A lost-diploma replacement service in Grants Pass, Oregon, advertised: “If you have lost your college diploma, we can replace it for you.” They made it abundantly clear that they would believe whatever I might choose to say.
I figured I’d go for the top, and I ordered a Harvard medical degree-you know, the one I lost in a fire, or that robbery, or that the dog ate. By return mail came a rather attractive reproduction of the Harvard Doctor of Neurosurgery, with my name in Latin and everything. The only clue to its non-legitimacy is a nearly microscopic line at the very bottom edge, reading: “This is a reproduction. No school credit or degree status is granted or implied.” Before I open my medical office, I might possibly be able to figure out what to do about this annoying line. We Harvard doctors are smart that way.
Now we move forward to last year, when I noted an ad for a new lost-diploma service. I called the toll-free number and a few days later got an attractive full-color brochure in the mail, offering me the opportunity to buy-no questions asked-any degree from the school of my choice. To see if things had changed over the last decade and a half, I once again placed an order for a Harvard medical degree. Taking advantage of a special “20% off” deal, I sent in my order with a check for $58.
A few days later, I received a phone call from a cheerful-sounding lady who thanked me for my degree order and said, “We’ve talked it over here and decided we can’t send you a Harvard medical degree. Would you settle for a Harvard law degree instead?”
The old bait-and-switch. I said, “Sure.” And a few days later, there came in the mail my genuine authentic imitation of a Harvard law degree. This one doesn’t even have a disclaimer line I have to cut away; it is done via a peel-off “novelty item” sticker. We Harvard lawyers know what to do about those, too.
John Bear is an author based in El Cerrito, California. For 12 years he was the FBI’s principal consultant and expert witness on diploma mills and fake degrees. His books include Bear’s Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning and College Degrees by Mail and Internet.
This article was posted on March 10, 2002.