By Hilary Burns Globe Staff, Updated April 24, 2023
There’s a good reason you have never heard of Massachusetts Central University. It doesn’t exist.
Yet a convincing website listing student testimonials and degree offerings is posing as a legitimate online university based in Boston. State officials said they are aware of the fake website and urged students to report run-ins with the scheme.
The professional-looking website has all the hallmarks of a real college. It promises an “outstanding educational experience” that will prepare students for “dynamic careers,” with 95 percent placement rates. The website features a career services page, stock images of fictional faculty members, and says it is accredited by nonexistent entities. Legitimate colleges and accreditors can be found on the US Department of Education’s website.
A quick Google search also found that the faculty listed on the website appear on another fake college website, Houston University of Science and Technology. Local media reports noted striking similarities between the illegitimate Houston university and the Massachusetts website.
Call and e-mails to contacts listed on the site went unanswered.
George Gollin, a physics professor at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign who has studied so-called “diploma mills,” noticed some red flags while scrolling Massachusetts Central University’s website, including grammatical errors.
Gollin said that fake university websites typically exist to profit from the sales of fake diploma credentials. A few foreign LinkedIn profiles display degrees from Massachusetts Central University, for example.
“Customers of diploma mills know exactly what they are getting,” he said. “They want to be able to use the fake credentials. They realize the value of an American degree is appealing.”
A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education said they were made aware of this “fraudulent website” in 2021 and sent the entity a cease-and-desist order. The site was taken down. The website is now back, and started posting on an affiliated Facebook page in recent months.
“We are disappointed that the website has resurfaced, and we will be following up with the entity,” the spokesperson said. “Meanwhile, we have notified the University of Massachusetts, as well as the attorney general’s office. Students that may have been misled by the website should contact our office by filing a complaint or contacting the attorney general’s Consumer Hotline.”
State Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell’s office also said it is aware of the entity and confirmed it’s one they have taken action against in the past.
“This is a matter AG Campbell and her office take seriously and we are reviewing what actions we may take,” said a spokesperson for the office.
These types of schemes and bad-acting for-profit colleges tend to target first-generation and veteran students, said Della Justice, vice president for legal affairs at Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit that advocates for veteran students using the GI Bill and other federal educational benefits.
Massachusetts Central University, which claims to have more than 10,000 registered students and 1,200 faculty members, says on its website that veterans can transfer military service for credits toward a degree.
“This does appear to be completely fake with nothing behind it [and] that is very dangerous,” Justice said. “They are preying on the trust that veterans have [for] the military.”
Justice, who previously worked with Kentucky’s attorney general’s office, said she has seen similar types of scams that ask veterans to provide contact information and pay a registration fee. The Better Business Bureau on Mondaywarned consumers about diploma mills and offered tips for recognizing the schemes.
“When you see that, it is very concerning and someone could be scammed out of actual money,” Justice said. “It also has a chilling effect. [If] they realize how deceptive it is, it could discourage them from searching for an actual education. If they do get entangled with a completely fake education selling fake credentials, that’s not good for the student and could lead to problems down the line.”