“On a quiet August day in 2002, a physics professor named George Gollin was working in his office at the University of Illinois when an ad popped up on his computer screen. The product on offer: college degrees. In a nearby computer lab, the ads leaped from one monitor to another, seeming to spread like a contagion. The spam barrage was raging across the Urbana-Champaign campus. ‘They were sending bazillions of them, for weeks,’ Gollin recalls. ‘It was like a telemarketer calling over and over.’ He decided to dial the phone number listed in the ad to find out who was behind the electronic assault. No one answered, so Gollin left a polite message. A few days later he received a call from a man, speaking with what sounded like an Eastern European accent, who delivered a pitch for various degree options from Parkwood University. Gollin, who is 56 and has a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Princeton, listened in amazement as the man cheerfully explained how, for about $4,400, he could supply a PhD in systems engineering.”
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