Fake online university impersonates UNO and scams students

(TNS) — Even with a master’s degree in biotechnology, Shermeen Masood, a 34-year-old woman living in Oman, struggled for years to find a job. With a baby on the way and a move overseas ahead of her, she thought a doctorate would set her apart and help her get hired.

When an online school called City University of New Orleans told her she had received a scholarship to do her virtual PhD program — which she said was part of the University of New Orleans — she was thrilled. . After a phone call with someone claiming to conduct a background check on behalf of the Oman Embassy in Washington, she happily paid what the university told her was a significantly reduced fee: $1,750.

But despite this payment and several others, Masood was never able to take a course. She realizes she’s been tricked.

“It wasn’t just the money,” she said in an interview from Nairobi, Kenya, where she now lives with her husband and child. “It was my dream shattered into pieces.”

City University of New Orleans, a fake online university claiming to be an accredited virtual school affiliated with the University of New Orleans, has been scamming people thousands of dollars since at least early last year, according to reports. prospective students who say they paid fees but never started classes.

UN officials are aware of the situation and say they have tried to act, with limited success.


Adam Norris, a UN spokesman, said the university had received complaints from at least four students who thought they were paying for an online UN degree. UNO has no affiliation with CUNO.

“The University of New Orleans is concerned that CUNO is using UN name recognition and visual identity to mislead and prey on unsuspecting students and families,” Norris said.

Norris said elements of CUNO’s and the UN’s websites are “strikingly similar” and that CUNO has used the UN logo, header and name in email communications with students “in an effort to assert legitimacy and incentivize payment,” Norris said.

He said UN staff members tried to contact the CUNO but got no response. The UN referred complaints received to the office of state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who told them the case would be referred to the FBI if warranted, Norris said.

Landry’s office said he did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls.

Since March of last year, the Federal Trade Commission has received five fraud complaints about City University New Orleans, according to public records. The FBI office in New Orleans declined to answer questions about potential investigations or provide any further comment.


On its website, CUNO claims to have 55,000 registered students, 48,000 of whom are international. It claims to offer dozens of degrees, including an undergraduate degree in a six-month self-study program and several doctoral options, all of which are advertised as “accredited.”

But the institution is not listed in the Ministry of Education’s database of accredited post-secondary institutions and programs, nor by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the body that accredits educational institutions. Upper South. The CUNO website contains a link to an online accreditation certificate from the Regional Council for Accreditation of American Institutes, which is not recognized by the United States Department of Education and has a phone number that does not work. not.

The Times-Picayune – The Advocate called a number associated with CUNO that was provided by a student who said he had been scammed. A man who identified himself as Joshua Sanders responded, describing himself as a “student adviser” at CUNO. He said the school is “an online university” accredited by the Higher Education Accreditation Council. Although this body does accredit institutions in the United States, CUNO is not one of them.

Fake credential claims are a hallmark of online scammers, said Ralph Russo, cybersecurity expert and director of the School of Career Advancement Information Technology Programs at Tulane University.

“This type of scam is as old as the hills, but a lot of it is made possible by technology,” he said.

The FBI said in a report published in March 2021 that there had been a substantial increase in complaints of alleged Internet crimes from 2019 to 2020, including phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams and extortion.

In online education scams, a few people can impersonate a large institution relatively cheaply by buying a Google domain name, phone number and even a building, he said. Russo referred to the Saint Regis University scam in 2005, when a federal investigation uncovered a burgeoning billion-dollar operation handing out fake degrees.

If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is, Russo said. Often fake colleges offer degrees in an incredibly short period of time and advertise minimal interaction with faculty. Their promotional materials often include typos and poor grammar.

There were other red flags with CUNO. The website directs interested students to a New Orleans address, 3744 Woodland Ave., which is a vacant lot next to Holy Cross University in Algiers.

And the website is full of outlandish and poorly written statements. For example: “CUNO’s research team is once again making headlines for its remarkable findings” and “Ahead of the times, CUNO has the highest student enrollment in 2020 worldwide”.

Russo said COVID and the sudden shift to virtual operations for many aspects of life has created a larger pool of victims of online fraud.

“People were rushed online due to the pandemic,” he said. “These people may have been more susceptible to online scams because they weren’t as technologically savvy.”


To Masood, the offer initially seemed legitimate. The number of the person who did the background check matched a number listed on the Oman Embassy website, and they even did a virtual onboarding and orientation.

Communications from CUNO included a blue circular logo similar to that used by the University of New Orleans with the school’s name written around the logo and a building in the middle of the circle. A man she spoke to told her he was an admissions officer; he assured her that she would attend the UN virtually and that she could begin her three-year doctorate in nutrition and health sciences whenever she wanted.

But when she tried to start her studies after moving to Kenya, she was told her acceptance was no longer valid and she would have to shell out more money. She paid a $299 fee to register again, but has since been contacted several times asking her to pay more fees. She doesn’t have the funds to keep paying and has given up hope of ever getting her money back.

She has never taken a class at CUNO and understands at this point that she never will, even after paying over $2,000.

“They cling to someone’s dream and they know how to use it,” said Russo, the cybersecurity expert. “They’re selling you the dream.”

©2022 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans lawyer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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