Some people do it for prestige, while others falsify college credentials to land a better job.
Whatever the reason, the University of Maryland, armed with a two-year-old state law it drafted, is taking a tougher stance against individuals who use fake diplomas, transcripts or other academic documents.
"When we find out, we treat it very seriously," said Susan Bayly, a university attorney on the College Park campus.
This week, the university won its first legal victory when a Howard County District Court judge fined a Columbia secretary $545 for faking a diploma and falsely claiming she graduated from the state-supported college.
Bayly said the use of fraudulent educational credentials is a "heinous" crime because it lessens the value of a university's degrees.
On Tuesday, District Judge Diane Schulte placed Beverly L. Dorsey on unsupervised probation for one year and agreed to withhold judgment, meaning the 35-year-old woman would not have a criminal record if she completes probation without further trouble.
Bayly said university officials hope the case "will cause others to think twice" about falsifying academic credentials and encourage more people to report suspicious incidents.
Dorsey, of the 7300 block of Oakland Mills Road, was charged with photocopying a friend's authentic diploma and putting her name on the fraudulent copy, said Bayly, who handled the case. The fake diploma said Dorsey had earned a bachelor of arts degree with a business education.
Bayly said Dorsey, who lost her $23,000-a-year secretarial job as a result of the sham, also altered a transcript to indicate she had taken courses at the university that she never took. Dorsey had attended classes at College Park for two semesters, but falsified her transcript to show she had been at the school for four semesters and received As in courses she never attended, Bayly said.
The University of Maryland learned of the deception from Dorsey's former employer, BDM Corp. of Columbia, Bayly said.
Colleges or universities usually find out about fake diplomas or transcripts when prospective employers call to verify educational records, Bayly said.
Sometimes an alert printer can tip off authorities to a alleged scheme, she said.
That happened about a year ago when a Silver Spring man asked a printer to mass-produce blank copies of his transcript, Bayly said. The university filed suit against the man in Montgomery County District Court, but lost the case on a technicality, Bayly said.
In 1985, the University of Maryland spearheaded a legislative campaign that led to the passage of a state law making it illegal to use false transcripts, diplomas or other grade reports. Conviction carries a penalty of up to $1,000 in fines, six months in jail, or both.
Brian Darmody, the university attorney who drafted the 1985 law, said he proposed the measure to clear up confusion about whether Maryland's counterfeiting law applied to academic records. Still, the 1985 law is infrequently used by Maryland colleges and universities, college officials say.
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has not prosecuted anyone under the two-year-old statute, said spokesman Ron Sauder. However, so far this year, the university registrar's office has "shot down" 28 fraudulent academic claims as a result of phone inquiries from prospective employers, he said.