WASHINGTON: An official of the information technology firm Axact pleaded guilty before a US court on Friday to charges of collecting tens of millions of dollars by distributing bogus diplomas among thousands of people.

In December, the US Department of Justice charged the Axact executive, Umair Hamid, with collecting about $140 million through a ‘fake diploma mill’ scheme.

“Umair Hamid pled guilty before US District Judge Ronnie Abrams to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with an international ‘diploma mill’ scheme that collected tens of millions of dollars from thousands of customers,” said Joon H. Kim, the acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The statement, released on Saturday, identified Hamid, 31, as a Karachi resident, who was Axact’s assistant vice president for international relations and is also known as Shah Khan or simply Shah.

The indictment to which Hamid pleaded guilty and a related criminal complaint accused him and co-conspirators of making false and fraudulent representations to customers on websites and over the phone to trick them into enrolling in purported colleges and high schools. They also issued fake diplomas upon receipt of upfront fees from customers.

Accused continued to work even after action was taken against the IT firm in Pakistan

“Operating from Pakistan, Hamid helped fraudulently rake in millions of dollars from unwitting American customers who paid to enrol in, and get degrees from high schools and colleges that did not exist,” Attorney Kim said.

“As a result of his fraud, people who thought they were investing in an education received nothing more than worthless diplomas and a harsh lesson in the worldwide reach of deceit.”

How Axact worked

The Justice Department issued its assessment of how Axact operated and collected money. It noted that Axact described itself as one of the world’s leading information technology providers but in reality, it was selling fake diplomas.

The Justice Department assessed that working on behalf of Axact, Hamid and others made misrepresentations to individuals across the world in order to dupe them into enrolling in supposed educational institutions.

Consumers paid fees, believing that in return they would be enrolled in real educational courses and, eventually, receive degrees. However, they did not receive any legitimate degrees.

Axact claimed to have an affiliation with approximately 350 fictitious high schools and universities, which Axact advertised online as genuine institutions. During certain time periods since 2014, Axact received approximately 5,000 phone calls per day from individuals seeking to purchase its products or enrol in institutions supposedly affiliated with it.

When customers asked where the schools were located, sales representatives were instructed to give fictitious addresses.

The statement said Hamid controlled websites of purported “schools” and persuaded applicants to believe that those who “enrolled” would receive online instruction and coursework.

Hamid and his co-conspirator opened and operated bank accounts to collect funds in connection with their scheme.

In May 2015, Axact was shut down by Pakistani law enforcement agencies, and certain individuals associated with Axact were prosecuted.

“Yet, after May 2015, Hamid resumed his fraudulent business of selling fake diplomas to consumers in the United States for upfront fees based upon false and fraudulent representations,” the Justice Department claimed. The charge to which Hamid pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2017


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