A Fake Institution

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The term ”Diploma Mill” refers to an unaccredited institution of higher learning that offers a degree, diploma or certificate for a fee. The credential received usually requires little or no work and is generally worthless. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, a California woman operated a fake university with the intent to scam foreign students seeking U.S. immigration status. Through her fake school, the woman was able to collect millions of dollars in fees to fund her posh lifestyle.

The 43-year-old woman purportedly collected nearly $6 million in tuition and fees, mostly from Indian nationals. Students paid $2,700 a semester in tuition for visa-related documents that permitted them to live and work in the U.S. on a student immigration status. The fraudster used the proceeds from the scam to buy commercial real estate, a Mercedes-Benz and multiple homes, including one on a golf course. (She even had one of her student employees paint her mansion and move furniture.)

The story states that three university professors testified they did not allow the woman to use their credential in connection with the institution. (Red flag #1.) Other employees told the jury the fake university had no requirements for admission or graduation. (Red flag #2.) Court documents also state that fraudulent transcripts were routinely fabricated. (Red flag #3).

The fraudster was found guilty of wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, making false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer and lastly, money laundering. (Now that’s quite a list!) Four other co-conspirators pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement.

Unfortunately, for the victims in this case, they learned a few lessons the hard way. Things to remember when enrolling in an institution of higher learning: 1) make sure an institution is accredited by a state or professional organization, 2) be wary of a school that does not have any requirements for admission or graduation and 3) note that students are not usually required to paint houses and move furniture in order to graduate.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”Pleasanton Fake University Operator Convicted of Fraud,” written by Henry K. Lee and published by the San Francisco Chronicle on March 25, 2014.

Pleasanton woman was convicted Monday by a federal jury on charges that she netted $5.9 million while running a fake university that was a front for foreign students seeking to establish U.S. immigration status.

Susan Su, 43, who operated Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, was found guilty of wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, visa fraud, use of a false document, making false statements to a government agency, alien harboring, unauthorized access to a government computer and money laundering.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.