Scammers Caught Selling Fake Nursing Diplomas

Have you ever worked with a nurse and wondered, "Did they even go to nursing school?" You may have been puzzled and asked yourself why they didn't know basic nursing concepts. Maybe they asked questions a nurse would never ask. Nurses Headlines News

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Scammers Caught Selling Fake Nursing Diplomas

Did you ever consider that your coworker never attended nursing school? 
Probably not. That would be ludicrous.

But maybe they didn't, as we're finding out in the news.

While it sounds like a script for a sequel to the movie Catch Me if You Can, where a con artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) fakes being an airline pilot, some licensed nurses practice nursing without attending nursing school. 

This story is a story of cheaters and scammers.

How They Did It

These untrained nurses had no approved clinical hours or training. They never completed all of the required courses (think back to Chemistry, anatomy, and physiology!). Many never took a test, wrote a care plan, or attended a lecture. No one officially observed them starting an IV or inserting a Foley catheter.

How, then did they qualify to take the NCLEX? This is where the scammers come in.

The scammers sold counterfeit RN and LPN/LVN nursing diplomas and transcripts to desperate job seekers. Licensed practical nurse degrees sold for approximately $10,000, and registered nurse degrees for $17,000.

Capitalizing on the nursing shortage, greedy scammers ran a racket that included three South Florida schools (both now defunct).

The three schools are:

  • Siena College 
  • Palm Beach School of Nursing
  • Sacred Heart International Institute

The scammers backdated fabricated nursing diplomas and transcripts to make them appear authentic. Backdated documents made it appear that students had attended the now-closed schools.

To help test-takers pass the NCLEX, they were coached and offered training by their scammers. Many were encouraged to take the NCLEX licensing exam in New York, where applicants can take the test an unlimited number of times. Other states involved included Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Delaware.

How Many Nursing Candidates Did This

Approximately 7,600 impostors purchased diplomas to the tune of
$100 million dollars. An estimated 2,400 went on to pass their NCLEX exam. 

Applicants who passed were then eligible to seek nursing jobs. Employers and patients were none the wiser.  

In 2019, the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) did wise up to the scam from a confidential tip and began conducting a joint investigation to bring down the scammers. 

At the same time, the Florida BON noticed that their state's passing rates were significantly low. Regulatory agencies coordinated efforts.

Operation Nightingale

The Federal and state investigation was aptly dubbed Operation Nightingale in honor of the beloved founder of nursing, Florence Nightingale.

On January 26, 25 individuals were charged with criminal wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy charges in an undercover sting. 

Repercussions

According to the DOJ, the defendants in the alleged scheme face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy.

Implications For The Public

According to the NCSBN,  "the purpose of a professional license is to protect the public from harm by setting minimal qualifications and competencies for safe entry-level practitioners.” NCSBN says that the general public cannot identify an unqualified healthcare professional.

In a statement to WGCU, a PBS and NPR station for Southwest Florida, on January 26,
FBI Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami, said, "What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients.”

All 50 nursing boards were notified of nurses with fake nursing degrees for their follow-up actions. There have been no reported cases of patient harm at this time.

Licensure fraud is not something new. A nurse from the Philippines once candidly told me about a similar scam. In this scenario, some nursing candidates from the Philippines brazenly used fake identities to take the U.S. NCLEX in Guam.

Nursing schools need better oversight. Hopefully, this recent event will raise awareness of the problem, and more effective safeguards will be implemented.

Career Columnist / Author

Hi! Nice to meet you! I especially love helping new nurses. I am currently a nurse writer with a background in Staff Development, Telemetry and ICU.

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Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Some are calling the nurses and would-be nurses who bought diplomas victims. I don't see it this way. They purchased fraudulent documents.

Specializes in Occupational Health.
Nurse Beth said:

Some are calling the nurses and would-be nurses who bought diplomas victims. I don't see it this way. They purchased fraudulent documents.

just gonna tweak that last sentence...."they [KNOWINGLY] purchased fraudulent documents."

Specializes in Oncology.

How do you request they look into. A particular person? It would explain alot about a past colleague of mine from south Fl.

Screenshot_20230202_085426_Chrome.thumb.jpg.e20a36e3ab59c31eb4633910b52479ed.jpg

Please correct this- Siena School of Health not Siena College. 

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.
Dachandaw said:

Please correct this- Siena School of Health not Siena College. 

My source is DOJ Southern District, Fla and they name

Siena College in Broward County, Fla. There's also a 

Siena College of Health in Lauderdale, Fla

I can't find a Siena School of Health, though. It seems like a shell game where schools change their names and locations.

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

@nursedecember11   Wow, that must have been a bizarre experience to work with a nurse who did not attend nursing school. I would notify the nurse manager, who hopefully would follow up with HR immediately, given the attention in the news.

Specializes in Family, Maternal-Child Health.

Very interesting article.  The unassuring take away from this information is this is just one of the fraudulent operations that got caught - after much investigation too, and years of pumping out "fake" nurses before they got caught.  Hope the take away is policing needs to continue and checks of qualifications/backgrounds tightened.

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.
PositiveEnergy said:

Very interesting article.  The unassuring take away from this information is this is just one of the fraudulent operations that got caught - after much investigation too, and years of pumping out "fake" nurses before they got caught.  Hope the take away is policing needs to continue and checks of qualifications/backgrounds tightened.

I hope so, too! I told my husband today that this feels like a Nigerian scam but it originated right here in Florida under lax oversight.

Specializes in Family, Maternal-Child Health.

So many options of how this evolved.  WIll probably take several years to even figure out the truth.  What always amazes me is the number of people who jump on the band wagon and go along with such dishonesty.

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.
PositiveEnergy said:

So many options of how this evolved.  WIll probable take several years to even figure out the truth.  What always amazes me is the number of people who jump on the band wagon and go along with such dishonesty.  

It sure makes you wonder

Specializes in kids.

Yes, it makes me wonder, but it really makes me angry! Some people are good test takers and with some knowledge I guess it is possible for the to pass the exam...but if they bought their transcript, did someone else sit for the exam?  Fake ID??

I think about how hard I worked for my BSN and how I studied really hard for the NCLEX, 2 days of paper an pencil!!