USC

USC files a police report over a fake course in Hong Kong

Students received certificates under the university’s name for a phony leadership course.

USC Building

After Hong Kong students posted on Facebook celebrating their graduation with photos of their certificates, former chairman of the Hong Kong USC Alumni Association Garrick Tang Chor-yu noticed that something was up, according to the South China Morning Post.

Students were pictured with Ray Poon, supervisor of the Modern Continuing Education Center. Tang told the South China Morning Post that alumni wondered why they were not informed Poon taught this course.

The leadership certification course was supposedly authorized by the USC US-China Institute (USCI), yet according to an emailed statement from the USC Office of Strategic and Global Initiatives statement to Annenberg Media, the university “has not authorized any such programs in the region.”

Claiming to be certified by the USCI, Poon admitted to the South China Morning Post that he ran the fraudulent leadership certification course which has given out fake certificates to students. He said at least 50 students have paid a total of $1 million Hong Kong dollars, equivalent to $128,390, over two years to take the courses.

Poon told the Post he was also “a victim” of the scam and was unaware of the unauthorized certificates. He claimed to have been misled by an agent of International Professional Trainings Group Ltd. (IPTGL) who told him that the courses received authorization from the USCI.

A multitude of organizations and individuals were seemingly implicated in the scam. IPTGL allegedly told Poon that it had received USCI’s authorization to teach the courses through Dr. Larry Eastland, a USC alum and chairman of the John A. Widtsoe Foundation, a Mormon organization founded “in consultation with the University of Southern California’s Office of Religious Life.”

Since the Facebook posts brought attention to the situation, USC officials have been alerted and have reported the courses to the police. The USC Office of Strategic and Global Initiatives said that anyone in Hong Kong or southern China approached by organizations claiming to be affiliated with USC should verify these claims by contacting uschk@usc.edu.

“We are pursuing every legal and enforcement measure available to end this fraudulent scheme. The case has been reported to the Hong Kong police,” the USC Office of Strategic and Global Initiatives said in the emailed statement.

Deception is the largest crime in Hong Kong behind theft and has increased 7% since 2020, according to the Hong Kong police force.