Zombie Universities: Web of Counterfeit Colleges Continues to Baffle Authorities


A troubling trend has emerged in the vast landscape of the internet: counterfeit college websites, often dubbed "zombie universities," are on the rise. These websites resurrect the names and identities of defunct colleges, offering courses and degrees to unsuspecting students.

Despite their convincing appearances, these institutions are not accredited and are not authorized to receive federal financial aid. This phenomenon raises serious concerns about identity theft, legitimacy, and the challenges of regulating online education.

Zombie Universities: Web of Counterfeit Colleges Continues to Baffle Authorities

(Photo : PEXELS /

The Proliferation of Counterfeit College Websites

At least nine shuttered colleges have had their names resurrected on the web, with Stratford University being a prominent example. Despite closing its doors in 2022, a new website bearing the same name and visual elements has emerged, luring prospective students with promises of education and career advancement. The original Stratford website has been taken down, leaving only the counterfeit site in its wake.

Other institutions, such as Morrison University and Jones International University, have also been victims of this trend. These counterfeit websites not only deceive students but also potentially engage in identity theft by collecting personal and financial information through their application processes. Kari Kammel of Michigan State University suspects some of these sites may be using application information for nefarious purposes.

READ MORE: Former UCSF Administrator Receives 20-Month Prison Sentence For Embezzling Tuition Funds 

Challenges and Responses from Authorities

These counterfeit websites pose a challenge for authorities and oversight agencies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been reluctant to intervene, stating that it does not oversee unrecognized accrediting agencies or schools ineligible for federal aid. Similarly, the Education Department has confirmed that the universities in question are closed and unaccredited but have limited authority to address the issue.

Some efforts have been made at the state level. The North Carolina attorney general took action against King's College in Charlotte, which closed in 2018, but the imposter website remains online. In Colorado, the Department of Higher Education referred cases involving counterfeit universities to the Attorney General's Office for investigation.

Uncovering the Operators Behind the Websites

The operators behind these counterfeit websites are elusive. They often register domain names using .college, .university, or .education endings, which are cheap and do not require detailed registration information. Despite efforts to uncover the individuals or organizations responsible, their true identities remain shrouded in mystery.

One individual, Teoh Tong Wah, CEO of American Education Inc., has been linked to several of these counterfeit universities. His company's address is often used as the mailing address for these institutions, raising questions about his involvement. However, Wah has denied any wrongdoing and claims to have only offered consultation services to some universities.

The proliferation of counterfeit college websites presents a complex challenge that requires coordinated efforts from authorities, regulators, and internet providers. While some steps have been taken to address the issue, such as cease-and-desist letters and investigations, the underlying problem persists.

Students and prospective applicants must remain vigilant and verify the legitimacy of institutions before providing personal information or financial details. The case of zombie universities serves as a stark reminder of the risks and challenges posed by the digital age, where deception and fraud can lurk behind seemingly legitimate websites.

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