HOUSTON — An online university website with a similar-sounding name to the University of Houston is using an address that doesn’t exist and posting faculty who are fake, KHOU 11 Investigates has discovered.
A day after the KHOU 11 Investigates report, the website was no longer working.
At first glance, Houston University of Science and Technology looks like a great place to learn, with a website full of smiling students all giving a thumbs up for this “remarkable center of excellence” and “high-quality education that brings you ultimate success.”
One prospective student said it all sounded real when she got a call from a university representative promising great news about a master's program.
“You will be provided with, like, a very high scholarship, like 80%. You just need to pay the admission fee to lock in your application. You know, the scholarship is going to end you have to make a decision,” Dalia, an international student who asked that her last name not be used, said of the phone call.
It was a $399 fee to sign up. After the long, high-pressured pitch, the international student said she reluctantly paid.
“After, I had a moment of clarity,” she said. “After that call, I was excited but I’m like something is off, something is off … I’m starting to feel icky about this."
Turns out, her icky instincts were spot on.
For starters, the Houston University of Science and Technology website lists a downtown Houston address — 301 San Jacinto St. — as its corporate administrative office. But a quick drive to that location and there is no university office to be found. In fact, the closest building to that address is the Harris County juvenile courthouse.
Another red flag is the listed faculty for its 15 different areas of study. A reverse-image search of the so-called professors reveals they’re not professors at all, but rather models posing for stock photos that anyone can purchase and use. In the Department of Applied Art, Dr. Jim Frary, Ph.D/Associate Professor appears in stock images as “confident web designer in office looking at camera.” In the Department of Natural Science, the image of Dr. Mavis Mark, Ph.D/Associated Professor comes back to “successful professional female boss or company executive manager coach posing in office.”
The website also lists Kim Pyne as a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice. A reverse image search shows anyone can purchase her photo, described as “cheerful female young professional librarian smiling while making revision of books putting them on new bookshelves in alphabetical order.”
A spokesperson for the legitimate University of Houston encouraged any prospective students who may have felt deceived or confused by the website to contact the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection to file a complaint.
“We do not believe it to be a legitimate institution of higher learning,” UH Director of Media Relations Chris Stipes said.
“Let me be very clear here that the University of Houston is in no way affiliated with this Houston University of Science and Technology website,” Stipes said.
There is another website, Massachusetts Central University, that is strikingly similar to Houston University of Science and Technology, including the very same pretend professors online. It lists an administrative office on the campus of the legitimate University of Massachusetts Boston, but spokesperson DeWayne Lehman confirmed MCU is not affiliated with UMass Boston.
KHOU 11 Investigates called the Houston University of Science and Technology to try and get an explanation about the non-existent administrative office and the fake faculty.
After refusing to answer questions, someone claiming to be with university legal affairs hung up. A check of the domain name history for both online universities showed the websites were created in January, anonymously.
“We don’t need this right now,” Dalia said. “You know, this is that last thing we need is people feeding on other people’s excitement of learning.”