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"Redwood College" a new kind of academic fraud

By Chris Lydgate '90 on February 28, 2011 03:38 PM

Like most Americans, I am concerned about internet scoundrels who might try to steal my identity. But it never occurred to me that entire institutions could be vulnerable to identity theft.

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In the last few days, however, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Wall Street Journal have reported on a disturbing development: an unidentified scam artist copied Reed's website to create a fictitious "University of Redwood," taking the concept of academic fraud to a whole new low.

The copycat site features images and text lifted verbatim from Reed, including references to president Colin Diver, the "Redwood Canyon," founders "Simeon and Amanda Redwood," and innumerable parallels large and small.

Pathetically, there is even a reference to the imaginary institution's commitment to "academic fredwoodom."

The contact information for the sham site is a mailbox in Torrance, CA, which forwards correspondence to an address in China. Beyond that, we have no information about the perpetrator(s). And although Reed's lawyers have asked the internet hosting company to remove the site, it remained online as of Monday afternoon.

Reed computing staff suspect that the site is targeted at prospective overseas students, who might be duped into sending an application fee--or even worse, a downpayment on tuition--to the Torrance dropbox.

It takes chutzpah to pull off a fraud on this scale, I guess, but few visitors to the Redwood site will be fooled. Go more than a couple of levels deep, and the links peter out or simply refer visitors back to the top page. The site is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.

Still, it does make you wonder what would happen if a sophisticated identity thief mounted a truly ambitious hoax of this sort. How hard would it be, for example, to create an imaginary boardgame, complete with fake founders, counterfeit champions, and mock disputes? To start a pseudo-religion, invent an absurdist craze, transmute a new element, or form a small nation? Now that I think about it, Redwoodistan has a certain ring...

 

UPDATE. As of March 8, the Redwood College site had been taken off line. Let's hope it stays there!