Lorenz University: I can has degree?

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Misadventures in HR (an hilarious blog about… HR) mentioned Lorenz University, a degree mill. I’d never heard of a degree mill before, so I wanted to see how legit it looked from a computer scientist’s point of view.

whois

Every site on the internet has to register contact information the king of the internet, so you can see who’s behind a website. Anyone can look up this info by running “whois domain” on their computer. For example, here are some legit universities’ info:

$ whois nyu.edu
Registrant:
   New York University
   ITS Communications Operations Services
   7 East 12th Street, 5th Floor
   New York, NY 10003
   UNITED STATES
$ whois mit.edu
Registrant:
   Massachusetts Institute of Technology
   Cambridge, MA 02139
   UNITED STATES
$ whois ufl.edu
Registrant:
   University of Florida
   Computing and Network Services
   Space Sciences Research Building
   Gainesville, FL 32611-2050
   UNITED STATES

Most businesses, higher learning institutions, and pretty much any large, legitimate site has their actual address listed there. What does Lorenz U have?

$ whois lorenzuniversity.com
Registrant:
   Domains by Proxy, Inc.
   DomainsByProxy.com
   15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353
   Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
   United States

Domains by Proxy is a service where you can pay them to keep your contact info a secret. It’s good for privacy, but it’s a bit unusual for a university.

Also, protip: most universities are not .com addresses.

Accreditation

At first glance, Lorenz University seem to have some good proof that they’re a valid, accredited institution:

Lorenz University holds valid accreditation from reputable accrediting agencies including IAAFOE and ACTDE. These agencies have clearly mentioned on their official websites that Lorenz University is fully approved by their evaluation committee.

But wait, I’ve never heard of the IAAFOE or the ACTDE. A quick Google search turns up the International Accreditation Association for Online Eduction and the Accreditation Council for Distance Education.

Okay, Lorenz University is accredited by someone, but let’s take a look at who.

$ whois iaafoe.org
Registrant Name:Registration Private
Registrant Organization:Domains by Proxy, Inc.
Registrant Street1:DomainsByProxy.com
Registrant Street2:15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Scottsdale
Registrant State/Province:Arizona
Registrant Postal Code:85260
Registrant Country:US

Huh, Domains by Proxy. Again.

$ whois actde.org
Registrant Name:Registration Private
Registrant Organization:Domains by Proxy, Inc.
Registrant Street1:DomainsByProxy.com
Registrant Street2:15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Scottsdale
Registrant State/Province:Arizona
Registrant Postal Code:85260
Registrant Country:US

And again! What are the chances?!

Now, let’s take a closer look at these accreditation sites. I used wget to download the entirety of both sites (somehow, I had the feeling that they wouldn’t be that big). Indeed, one site was 10 files and the other was 11:

$ wget -r http://iaafoe.org/
$ wget -r http://actde.org/

Looking at these files, we can see certain similarities:

$ ls actde.org/
ACTDE  CSS  index.asp  index.html  PDF  robots.txt
$ ls iaafoe.org/
IAAFOE  index.asp  index.html  PDF  robots.txt
$ 
$ # is robots.txt non-trivial?
$ wc -l iaafoe.org/robots.txt
30 iaafoe.org/robots.txt
$  diff -s iaafoe.org/robots.txt actde.org/robots.txt 
Files iaafoe.org/robots.txt and actde.org/robots.txt are identical

Also, there’s a funny “Members Login” link on the ACTDE site that—whoops—isn’t actually a link. How hard is it to make a login page that doesn’t log anyone in?

Conclusion

Lorenz University seems to have “accredited” themselves by creating two accreditation websites, and are trying to take advantage of people who think this will help them get a job.

What I’m really curious about is if they’ll accredit other bullshit. The accreditation sites seem to be non-interactive, and don’t have any way of taking money.

P.S. As long as I’m just picking on them… Lorenz University also bought the site lorenzuniversityscam.com, to defend against people calling them a scam. The scam site has a link, “Click here[sic] to visit the official website of Lorenz University and find out all the details about Lorenz University and the application process to get an accredited degrees.” They misspelled “university” in a link to their own site.

Edit: the Hacker News thread on this post has some interesting and informative comments.

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  • Mordy Ovits

    “Anyone can look up this info by running “whois url” on their computer”

    That not a URL. A URL has a protocol specifier (“scheme”), a path, etc. That’s a domain, usually second level.

  • Eric
  • Nice find! 🙂 You would however be surprised to know that there are a plethora of such scam universities in third-world countries like India. The government has been trying half-heartedly to crack down on some of these, but more keep springing up like poisonous mushrooms. One really ‘famous’ one is called IIPM – http://www.iipm.us (has a .us address too! :))

  • Domains by proxy is a ‘privacy provider’. When you buy a domain at a registrar you can choose to have privacy enabled, if you do, one of the providers out there is Domains By Proxy. They charge around $4 per domain per year.

    It does not mean that they are all owned by the same company.
    They *probably* are but it’s not guaranteed.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for pointing that out. The internet was running low on pedants but you’ve really come through here to help out. Thanks again.

  • Anonymous

    Quite right! Thanks, fixed.

  • Anonymous

    It’s true, and given that they’re affiliated with GoDaddy, they’re not exactly an obscure provider. It is definitely not conclusive proof, just evidence.

  • Billy Bob

    Wouldn’t people realize that by buying a degree and not working for it the value is significantly less?

  • Puli

    Another coincidence, all these websites are hosted on the same Hosting provider.

    216.247.238.114 US UNITED STATES GEORGIA ATLANTA PEER 1 DEDICATED HOSTING
    66.132.205.77 US UNITED STATES GEORGIA ATLANTA PEER 1 DEDICATED HOSTING
    66.132.240.248 US UNITED STATES GEORGIA ATLANTA PEER 1 DEDICATED HOSTING
    66.132.240.250 US UNITED STATES GEORGIA ATLANTA PEER 1 DEDICATED HOSTING

  • chx

    Setting this up costs you, I dunno, a couple bucks a month. At most. If someone gets fooled, you won and surely there are enough idiots out there that a few does. It’s almost certainly not their only income but it’s certainly good beer money….

  • Anonymous

    I can understand why these degree mills are more popular in the third world. There is more incentive there. There is better opportunity in the US and Europe for those without a degree through trades, apprenticeship, and starting ones own business. Also college is more affordable, and student loans are easier to get.

  • Depends what they’re after. Sure, you gain a lot from actually knowing stuff, but if you can get by in the area in question, then a bought degree can get you a job you wouldn’t be in the running for without.

  • I suppose the signalling theory of education comes in here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics)#A_basic_job-market_signalling_model

  • David

    There are some mistakes in your article which make me wonder why would you misinform readers. I thought I would add them so that the readers can have an alternative perspective. 

    1. You pointed out that the both sites has the identical robots.txt actually there would be millions of websites with identical robots.txt with just a line or two or empty robots.txt It is a standard to instruct search engines on how to crawl a website.

    2. Using domain proxy is not a crime. In fact, it is good for privacy. Thousands of websites use domain proxy. In fact my webhosting company Dreamhost enables domain privacy by default and if you do a whois on my website you will see Domainhost as my contact info.

    3. Thousands of websites use Domain by Proxy services so two websites using the same service could be a coincidence. For example lots of people use Gmail, Twitter and Facebook. you cant associate them just because they use the same service provider.

    Just a few things that I thought I should mention so that your readers could make up their own mind whether or not to trust the information you provided. I hope you don’t mind.

  • David

    There are some mistakes in your article which make me wonder why would you misinform readers. I thought I would add them so that the readers can have an alternative perspective. 

    1. You pointed out that the both sites has the identical robots.txt actually there would be millions of websites with identical robots.txt with just a line or two or empty robots.txt It is a standard to instruct search engines on how to crawl a website.

    2. Using domain proxy is not a crime. In fact, it is good for privacy. Thousands of websites use domain proxy. In fact my webhosting company Dreamhost enables domain privacy by default and if you do a whois on my website you will see Domainhost as my contact info.

    3. Thousands of websites use Domain by Proxy services so two websites using the same service could be a coincidence. For example lots of people use Gmail, Twitter and Facebook. you cant associate them just because they use the same service provider.

    Just a few things that I thought I should mention so that your readers could make up their own mind whether or not to trust the information you provided. I hope you don’t mind.

  • Andrew Cunningham

    Are you implying that Lorenz “University” _isn’t_ a degree mill that exists to extract money from (nominally) students?

    Because while it’s true that it’s completely possible that two completely independent accrediting bodies might each have the same directory structure & robots.txt and both use the same domain proxy, to me that actually implies they have the same webmaster, which seems unlikely.

    So they’re most likely not independent. That’s not that weird, right? I mean, it hypothetically lessens the benefit to Lorenz U, since they’ve basically been accredited by one individual organization that presents itself twice, but that’s still one organization!

    One hypothetical organization that just didn’t turn off their domain proxy. Oh, for GoDaddy, it’s an add-on. Still, maybe they opted into that, after all, using a domain proxy is good for privacy.
    Except if one is in a business something like accreditation, where the entire business is built on the strength of one’s good name. And one hides that good name. That’s kind of weird.

    And remember, this is the same registrar-and-proxy as the presumably web-savvy Lorenz U itself. The web-based, “take classes online with us, we understand the internet” Lorenz U itself. The one that should ideally be receiving checks from students also, and thus have a PO Box and Bursar and technical contact which would let them receive their own mail, since they’d have to pay their salaries anyway. Sure, they might not have these things…
    … because they’re a _scam_.

    So: the reader can, of course, always decide to agree with you…
    If they’ve got money they wish to lose.

  • Andrew Cunningham

    Are you implying that Lorenz “University” _isn’t_ a degree mill that exists to extract money from (nominally) students?

    Because while it’s true that it’s completely possible that two completely independent accrediting bodies might each have the same directory structure & robots.txt and both use the same domain proxy, to me that actually implies they have the same webmaster, which seems unlikely.

    So they’re most likely not independent. That’s not that weird, right? I mean, it hypothetically lessens the benefit to Lorenz U, since they’ve basically been accredited by one individual organization that presents itself twice, but that’s still one organization!

    One hypothetical organization that just didn’t turn off their domain proxy. Oh, for GoDaddy, it’s an add-on. Still, maybe they opted into that, after all, using a domain proxy is good for privacy.
    Except if one is in a business something like accreditation, where the entire business is built on the strength of one’s good name. And one hides that good name. That’s kind of weird.

    And remember, this is the same registrar-and-proxy as the presumably web-savvy Lorenz U itself. The web-based, “take classes online with us, we understand the internet” Lorenz U itself. The one that should ideally be receiving checks from students also, and thus have a PO Box and Bursar and technical contact which would let them receive their own mail, since they’d have to pay their salaries anyway. Sure, they might not have these things…
    … because they’re a _scam_.

    So: the reader can, of course, always decide to agree with you…
    If they’ve got money they wish to lose.

  • Madelia Williams

    I got my degree from Lorenz University and it worked out for me. May be the author of this article is confusing Lorenz with some other university. Just for the record, I would like to add that I got my degree from Lorenz, then found a job and then I left the job to enroll into college as a full time student. No one ever said that my university degree is unaccredited or anything.  I researched before getting this degree from Lorenz University and found that accredited colleges are considered legitimate and recognized. Lorenz University website stated that it is an accredited university, and I think they are an accredited University otherwise why would I get hired or get admission into another college?

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