A New Zealand primary school principal, his human resources director brother and a security guard are among 10 New Zealand names on a list of buyers of bogus United States university degrees.
The names were among 9612 found on computers seized as part of Operation Gold Seal, a US Federal case, which led to eight people pleading guilty to operating the scam.
Prices for the bogus degrees ranged from a few hundred dollars for bachelor's and master's to US$5400 ($7,770) for a PhD.
One of the buyers, Mark Barratt, principal of Papatoetoe South School and chair of Auckland Primary Principals Committee on Special Education, said he bought the fake PhD "just for the fun of it", after his brother Shaun, a director at human resources company Salt, bought a bachelor's degree.
"We were just being stupid _ there was never an intention to use them to mislead or defraud," said Mr Barratt, who is also a member of the Auckland District Committee of New Zealand Education.
"I've never used it or claimed to have a doctorate, and the doctorate's sitting in a box at home, somewhere."
Although checks by the Weekend Herald found that Mr Barratt did not list his PhD when applying for his job, the Parent and Family Resource Centre website, of which he is a member, had said "his doctorate explores conflict between governance and management within the NZ primary schooling sector", and that "he is currently completing a second doctorate looking at models of governance".
But following Weekend Herald enquiries, the copy on the website was replaced with: "Mark is currently researching two thesis that will form the basis of a doctorate."
Mr Barratt said he holds master's degrees in Religious Education and Education, but denied that he had ever claimed he had a PhD. He said the copy on the website was changed because he "wanted to get rid of any ambiguity around it".
Papatoetoe South School board of trustees chairman Adrian West confirmed Mr Barratt did not claim the phoney degree when he applied for the principal role last year.
For another buyer, security guard Jagath Nambukara, it was a different story. Mr Nambukara, who spent more than $5000 over two years to get his BBA degree from St Regis University, said he did not know it came from a degree mill.
"I cannot believe what I have now is just a piece of rubbish," he said.
"It is not just the money, but I also spent a lot of time studying and submitting the assignments the university sent me through emails."
By accessing the website and paying fees of between US$399 and US$2454, students could be "evaluated" for a degree _ which the US Justice Department has identified as being done by a high-school dropout named Heidi Kae Lorhan.
The "university" also supported buyers by providing other services, including telephone calls to confirm the degrees were valid.
Husband and wife ringleaders Steven and Dixie Ellen Randock have been sentenced to three years in prison and buyers of the fake degrees have been deemed as "suspects" by the US attorney's office, Mr Thomas Rice, criminal chief at the US Department of Justice told the Weekend Herald.
But Mr Rice said the US Government was leaving it to individual jurisdictions to determine whether a crime had been committed.
NZ Police spokesman Jon Neilson said it was not illegal to buy fake degrees online, but purchasers that used them could face fraud charges.
The 10 from New Zealand who bought fake degrees: Scott, Alan T _ BA; Reid, Donald Erik _ MEd; Ryan, Stephen John _ MBA; Morton, David John _ PhD; Nambukara, Jagath C _ BBA; Jie, Li Liang _ BS; Barratt, Mark Raymond _ PhD; Barratt, Shaun Francis _ BA; Beck, Andrew David Patrick _ PhD; Brickland, Daniel _ ProfFull