Pakistani firm Axact extorted ‘legalisation fees’ from bogus degree holders in UAE
Media reports said call centre agents in Pakistan are impersonating UAE government officials to extort the fees.world Updated: Jan 18, 2018 19:49 IST
Axact, a Karachi-based software firm accused of amassing millions of dollars through an internet degree scam, has allegedly extorted “legalisation fees” from holders of its bogus degrees in the UAE, according to a media report.
Call centre agents in Pakistan are impersonating UAE government officials to extort the fees, Gulf News reported. “Impersonation and blackmail” is another trick that Axact has come up with to dupe its victims, the report said.
“Speaking in an Emirati accent, Axact telesale agents are calling clients and demanding thousands of dollars from degree holders towards the ‘legalisation fees’ of their certificates,” the report said.
“And since they use spoofing techniques which allow them to mimic any phone number – complete with area code – the recipients are deceived into believing that the calls are legitimate,” it added.
Between 2009 and 2015, more than 200,000 people in 197 countries paid millions of dollars for courses at bogus universities such as Midtown, Rochville, Brooklyn Park and Paramount California that were run by Axact. BBC reported on Tuesday that Axact had duped thousands of British nationals.
A South African expat in Dubai who paid thousands of dollars for an academic certificate said he was shocked when a man, claiming to be a Dubai Police officer, called him and asked him to remit $5,000 as a degree “legalisation fee” or face action.
“When I called back the number that showed up on my cellphone, it was answered by someone at Dubai Police Headquarters. Initially, I got scared and thought it was indeed them who had called but then I found out it was a scam so I ignored their subsequent calls,” he said.
Another expat who bought a degree said he got a call from a man who claimed he was from the human resource department. Calls to the phone numbers used to contact the expat turned out to be the board numbers of two government entities.
Sayyad Yasir Jamshaid, a former Axact employee turned whistleblower, said the company uses caller ID-spoofing which enables it to display a number different from the one from which the call was made.
“They’ve hired professionally trained call centre agents. Axact clients in other countries are also getting such calls,” he said.
One of those who fell for the scam is a medical technologist in Al Ain. Fearing action, the woman sold her jewellery to raise $70,000, of which $30,000 was remitted to Axact after she got a call from an agent claiming to a representative of the UAE embassy in the US.
Speaking fluent Arabic, the agent told the Arab medical technologist she would face legal action if she didn’t immediately pay to cancel her degrees and get an accredited one from a Sharjah university.
The woman had bought 18 degrees from Axact-run universities over three years for $60,000.
Though Axact CEO Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh was arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2015, he was granted bail in September 2016 by a judge who later admitted to have taken a bribe of Rs 5 million to issue the bail order. Since Shaikh’s release, Facebook newsfeeds have been inundated with advertisements offering “accredited online degrees”.