BEIJING • More than 70 organisations across China have been exposed as diploma mills where a college degree can be bought for as little as 150 yuan (S$32).
The list was released recently by academic information platform sdaxue.com, which partnered search engine Baidu to identify 73 groups offering fake degrees.
The website has been publishing an annual list of fake schools since 2013. This year's list brings the total number of phony colleges exposed to over 400.
Twenty-three on the latest list are from Beijing, which is home to many of the country's top universities. Shandong province came in second, with eight fake colleges, while Shanghai has seven.
Beijing's education authorities are working with police to investigate and shut down the fake colleges, reported Xinhua news agency.
Across China, millions of high school students are preparing for next month's highly competitive college entrance exams, or gaokao.
Mr Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow with the National Institute of Educational Sciences, said the fake websites tend to prey on students with low gaokao scores, as well as those from smaller, distant cities.
The fake schools aim to fool not just unsuspecting students, but also employers and human resource representatives, according to news website Sixth Tone.
The names of the fake colleges usually sound similar to those of real universities and colleges. One example was the non-existent Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture.
It claims on its website to have more than 16,500 graduates and excellent teaching facilities. Newsletters and campus pictures of Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture were copied from the website of the 80-year-old Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture.
Beijing Tongji University of Medical Science, which claims to have been established in 1983 in Beijing's Chaoyang District, is also non-existent. Apparently inspired by Tongji Medical College, a top medical school in China, the sham college offers a degree for 300 yuan.
Most of these fake institutes have their own websites, and when exposed, they would change their domain names and continue their fraudulent activities, reported China Daily. Sometimes these colleges even have their own campuses or rent buildings and dormitories from genuine universities, making it difficult for students and their parents to confirm their authenticity.
One student claimed to have been swindled of more than 10,000 yuan over online courses from a fake college in Shanghai.
"Over the years we have received many reports from students who were cheated by fake websites," said Mr Chen Jiangping, formerly a content supervisor of sdaxue.com
He said that it is very difficult to eradicate fake colleges because a fake website is cheap and simple to make.
"Many have foreign IP addresses, so it is hard to supervise them," he told Xinhua.
Baidu now alerts netizens whenever they search for a fake school, linking them to the government's official database, according to Sixth Tone.