A man selling fake qualifications, including masters degrees claiming to be from Oxford University, has been jailed for three years.
David Fox, 51, was found guilty of four counts of fraud and pleaded guilty to twelve counts under the Trademark Act and Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
Mr Fox sold novelty diplomas and certificates through his website www.businessdigest.co.uk, which he claimed were “Better than the real thing and with much better grades!!”
Certificates for an Oxford master’s degree were available for £69.90.The website cautioned that its diplomas were “intended for novelty use only” and that businessdigest.co.uk “took no responsibility for their use in any matters perpetrating to unlawful behaviour.”
However, the website still boasted that “Our replicas are so good that they are often used as a replacement for an existing document” and that “our products have been subjected to the highest level of scrutiny and proven their value time and time again.”
A prosecutor said that Fox indicated that he knew what his degrees were being used for, because he frequently followed disclaimers with a “;)”.
Prosecutor Mark Jackson asked Mr Fox in court, “How funny would it be to prank your friends on the basis that you had got a BTEC higher national certificate in electrical engineering, do you wonder?”
Mr Fox was caught after Birmingham’s trading standards agency began investigating his company after a certificate claiming to be from the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health – a health and safety examining board – was redirected to them by the Post Office.
The trading standards agency investigated Mr Fox by having an officer from the department pretend to be a student named ‘Christina McCullogh’ and order a Grade A chemistry GCSE certificate, a 2:1 chemistry degree from the Open University and a masters degree in chemistry from Oxford.
Recorder Abigail Nixon, sentencing Mr Fox at Wolverhampton Crown Court, said, “The potential damage from your behaviour … is immense.” She added that his actions might have damaged “the fabric of society.”
News of the availability of fake degree certificates provoked a mixed reaction from students around Oxford.
One second year said, “It is immensely frustrating that someone could convince an employer that they had the same degree as me without putting in any of the work.”
Sammana Ladha, a first year student at Oriel College, said, “Its hard to believe that employers would mistake a dodgy certificate from an online business for a real degree.”