US law enforcement has announced the arrest of a Pakistani national for his alleged role in a $140-million fraud in fake school and college certificates called the “diploma mill” run by Axact, a Pakistani firm prosecuted by authorities there in 2015.
Umair Hamid, the 30-year-old defendant, was arrested on December 19, US attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said in an announcement on Wednesday, identifying him as the assistant vice president of international relations of Axact.
Hamid has been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a racket collecting, according to authorities, $140 million from tens of thousands of customers in many countries, including the US.
“As alleged, while promising the rewards of a higher education, Umair Hamid was actually just peddling diplomas and certifications from fake schools,” Bharara said, announcing the arrest and charges.
“Hamid allegedly took hefty upfront fees from young men and women seeking an education, leaving them with little more than useless pieces of paper.”
The racket involved enrolling customers in supposed schools, colleges and educational institutions in what they thought were real courses at the end of which they would get real certificates. “Instead, after paying the upfront fees, consumers did not receive any legitimate instruction and were provided fake and worthless diplomas,” Bharara’s office said in the announcement.
Pakistani authorities had cracked down on Axact in May 2015 and arrested owner Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh days after The New York Times published an article alleging it was selling fake educational degrees from fictitious institutions.
Axact had denied the allegations and called them “baseless”.
Pakistan had then sought the FBI’s help as many of those allegedly cheated were in the US. Also, as the charges filed in the court revealed, most of the fictitious institutions cited to con consumers were based in the United States.