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Like porn, degrees now online
By Jessica Leeder
Getting a university diploma complete with transcripts and a student ID number is now easier than ordering a McDonald's combo.
With the advent of the Internet, websites offering fake, authentic-looking degrees for a small price have been popping up everyday.
But, if the University of Toronto has anything to say about it, one site may not be doing business as usual.
Cooldegree.com is one of many websites advertising various package deals to buyers looking to acquire diplomas, transcripts, high school diplomas, PhDs, letters of recommendation and student IDs.
Buyers can pay by credit card or money order and can choose from a number of combination package deals.
The site boasts a large catalogue of fictional universities and colleges across North America, where buyers can choose to order their degrees. Calgary Providence University, Manitoba University of Science and Arts and Toronto Metropolitan University are the three Canadian schools listed on the site.
The site also offers a variety of degree specialties to choose from, ranging from nursing to veterinary molecular biology.
Jason Klein, a lawyer with the Toronto law firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell and legal counsel for the University of Toronto, said he ordered a custom degree from Cooldegree.com and asked for "Toronto Metropolitan University" to be changed to "University of Toronto."
Not only did the website comply, but they agreed to superimpose U of T's official logo and a signature from the university's "Board of Regents," he said.
Klein's "degree" proclaims his attainment of a bachelor of science in engineering with an emphasis in aerospace, all for only $168 US.
After receiving his gold-embossed degree, Klein served the novelty site with a cease-and-desist order on behalf of U of T.
"Now they are starting to realize we take these things more seriously than they may have thought. Hopefully now they are only offering degrees from schools they know don't exist," he said, adding that websites using names and logos of real universities are infringing on university trademarks.
Cooldegree.com does have a warning on its main page in small print. It reads: "These diplomas appear to be extremely authentic, and are intended to be used for novelty purposes only. These diplomas should not be represented as the real thing."
"The whole thing just gave us a vague sense of discomfort," said Susan Bloch-Nevitte, U of T spokeswoman.
"Over time we have become aware of these diploma mills, but this is the first time we have followed up to see what would happen," she said, adding if the website does not comply with the university's request, U of T will take further steps to "enforce [its] rights."
"A cease-and-desist letter just means knock it off or we're going to make life miserable for you," said Bloch-Nevitte.
When The Gazette inquired about obtaining a Western degree, Cooldegree.com said they "could not help."