seeking an education, leaving them with little more than useless pieces of paper,” Bharara said.